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Last minute cancellation woes: Lessons from Sharul Channa's MY comedy scrap

Last minute cancellation woes: Lessons from Sharul Channa's MY comedy scrap

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This week, Singaporean comedian Sharul Channa had her show, 'Just Joking!' in Malaysia as well as her work visa in the country cancelled after police reports were made against a 2018 video of her that touched on a 3R (religion, royalty, race) issue.

In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Channa said that the unfortunate incident was less about her and more about a bigger problem in Malaysia that needs to be set right.

"Performers should be able to perform freely regardless of their race, gender or sexuality," she said, adding that Malaysians should also be allowed to choose the performers they want to see and get to see them in a safe place. 

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"Singapore and Malaysia are working to build their relationship and this should extend to the arts too. They should allow comedians to perform feely the same way that Singapore does and when they can do that, they can extend it artists from other countries too," she said. 

Channa added that at the end of the day, Malaysia has a vibrant arts scene but that the system needs to change and that there needs to be better communication between censors, the police and the government so that licenses don't get taken away at the last minute.

What happened? 

The joke and video in questions was titled "Halal-certified comedian". Channa explained in an Instagram post that the joke was approved for Malaysian censors in 2018 for Malaysian television channel Unity. 

"The show was recorded in Malaysia and was recorded as part of Comedy Central Asia's 'Stand Up, Asia #2'. Since it was approved by Malaysian censors, it was also uploaded online by the channel and myself," she said. 

"This was extremely unexpected as we had applied for and received all necessary permits and approvals a week before starting the ticket sales. It is only in the last 24 hours that these reports from some members of the public came in, referencing old content that has been on Comedy Central Asia, and online, for a few years now," said Phoon Chi Ho, CEO of Laugh Labs Entertainment in a statement on Instagram. 

He added that it tried to put in an appeal but was informed that Channa would not be able to perform at the show which was to be located at PJ Live Arts. 

As a result, the organisers offered showgoers a full refund or the chance to attend a new, last-minute gala show. 

"As they say, the show must go on and you can come watch a different show, at the same time and venue, which now includes special local acts such as Mad Sabah, Rizal van Geyzel, Shamaine Othman, Hindra Bose and other surprise appearances," said Phoon. 

"I love performing to Malaysians and my stance on that will always be clear," said Channa in an Instagram Story post.

Channa also urged Malaysians to stand up for their arts scene and to protect their producers, artists, musicians and performers. She added in a later post that she was grateful for all the Malaysians writing to her on her various social media platforms showing love and support. "When the people of the country stand by you, it's the best feeling ever. Can't wait to entertain you forks soon," she said. 

Since then, Petaling Jaya's MP, Lee Chean Chung, has reportedly come out to say that the last-minute cancellation of the show runs contrary to Putrajaya's goal to make Klang Valley a leading entertainment and arts hub. 

He also reportedly said that this will give the public the impression that live performances can be cancelled anytime the authorities receive police reports against the artiste, according to Free Malaysia Today

Communications minister Fahmi Fadzil has also reportedly come out to say that Puspal received information that several police reports had been lodged over Channa's 2018 video and that a decision was made based on that.

What this means for event organisers, sponsors and advertisers

While Channa did confirm to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that there were no sponsors or advertisers for this particular show, that is not always the case for events. So, what can organisers do to protect themselves?

According to Adam Piperdy, founder and chief experience officer of events company Unearthed Productions, the most important thing to do is to mitigate the risk of an eleventh-hour cancellation by having a plan in place.

"An event can be cancelled for a multitude of reasons such as wet weather or unforeseen circumstances. A good events company will always have a contingency plan for any kind of cancellation as well as a communications plan in place to alert attendees," he said.

He added that sponsors and advertisers themselves need to know who will be liable if there is a cancellation as certain factors such as weather are unavoidable.

"If there is negligence and as a result, the proper permits are not obtained, then that is a cause for concern because the organisers are not fulfilling their end of the bargain," he said, adding:

At the end of the day, the events team and client need to work together to repair the narrative and relationship.

Saying that, he noted that that Malaysia is still thriving as an events location with a good market, good facilities and a lot of potential. "This isn't the first time an event has been flagged in Malaysia and organisers simply need to take sensitivities into consideration," he said, adding that event organisers need to be on their toes when working with other counties and governments as they might operate differently to them. 

Adding to his point, Yeo Wei Qi, regional director of events services at Lighthouse Independent Media said that Singapore can be quite straightforward when it comes to policies and getting relevant approvals. Malaysia on the other hand can be different which is why more care is needed to make sure that everything is approved and appropriate to avoid eleventh hour cancellations. 

She added that in the event of a last-minute cancellation such as the one with Channa, she would repurpose the sponsorship amounts to another event. "I try not to refund sponsors because any amount they put in is a form of commitment which they expect," she said, adding:

From a business perspective, keeping the revenue but doing something else with it is always better than returning the money.

The 'kill switch'

This comes as more artistes in Malaysia face increasing scrutiny over their performances in the country. In fact, after a festival concert by 1975 last year was cancelled after lead singer Matt Healy kissed his male bandmate on stage, in direct protest against Malaysia’s laws against homosexuality, a 'kill switch' was set in motion. 

The kill switch function in concerts will only be employed in worst-case scenarios or as a last resort, communications minister Fahmi Fadzil reportedly said earlier this year. 

According to The Star, the minister reportedly said that the kill switch mechanism is also being considered for inclusion in the guidelines of the Central Agency for Application of Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes (Puspal).

The inclusion of the mechanism will help improve understanding, especially for new concert organisers, to make thorough preparations. It will also allow them to take into account potential negative incidents that may occur during the event, Fahmi reportedly added. 

The 'kill switch' was reportedly in effect early this year when British pop-rock band Coldplay took to the stage amidst calls by The Muslim Scholars Association of Malaysia (PUM) to cancel it over the band's support for the LGBTQ+ community.

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