In a battle of fastest fingers first that displayed Singaporeans’ kiasu-ism at its finest, many stragglers were left disappointed when tickets for Cannot Means Cannot were sold out. As the great saying goes, you snooze you lose!

Fortunately, after reading the many comments of dissatisfaction left by online denizens, local stand-up comedian Rishi Budhrani decided to do a preview show two days before his first solo gig at the Esplanade.

Held at Blu Jaz Café, the comedic affair began with a series of opening acts that kick-started the night on a promising note. By the time Rishi came on stage, everyone in attendance was in a jovial mood and properly warmed up for a night of face-cramping laughter.

The whole premise of Rishi’s rib-tickling act explores the passive culture in Singapore where everyone does as they are told. More specifically, he questions the puzzling lack of insights given by higher-ups into why locals cannot do what they’re told they cannot do.

Like a precocious and restless child who’s trying to make sense of the world, Rishi asks why. Why can’t Muslim women in frontline public service wear the hijab? Why do religious leaders demonise Beauty and the Beast as a film that promotes homosexuality?

And for crying out loud, why can’t he say “shit” on national television? While Rishi may not have the answers to these questions, he can and he will make you laugh while you ponder about these subject matters.

His thought-provoking yet comical social commentary aside, the beauty of his material lies in how racially inclusive he is. In other words, no one is safe from his comic onslaught.

He rants about that fat-shaming Malay girl who gave him his first heartbreak at age 11; he applauds the Indians for waiting for a cheaper pre-show before buying his tickets; and he mocks the Chinese simply because the local majority ought to be mocked. And yes, the brave white folks in attendance do get to enjoy his attention and brand of affection too.

All in all, Cannot Means Cannot feels like a celebration of this beautifully diverse and wonderfully strange place many of us call home. A true master at his craft, Rishi created a safe and intimate space for the audience to question – and more importantly, laugh at everything inappropriate about Singapore.

Although, it has to be said that no one was more inappropriate than the strange old lady who – in her quest to find a mysterious friend named Ali went on stage and presented a bewildered Rishi with an illegal piece of chewing gum. But then again, staying true to the theme of the night, she probably thought, why cannot?  

Review by: Arman Shah