It is never a dull moment with the dynamic duo, Najib Ja’afri and Loh Latiff, up-and-coming local comics.
Their presence would light up any room they enter, fascinating people with their warm, witty personality and effortless jokes.
For a period of time, Najib and Loh were everywhere; from stage, screen, advertorial to corporate. In mere months, they became the Bruneian darlings.
The childhood friends only rekindled their friendship through a series of events by local comedy troupe BruHaha, who could not imagine that they would eventually become the talk of the town.
The start of being comics
The two friends had a different approach towards becoming members of BruHaha and as professional standup comedians in Brunei.
Being a comic, as we often see, one must at least be a natural joker with great charisma and being a good storyteller is a plus point.
“I have always been a joker in school, at home and even my workplace. I just love making people laugh and smile. Apart from that, I am a big fan of Malaysian franchise Maharaja Lawak and it is my dream to be on that stage,” said Najib.
For the 31-year-old, his first encounter with BruHaha was in 2015 when he attended their show as an audience.
It was only in 2017 that he saw the first-ever Malay comic in a Malay show and later on, decided to join their inaugural standup workshop organised by BruHaha founders.
“I was excited knowing that they opened a Malay segment although at first I got involved in the English segment. During our graduation show, I did an English set and it was good,” he said, adding that he only started doing a Malay show when BruHaha opened a public show.
Meanwhile, for Loh, the decision to join the comedy troupe was also driven by Najib’s involvement in BruHaha, boosting his confidence to give standup comedy a go.
The physical education teacher who also loves cracking jokes and make people laugh has previously been in the creative scene since his university years.
“I’ve always loved this scene… I designed street clothing, did theatre, rapping, public speaking and choir too. But I wouldn’t say that I am a class clown, I just love seeing people laugh,” said the 31-year-old.
He was first introduced to standup shows when watching the performances of his personal favourites of international standup comedians such as Russell Peters, Katt Williams and Dave Chappelle.
“But that did not lead me to join the comedy scene yet,” he said, adding that when he reconnected with Najib in 2018, it was when he saw his friend actively involved with BruHaha.
Seeing Najib’s partaking in the local comedy troupe has moved Loh to follow in his footsteps and asked for his wife’s opinion prior to attending the audition.
“When I asked her whether I can join, she said no because I am not funny. But then I just followed my guts and just sign up. I told her, if I got in then you cannot deny that I am actually funny,” reminisced Loh.
However, he did not succeed on his first try and received a call back to write a better set. “It was a blessing in disguise, I got in.”
Najib and Loh combo only realised when the former scouted the latter on his third English show, noting that Loh’s delivery would be better in Malay.
“He was all the way English until I told him to just stop and offered him to join me instead,” said Najib.
He added: “I still remember watching your performance from the back seat until I requested you from Zainal (BruHaha’s co-founder).”
When Loh finally agreed to join Najib’s boat, they made a pact that should Loh did not get the crowd’s attention; he will continue doing English sets.
“Little did I know, the first show was great… the crowd loved my set and from then on. I never look back,” said Loh, adding that Najib has his mentor and that sky is his limit.
Talking about keeping their stage momentum, Najib shared that research is crucial when preparing for an impactful and relatable material.
For him, doing things blindly without proper research and no idea of the current situation can make your audience lose interest and that the joke is on you.
“When I previously did a set about being a pilot, my initiatives were talking to the pilot, cabin crew and find out online to check if my materials are not someone else’s. It must be an original,” explained Najib.
Meanwhile, for Loh, a set must be relatable, connecting the comic with the audience. “It needs to be real and combine it with a little bit of exaggeration,” the comedian said.
Leaps and hurdles
The duo had a good run producing content not only on the BruHaha stage but also on social media platforms; they received overwhelming reception from various clients to do commissioned projects.
When the pandemic hit the sultanate last year, the duo along with other comics were not able to showcase their shows due to restrictions imposed by the health ministry. It was when they decided to do some skids online.
“I remembered talking to Najib regarding our plans during the pandemic. We started doing very small and creative content; it was a hit on social media. That was when we decided to do many more short clips until we land big projects,” explained Loh.
From April until November 2020, the duo has produced about 60 advertorials for all of its clients, starting from just a two-man show to now a bigger production team of content producers.
“Honestly, the money was good but not until we fell sick at the end of last year. We were burnt out, with no quality time for ourselves and our family. It was when we decided to take things slow now and cater to projects that we can do only,” shared Najib.
For them, the past year has been a windfall while at the same time taught them to take a breather and focus on quality rather than quantity.
Talking about budding creatives in the local scene, Najib said that actions speak louder than words, and do not let money be the reason.
“Don’t be afraid to showcase your creativity even if it is just using your mobile phones. We started by using that before hiring professional videographers,” said the 31-year-old.
“Passion first, the money will always come later,” concluded Loh.