“It’s a bit hard to believe, but I’m a bit more introverted”, Adrian Ang or more famously known as Xiao Ming from SGAG tells me over video chat. For someone who is often seen annoying his colleagues or wife with his endless jokes and then bursting into raucous, infectious laughter, this was quite the revelation.
As one of the founders of SGAG, his character of Xiao Ming has achieved somewhat of a cult status in Singapore, with those signature shades and his relatable sense of humour you know you’re in for a good laugh. As we all know, funny is not as simple as it looks. Telling a good joke that garners a laugh from a Singaporean audience is harder than it seems. We don’t just find anything funny, hor.
We ask Xiao Ming all our burning questions and see what makes this funny guy tick.
Nicole Lam (NL): How much of Xiao Ming is a persona that you have created?
Xiao Ming (XM): I don’t know if you can tell from the video but, I’m actually a lot more introverted. The character of Xiao Ming came about accidentally; I don’t know if you remember the Pokemon Go craze. My team and I thought, what if we just go to that playground in Hougang with four or five Poke stops and prank the public.
The whole point was that I didn’t want to be bashed up by people *laughs*. So, I had to think of a way to cover my identity. There was a pair of shades in the office, and I thought “Okay la, let’s just wear these shades” and call myself the most common Chinese composition name.
The Xiao Ming persona is a reflection of my real personality; especially the very lame and punny side, except that it is brought to an exaggerated level when I put on those signature shades.
While you wouldn’t see me going around cracking lame jokes all day, you can find me terrorising my usual ‘victims’ like my colleagues or my wife whenever (a lame) inspiration strikes.
NL: Do people’s impressions change when they meet you in person?
XM: When I meet some people, they will be like “Wah, so serious”. If you meet me on a day to day basis, I’m actually quite serious. However, with a bit of wine, then you see a bit more of the Xiao Ming persona coming out. It’s a bit hard to believe, but I’m a bit more introverted. The extroverted side of me only comes out when I’m extremely comfortable or when I have some alcohol – having that liquid courage helps. *laughs*
When I meet some people, they will be like “Wah, so serious”
NL: Looking back would you have changed anything, since the character has blown up to almost be synonymous with a Singaporean brand of humour?
XM: I’ve thought about it a couple of times. Especially with wearing shades, since the eyes are where you can express all your emotions. Without that, when it comes to acting, or even to humour, you lose a big part of that.
I often think to myself, will there be a day where I remove my shades or should I have not worn shades in the first place? It turns out that the shades have become something quite iconic—something people remember.
Looking back, I don’t think I would have changed it. Now, we just have to work with the reputation that I would always have to be in shades lah, which is weird in certain circumstances.
The funny thing is that right now on a sunny day; I don’t wear shades when I’m out. I’m afraid that people will recognise me. But I wear shades when I’m at home or at night—which doesn’t quite make sense.
NL: Out of all the work you have done, what was the one that garnered the most surprising response?
XM: When it comes to Xiao Ming specific things, a lot of the content is created with my wife where I irritate her with a lame joke every day, especially during the Circuit Breaker.
Over time, the audience felt they needed to support Xiao Ming’s wife. So, I think just a couple of weeks back, she saw this TikTok somewhere and decided to prank me with a trick question which I answered wrongly.
I posted it on my Instagram, and the audience loved that my wife actually got back at me and had her revenge. That was something pretty surprising to me. I didn’t know there was so much support for my wife.
I even think about whether I should change my Instagram account to Xiao Ming’s wife instead of Xiao Ming.
NL: How important is humour in situations like the pandemic we are facing now?
XM: One thing that I always tell people when it comes to SGAG or in more recent times is that Xiao Ming is a persona and I can’t stop the shit or problem that you are going through—or in this case, the pandemic. What I can try to do, together with my team, is to make you smile while going through it.
I think that is what we hope to achieve. Our mission with SGAG is to make every Singaporean’s day a better one, whether it’s through a meme, video or simply some good-natured humour.
If I can make them smile for 5, 10, 15 minutes out of the 24 hours that they are stuck at home—that already means a lot to me.
NL: Does the landscape of rising political awareness and social correctness in Singapore, make it harder for people such as yourself to be funny?
XM: I would say that the taboo topics over the years—things like race, religion, sex, or even politics—to a certain extent, we don’t really touch on that. For example, with the past election, we would just poke fun at the things that happened during that period instead of trying to come across as being political, even if it’s in a funny way.
Over the years, we have come to an understanding that our role (as SGAG) in the entire media landscape is to entertain people.
Of course, there are aspects of society where maybe we can help spread an important public service announcement, say, for example, things like Dengue or showing appreciation to our healthcare workers.
That being said, we have experimented with creating content surrounding these difficult and delicate matters but ultimately we realised people didn’t come to SGAG to consume this kind of content. There are other platforms, say, for example, Mothership, RICE or certain influencers who feel very strongly for these issues. When it comes to these sensitive topics that divide people, we’ll leave it to the other media outlets, influencers or key opinion leaders to be the ones driving these conversations.
At the end of the day, when it feels like a good time for us to come in and chip into the conversation. I think we are more than open to it.
NL: When you look at the state of comedy today, what is the one thing that gives you hope?
XM: One of the big things that give me hope will be TikTok. I think for the longest time—whether it was the guys from Facebook or Youtube—we might have gotten so comfortable with each of the platforms and audiences that we have not innovated as much.
TikTok, in contrast, is a breath of fresh air, where we see a whole new group of content creators in Singapore or elsewhere in the world. Even a simple challenge, there are so many creators having so many interpretations. That’s something that gives me hope, an injection of fresh blood into the local and global comedy space.
What I also realised over the years, with Facebook and Youtube in the early days, was that it was easy for everyone to create content. Somewhere down the road, creators started having millions of fans. They started having huge studios, and huge crews and the barriers of entry for the younger generation became too hard. If I were from Gen Z right now wanting to get into YouTube I wouldn’t even try—it would just be too difficult.
I see TikTok as a bit of democratisation of the content again. It’s an open playing field right now, and the pie is up for everyone to grab. The kind of growth you can experience if you create the right content is exponential, and it can be within a short period of time. TikTok has rejuvenated not just humour but content creation as well.