As he approaches a personal landmark, funnyman Hossan Leong, 39, reflects on life with his trademark wit and candor. He directed Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, which was showing at the National Library’s Drama Centre.
- By Ramesh William
- | Dec 12, 2008
My parents were polar opposites; my dad was always the life of the party and quite the funny character. My mom on the other hand was the disciplinarian, who made sure we were always well behaved.
She, however, would never admonish us in public; she was discreet about it. When my younger brother and I misbehaved, she would throw us an icy stare—forewarning us of what would be waiting for us at home.
Parents these days are irritating. They don’t discipline their kids at all, allowing them to run around willy-nilly and make a complete din in public. It always makes me want to scream.
I went to Anglo-Chinese School (ACS). They breed politicians, lawyers, radicals and conmen.
I loved ACS because we were ingrained with a tremendous sense of loyalty, as its ethos centered on excelling together to bring glory to the school. And you can easily spot ACS boys; I once stumbled upon four teens playing bridge by the Esplanade and I went: ACS, right? They duly nodded.
The Boys’ Brigade was my ECA until I realized I that didn’t want to be part of any organization; I wanted to do my own thing. I wanted to be different.
Then, there was this vicious rumor going around in that if I didn’t have an ECA I wouldn’t be able to pass my O-Levels. In a fit of panic, I joined the gardening society.
I was made president of the society in no time. My duties included telling people how to water plants and where to move flowerpots to.
My first acting role came in junior college (JC), Anglo-Chinese JC, in the Diary of Anne Frank—I played the doctor who roomed with Anne. In the ‘80s, acting was not seen as a potential career, so I did not regard this as a seminal moment in my career.
I failed my O-Level Chinese four times and was kicked out of JC. I really thought my life was over then. I remembered thinking: What am I going to do? Sweep roads? Clean toilets?
With no other viable options available, I joined the French-Singapore Institute (FSI) (now incorporated into Nanyang Polytechnic) to pursue a diploma in Electronic Engineering. I knew nuts about electronics; I could barely use a calculator.
In my first lab session, I couldn’t even turn on the computer; I didn’t know where the switch was. Eventually I learned how to develop cash cards.
What also came out of the FSI was that I mastered French in two years. I couldn’t even master Mandarin in 10.
I now work very closely with the French Embassy and the Alliance Francaise to promote the French language and culture here. I have this favorite joke: French people are very smart; they all speak French. And their children do too.
My first “proper theater” role was with The Necessary Stage. I was in a play called Off Centre in 1993. For six months of research and rehearsals I was paid $120.
Theater in Singapore has always been elitist—it’s a very hard to break into the circle.
I’m not leading-man material. I always get secondary roles, or character roles, or the fall guy for the lead guy role. Being typecast, however, isn’t a bad thing: It usually gets me a steady stream of work.
Theater is about reflecting society. It’s not about looking fabulous.
My first TV role was Denise’s boyfriend in Under One Roof; you know, the weird guy who plays the guitar.
I’ve done stand-up comedy. Luckily for me, Singapore audiences were (are) not into heckling. I talk very fast and when I first started out, most in the audience would miss the punch line, so I had to learn to pace myself.
I enjoy handbag music. Kylie Minogue and Janet Jackson—ooh, yeah baby.
I turn 40 next year and getting older means being levelheaded and enjoying more stability—you realize a lot of the material things you once fussed over don’t matter anymore. Midlife crisis? What midlife crisis?
My parents look young for their age as well. It’s genetic.