100 SECONDS ON THE RED SOFA: The BenZi Project
The BenZi Project, helmed by Benjamin Kheng of The Sam Willows and Hirzi Zulkiflie of MunahHirziOfficial, is a comedy sketch series on YouTube that aims to push the boundaries of comedy storytelling in Singapore. Described as “comedy with bite”, their use of contentious topics is meant to prod at our collective social consciousness, albeit in a humorous way, in order to provoke conversations and dialogues about issues that plague our community at large.
“Hi, I’m Chinese,” says Benjamin Kheng, with Hirzi Zulkiflie mirroring him as he replies, “and I’m Malay.” Their ice-breaker introduction, though articulated with muffled laughter, is apt for their platform. The BenZi Project often finds comedy in the dichotomy of things, be it different races, religions, beliefs, values, or perspectives.
“A lot of the characters that I write are different people that I put together,” says Hirzi. For him, what he enjoys most is organically creating characters from what he observes in the spaces of Singapore — especially on trains and at airports, where people from different walks of life come together. “For example, Halal Gap had a conservative Malay makcik (auntie) put together with a vegan liberal millennial, and that play of worlds, that double entendre, eventually works out.”
“There’s so much humour embedded in everyday life, and the comedy naturally arises from these situations,” Ben agrees.
In writing, Hirzi and Ben first pitch their lines to one another, and from there they pick out the ones that make the season. While they consult each other on the comedy and their scripts, they also make sure to leave some open-endedness to the way they perform, which is often where the real comedy happens. “What I like most are shows that allow you to breathe and create. I love Parks and Recreation and their bloopers are even funnier than the episodes sometimes,” says Ben. “That’s the magic of BenZi!”
This isn’t their first foray into the media industry. Each of them are well-known players in their own parts, and while Hirzi has obviously done comedy, it is Ben’s first time venturing into it. Disparate as they may seem, doing comedy and making music have a common strand: they are both modes of storytelling.
“I think if you really boil down to its essence, it’s really storytelling, and you’re trying to achieve the same things with different tools,” he says. “I relish the challenge. Just getting responses for BenZi is so different and so refreshing, I feel like I have a keener pulse on what’s going on culturally and I really enjoy it.”
The BenZi Project might be a comedy sketch series, but there’s more to it than just finding humour in the little things. Systemic racism, income inequality, colonisation and worship of colonial masters are some of the topics that they touch on in their series, but their aim isn’t to pick sides or dictate how someone should think, but rather to shed light on issues that are otherwise often swept under the rug.
“From watching others’ perspectives play out on screen, one might realise ‘oh, that’s me, I might be bigoted or I might be misogynistic, maybe I should change’, and that’s what we want to do,” asserts Ben, to which Hirzi simply responds, “Exactly that.”
Their style of humour might be an outlier in terms of local trends in comedy, but they believe that there is a need for change — and they are willing to take the torch. “I’d like us to be the gateway drug to deeper conversations and more esoteric work, more obscure and alternative views. It’s really a supply and demand thing; it needs demand to advocate for supply, and there’s no point in creating insightful, incisive work for nobody. So in a way, I see BenZi as a bridge for people to understand that there are deeper levels of comedy and viewing styles to partake in, so I want to be like that gateway drug,” says Ben.
Hirzi adds on, “I want BenZi to be a game-changer. I want people to feel that Singaporeans can produce smarter content — and can consume smarter content. I feel that BenZi bridges communities from different ends of the spectrum together, because that’s what we successfully write. I want that to be our legacy: that hey, I have a stake in the narrative.”
Ultimately, Ben and Hirzi’s wish for Singaporeans is simple: to be able to laugh at themselves. And from there, open up deeper conversations revolving around issues that plague our local community.
Read our review of Halal Gap here.
About 100 Seconds On The Red Sofa
100 Seconds On The Red Sofa shines the spotlight on movers and shakers in the Singapore film and media scene, with each episode featuring people that are making waves and contributing to the industry’s growth and enrichment.
The Red Sofa has come a long way and has a rich history, dating all the way back to Sinema Old School in 2007. It’s seen a generation of young local filmmakers come into their own; now we’re dusting it off for another round.