By Cynthia Hoo, with photos courtesy of PopDigital
It couldn’t have been simpler: just two men acting out a skit against the backdrop of a brown curtain, and filmed with a basic camera and makeshift lighting.
But their comedic skills and incisive insights soon turned That Effing Show into an Internet sensation. Not to mention that their skits, which skirted on politically-sensitive issues, were pretty hilarious, too.
That was four years ago, and recently, That Effing Show celebrated its 100th episode shot in a studio with proper equipment and lighting.
The creative force behind it, Ezra Zaid and Umapagan Ampikaipakan, have taken the show a lot further than they thought it would go.
“At that time, not much local content were being created outside of the mainstream, and broadband penetration was still low then,” remembered Ezra.
But its timing was spot-on. The show – which uses laughter to dissect current issues – came at a time when the turbulent political landscape had begun to churn up painful issues that had been long suppressed.
“Comedy is the best way to address some of these issues. In the past, we could laugh at these but, in the last three or four years, the tone of the debate has been angry,” said Umapagan. “Comedy cuts through all that.”
The success of That Effing Show could be summed up in this one compliment that they received: “you ni buat lawak tapi benar” (you are telling a joke but speaking the truth).
It helped that Malaysia hardly runs out of controversies. But as Ezra noted, the topics tend to be cyclical and rhetorical, and this has become increasingly limiting for their work.
“It’s not that we have written every joke to be written,” said Ezra (pic – screengrab from the Merdeka ad) but it’s becoming more difficult to find anything fresh to say.
Both he and Umapagan think that it’s time to move on, and have since stopped producing the show in its old format of skits. The new Effing Show will be launched soon but they don’t know yet what it will be, other than that it will still be satire.
“We feel that this format is done,” said Ezra.
By this time, That Effing Show has also grown so exponentially that it has created a whole host of new career opportunities for both of them. It had attracted brands and personalities who wanted to engage with them but they wanted to keep the satirical show independent.
“Businesses wanted us to create branded content, similar to our comedy, either in the form of a YouTube ad or web series,” Ezra said.
And so, a creative shop was born. It is PopDigital which was set up in 2010 and has since grown to become a well-regarded digital media company with many arms including PopTeeVee.
PopTeeVee – described as a web TV network aimed at creating democratic space – produces That Effing Show, as well as other web shows like Gila Selamba Jane and Fairly Current Show.
Ezra said PopDigital’s work for commercial clients now include creating videos, websites, editorials and blogs, all hosted online, as well as maintaining Facebook and twitter brand accounts.
Drawn by their quirky content, their clients include big names like Rexona, Samsung, BMW, Nissan and even PEMANDU, the government agency driving the governmental reforms.
“It has grown quite a bit,” Ezra said. “Business has been good, and it’s growing.”
This growth is partly driven by the growing realisation that companies need good local content to advertise effectively on the Internet platform. And as Umapagan noted, the Internet is increasingly become the sole media option for those below 30 who hardly turn on the television any more.
“But it’s still a bit of a Wild Wild West out there,” he said.
This is because creating content is one thing but distributing it is another, said Ezra. “The audiences are more critical, and the goal posts keep moving,” he said.
The duo have come a long way since they were shooting skits in a friend’s borrowed room, just for the fun of it. Whoever said making comedy skits for free is a waste of time?