We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.
It is only 2pm, but Das DD is already on his fourth interview of the day.
The 32-year-old host and actor, whose full name is Dharmadasa D Dharamahsena, is busy as heck after snagging his first-ever trophy at the Star Awards.
But first, a little background.
The most daunting task
Back in 2017, Das was busy buzzing about for entirely different things: being on radio, and doing stand-up comedy.
The former, being his initial foray into the public eye, was a gig offered by his friend and Kiss92 DJ Joshua Simon.
“He invited me on–he say like I’m his funny friend, maybe I can help him fill a segment, have jokes, banter,” Das recounts.
Later on, he was invited to call in to the show every day, and that eventually led to an opportunity for stand-up comedy at an F&B establishment looking to improve their sales.
“I have to say it was a very humiliating experience, when people don’t laugh,” Das tells us straight up.
The comedian calls it “the most daunting task”, telling jokes to people who are not expecting it.
“Like some people just want to eat right, [then there’s] this guy, telling jokes there.”
That experience definitely has something to do with the Das that we see today, though.
“Once you become a stand-up comedian, hosting is not scary at all. Because hosting, you’re not expected to be funny what. You’re just expected to deliver a message right.
But when you tell a joke, and it’s silent, especially when you build it up, and in your mind you think that’s the funniest joke you’ve ever written and you hear pin-drop silence, it’s the loudest thing I’ve ever heard.
You actually go back feeling very, very bad about yourself.”
When I ask which joke it was that flopped, Das promptly replies that he doesn’t remember it anymore.
“I think I’ve actively blocked it out from my memory,” he says semi-seriously.
“BUT just to be fair, that I got laughs as well,” he adds, laughing now.
“There were just a few moments where I bombed, but I had laughs. Yeah, I was quite funny. If I can say so myself.”
Sliding into PM Lee’s DMs
But going through that instilled in him a certain confidence, which translated during his time at Night Owl Cinematics (NOC).
Yes, if you’ve found Das familiar even before his time in local productions, it might due to the fact that once upon a time, he was a talent with the YouTube channel.
Over the course of his four years there, the online personality managed to do something quite remarkable: slide into Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s DMs, and get a response from the man himself.
This was thanks to his parody of PM Lee’s magic cup, where he spoke in four languages asking seniors to stay home during the circuit breaker period.
The video was a “personal initiative” prompted by a friend, and edited by a NOC staff.
Das, however, was reluctant to do it at first, despite the number of spoofs already circulating online.
“I was like, no way, what if I offend the Prime Minister, what if I offend somebody, I don’t want the police knocking on my door for me just cracking jokes, right?”
But he eventually came round to the idea, and rushed out a video right before circuit breaker started.
As these stories always go, he posted it to Instagram during his last night out at a bar, and put his phone aside for the evening.
“When I went for a break I checked my phone I was like, ‘Wow 100 shares, people are watching.’ But I was also on Instagram like wow, my friends really support me, all my friends throwing me a bone right?”
It was only the next morning that the comedian realised it had gone viral viral. He lists a few local politicians who had shared the video, adding:
“So I felt like okay, so ministers can take this level of jokes, [that’s] not bad, right? Because if they can have a laugh at themselves, that’s quite humanising what.”
But! As you know by now, this somehow led to PM Lee responding to Das.
And that “somehow” was actually Das being “very shameless” (his words ok) and sending the prime minister his video over Facebook.
“[…] Because I feel like the best thing you can do as a comedian right, if you parody or make fun of someone, and for them to actually [go], ‘Okay, it’s funny.'”
So what was PM Lee’s reply?
“He said something along the lines of, ‘I think I need to borrow your cup for the next broadcast, because it was more powerful than mine,'” Das says.
It from that point that the personality started becoming known as a multilingual person.
“That’s when you knew,” I say dumbly.
“I mean I knew I was multilingual lah, but other people don’t know,” he quips, drawing laughter from me.
Speaking Mandarin from two years old
The four languages that he speaks are English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, to varying levels of proficiency.
The first he ever learned was Tamil, because his parents refused to speak to him in English lest he forgets his mother tongue.
Toddler Das later attended a playgroup that didn’t offer Malay or Tamil lessons, so the two-year-old took up Chinese instead, and mixed around with his Mandarin-speaking classmates.
“I think at one point, the teacher told my mother like, ‘Eh, your son can speak Mandarin.’ Then my mum was like ‘What, that’s not possible. He doesn’t look that smart.'”
When it was time to enrol their child in primary school, Das’ parents faced a dilemma: Mandarin, or Tamil?
They eventually decided on the former, after reasoning that they could teach him Tamil at home.
As for Malay, it was also thanks to his parents, who spoke Malay at home so that Das couldn’t understand them (or so they think).
With the little that he picked up, Das went around speaking the language with a “false confidence” (once again, his words), even though he only knew how to say stuff like “1 2 3” and “hello”.
“[…] I went around speaking to Malay people, as if I knew Malay, and because of that they started teaching me […], I started to expand my vocabulary and also like, observe how they construct sentences.”
A great observation he makes is that one has “no shame” in learning and trying out a new language as a child, as opposed to an adult who might be a lot more self-conscious.
“So this is how I think I learned these languages. I think it was very important to my parents, my mom still speaks to me in Tamil till this day.”
Back to the present
While Das might awe people with his language abilities, I’m curious to know if he ever feels tired of having to explain himself—like I just made him do so.
“The answer is already like muscle memory. I tell that story very quickly.
I don’t think I’m tired. It’s more of like, because to me, I’ve been able to speak Mandarin since two years year old right. So to me, it’s not like a, Wow, I can speak Mandarin.
It’s what I’m used to this life. So when people are curious about it, that’s when I realised that, oh, yeah, not everybody does this.”
As for whether he wants to go along with the trope of being a Mandarin-speaking Indian in showbiz, Das thinks that it “doesn’t matter”.
“I think the power of language is so beautiful,” he continues, citing an example of communicating with the elderly and learning their stories.
“And if I have to be known as some Indian person who can speak Mandarin, then so be it lor. It’s not like a very embarrassing thing. It’s not like a caricature, because it’s technically who I really am.”
Top photo via Babelfish, Das’ Instagram page
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