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Lady of laughs

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Lady of laughs

Current comedy darling Sudarat 'Tukkie' Bootprom is matching the boys, joke for joke

  • Published: 9/12/2009 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: Outlook

It's not easy being funny. It's not easy making people laugh. It's even harder being funny and making people laugh on screen, but that doesn't seem to be a problem for female comedian du jour Sudarat Bootprom, better known as Tukkie.

Playing off her homely looks and rambunctious personality, Tukkie capitalises on her slapstick and costume abilities that rival the top male comedians of today. Tukkie has come a long way from appearing irregularly alongside Samcha Gang on long-time national hit variety show Ching Roi Ching Larn, which features bankable, influential comedy stars such as Mum Jokmok, Teng Terdterng and Nong Samcha. With persistence and gradually increased airtime as well as support from Mum Jokmok, Tukkie, once a mere extra and wardrobe mistress on the show, has become a top performer in her own right, starring in many blockbuster movies including this year's big hit Wongkumloa. Tukkie's stardom has finally shone as bright as her makers this year, judging from her increased number of TV appearances and interviews. Her recent sky-high popularity has resulted in an upcoming movie that is scripted solely for the humble girl to shine.

''I've been very busy this year. But my job is not serious in nature. I just have to be funny, and I'd like to think that I'm a funny person anyway so it's not really a job, is it? For me, I can turn it on naturally. Just count 'Three, two, one, action!' and I am at it. Even when I have problems in my personal life, I leave them all behind when the cameras are on,'' says Tukkie.

Of medium built, Tukkie carries a much larger persona. She often slips into self deprecation and mockery. Tukkie is regularly the butt of many jokes due to her Isan origin and country girl looks. It might sound degrading, but that is how Thai comedy, which relies heavily on physical put-downs and classism, works, and this loveable comedian says she plays on it to increase her marketability _ nothing is off-limits when she performs, even when the usual jokes often brand her as unbecoming and not pretty. But Tukkie sans crazy costumes and over-the-top make-up is actually an exotic kind who pays a lot of attention to fashion and accessories. She is in no way the country bumpkin she is often portrayed as.

''I actually like it when people compliment me and say I am not so ugly in real life and that I'm much prettier than what they usually see. I know I'm not butt ugly and that I look regular, but when I'm on TV or in a movie, I go all out, and don't care about my appearance. I can do anything and wear absolutely anything since I cannot do that in real life, right? But, honestly speaking, I don't think looks matter that much in showbiz nowadays. Your capability is much more important.''

Despite contrary beliefs, Tukkie didn't experience the same childhood hardship as most working comedians did. Her parents own a couple of bath buses in Udon Thani, so putting food on the table was never a problem. They were neither rich nor poor. Her older brother now takes care of the buses while her younger sister is a pharmacist. Tukkie's folks were extremely poor, but they persevered and worked hard for their children. Being from a humble background prompted Tukkie's parents to instil hardworking values in all their children. Since she was young, she was taught that money is to be handled with care.

''I've never been a big spender. I was taught to save money. My parents have always worked very hard. These days, I'm making more money, but my mother still goes out to work in the rice fields for 200 baht a day since she's happy to be working. Even when I ask them to stop and rest comfortably at home they still don't since they don't want their neighbours to think that my money and fame have changed them. I respect them for that.''

Tukkie discovered her love for performance and confidence in school. As a regular-looking girl, she says she was never picked to perform on stage or at school functions.

''It was almost an emotional scar. I told myself that if I wasn't pretty enough to be picked, I must show my talents instead. So I became hyper overt and always volunteered for everything. I would dance in front of the teachers even if they didn't ask me to. I did all that because I wanted to get participation certificates to make my parents proud. And my house is near the school, so every time they called out names to receive certificates, my parents as well as the whole village would hear my name. It was some sort of a pride thing, I think,'' she says, adding that at the end she became a regular performer.

Defying her father's wish for her to become a teacher, Tukkie enrolled herself in Kalasin College of Dramatic Arts, repeating seventh grade once again. Her interest in the school was piqued when she saw pictures of a teacher dancing traditionally in places both in and out of Thailand, places she had dreamed of visiting. That particular teacher advised her to enrol in the performing art school if she wanted a career in such a field. While at the school, she perfected the arts of traditional and contemporary dancing as well as acting. Once her degree was completed, she chose to further her studies in the same field at Mahasarakham University.

''At university, I got the chance to learn about the many facets of performance art. It involves much more than the performers. I learned about production, lighting, stage directing and costume-making, among many other things. It was very fulfilling.''

Upon graduation, Tukkie had her mind set on moving to Bangkok and working for ether Workpoint (her current company) or GMM Grammy.

''I really wanted to wear a head microphone and order people around,'' says Tukkie, chuckling.

She kept applying and applying, but when her dream seemed to be out of reach she decided to take a job at Phuket Fantasea as one of the performers. Tukkie says she could play whatever part they needed her to, and the pay was very good which enabled her to send a lot of money home to her parents every month. She worked there for two years before one of her many applications to Workpoint was finally picked up and considered. Her dream company was looking for a costume mistress. Even with a considerable pay cut, she was eager to take the job.

She was responsible for all Workpoint's shows which included the long-running hit Ching Roi Ching Larn. Around the company, Tukkie's reputation as a quick-witted, talkative and funny girl started to spread. She would banter with stars with no qualm and was not afraid to talk back when teased which somehow impressed her mentor and idol Mum Jokmok.

''I think he saw something in me. One day, he just came over and asked if I wanted to play a small part in Samcha Gang's skit, but there was no time to rehearse. I agreed to it right away. I wasn't nervous. I knew I could do it since it was something I had been doing since childhood, and it was something that I was trained in. I just accepted it, and did my thing.''

Since that fateful appearance six years ago, Tukkie has gradually built up her fan base while also maintaining her costume mistress job. She slowly became more visible and by popular demand she has become indispensable to the gang's weekly skits.

''I never thought I would be a regular because everyone in the company has a chance to be a star if they can pull it off. Mum, Teng and Nong have taught me so much. I've learned how to play off of them individually since they all have different comedic styles. Mum likes people who fight back while with Teng, you don't attack back, and Nong likes to compete over costumes and dancing. It's been a steep learning curve. I still learn from them every day.''

However, being on TV hasn't always been easy for Tukkie. In the beginning, she was a regular employee of the company even when she appeared on the show from time to time, so she was still under the normal payroll which was much less that her Phuket Fantasea days. In her naivety, Tukkie wanted to send the same amount to her folks and foolishly began relying on credit, which amounted to 10 cards in the end. Finally, her unsurmountable credit card debt broke her to pieces.

''I didn't use money to buy luxurious things. I took money out to send to my parents. I didn't think. At the end, it became so much and I wanted to kill myself. I seriously considered it. Finally, my mother found out and stepped in. It took me three years to clear my debt. Now, I don't owe a single credit card. I would never use one again, not in a million years.''

TV often also leads to movies. Tukkie started appearing in many comedy films under the franchise of Mum, Teng and Nong. To many, it was her scene-stealing performance in Wongkumloa this year that took her stardom to the next level. In the movie, Tukkie plays a pretentious socialite who speaks Thai mixed with English in a laughable foreign accent. Her delivery is so good that viewers can't help but fall in love with her. It has emerged as her breakthrough moment, but Tukkie doesn't contribute her popularity solely to the hit movie.

''I think I've paid my dues. My current success is something that I've built up. Don't forget that I've been on TV for many years, and people have slowly become familiar with my face. My time just happens to be right now. The timing has been just perfect.''

Tukkie doesn't feel that it's harder for her as a female in the male-dominated world of comedy. You can count the number of working female comedians in her genre on two hands.

''Funny bones don't have a gender. It's an individual talent. It has nothing to do with sex organs. It has more to do with constant professional improvement rather than anything else. There's probably only one thing that male comedians will do that I won't _ get naked on camera!'' she says, adding that she can outdance anything and never backs out of a funny dancing showdown.

To the 30-year-old comedian, the showbiz road ahead of her is long and winding. But one thing for certain is that she will continue to master her craft.

''I hate being fake the most. For me, being a comedian must come from your heart. If the real you is not funny, I don't think you can keep on acting this way and that. I used to say I was different from what people saw of me on-screen, but I've realised that it's the real me both on and off stage. I think maximising who I really am is the best way to keep going.''

Relate Search: Sudarat Bootprom, Tukkie, Ching Roi Ching Larn, Mum Jokmok, Teng Terdterng, Nong Samcha

About the author

columnist
Writer: Onsiri Pravattiyagul
Position: Outlook Writer

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