Ahead of his first solo show at the 2023 Feast Festival, we speak to stand-up comedian Brendan Goh about growing up gay in Malaysia and moving to SA to follow his dreams.
About Feast Festival
Feast Festival began in 1997 as an LGBTQIA+ community arts festival. It provided a safe space for Adelaide’s queer artists to freely express themselves – something that didn’t exist back then.
The Department of Premier and Cabinet through Arts South Australia is delighted to support Feast Festival in 2023 as an affirming and joyful celebration of LGBTQIA+ arts and culture.
For more than 25 years, Feast has been a crucial part of South Australia’s suite of world-class festival offerings. Festivals entertain, stimulate and inspire us, and like all great arts experiences, connect us as humans. They build more empathetic and cohesive communities.
The Feast Festival is arts at its best – it presents the work of diverse artists across artforms, and across our city and state. And it enriches the lives of us all.
The South Australian community is invited to celebrate and discover the festival in its final days.
Feast Festival has grown to become Adelaide’s premier LGBTQIA+ arts and cultural festival and a beloved fixture on SA’s major events calendar. More than 32,000 people attended last year’s festival – and this year is set to be even bigger.
This year’s Feast is serving up artistic treats!
In 2023, the Feast program features more than 500 emerging and established artists – both local and international – at around 80 fabulous events. These include something for everyone, with cabaret, drag, visual art, poetry, comedy, film, burlesque, music, dance and more.
New Feast Festival CEO Tish Naughton says it’s exciting to be part of the festival’s evolution. “We have so many must-see events in the program, from comics, cabaret performances to never before seen Marvel queer art, premiers of films and we also have regional events – Burra’s own Picnic in the Park,” Tish says.
When she attended her first Feast Festival in 2007, Tish felt “an overwhelming sense of joy, knowing this was where I was meant to be”. Running from 1-19 November, the 2023 Feast is a chance to “celebrate pride, embrace our differences, and be kind to one another,” she says.
Show spotlight: Brendan Goh’s People Like Us
Brendan’s Feast Festival show, People Like Us, tells the story of his life. There are lots of laughs along the way, but the story is also set to give audiences all the feels. It’s the moving tale of a small-town boy who grew up in regional Malaysia knowing he was different, and how he pursued his passion for performing despite the odds – all the way to Adelaide.
Growing up in regional Malaysia, “I was always outside the lines,” Brendan says. “I’ve never been the norm – I’ve always been the exception.” It’s a “conservative” country where homosexuality is illegal and the arts are frowned upon. That’s not exactly ideal when you’re a gay theatre kid.
“I always wanted to perform but my parents weren’t supportive at all,” he says. Still, Brendan moved to the big city – Kuala Lumpur – to try to make it in the theatre industry. It didn’t work out, and being without a creative outlet sent him into a spiral of depression.
“Semi-secret” Malaysian comedy
But he wasn’t giving up, and looked for another way to perform. He’d tried stand-up comedy once in 2014 and it went badly, but four years later he was ready to try again at an open-mic night. This time it went better and “the rest is history” – which makes it sound quite a lot easier than it actually was.
The Malaysian comedy scene is “not as underground as it used to be”, he says, but a lot of the shows are still semi-secret – especially if the jokes are about being queer.
“Even now, the government over there is cracking down on gay people having fun,” he says. But the comedians find ways to make it work, and Brendan has come out on stage to an audience of 400 at one of his Malaysian gigs.
When the Covid pandemic hit, Brendan took his comedy online, honing his craft with virtual performances for audiences in the US, Canada and Japan.
South Australian success
Then last year he moved to Adelaide, where he’s already making his mark. He was a 2023 RAW Comedy SA finalist and won an Adelaide Fringe Artist Fund grant – which blew his mind. “I was so shocked that you guys would invest in me, because this would never happen in Malaysia,” he says.
As for Feast Festival, “to have a weeks-long festival celebrating queer culture is insane to me! It’s really nice to be part of Feast and it’s an honour as well,” he says.
“People back home are really happy for me. Because, in a way, I’m not only living for myself, but I’m also living for them and hoping for them to one day be able to come over here too.”
What “People Like Us” means
People Like Us, on 16 November, will be another career highlight for Brendan. It’s his first solo show, and he’s “really, really nervous – but also really excited,” he says. He’ll also be performing it next year at Adelaide Fringe.
If you’re wondering about the title of the show, “people like us” – or PLU – is the code gay people use to identify each other in Malaysia, because even talking about homosexuality in public can be dangerous. “I know people who fly to the Sydney Mardi Gras just to be gay for a few days and then come back to Malaysia,” he says.
Brendan Goh’s show People Like Us is on 7pm, 16 November at My Lover Cindi, 2/192 Pirie St, Adelaide. More info and tickets here.
Other shows happening over the final weekend include the Queer Pool Party, Rainbow Families Disco, The Feast Comedy Debate and Burra Country Pride Picnic. See the full 2023 Feast Festival program and buy tickets here.