The Malaysian comedian crowned 'World's Funniest Person' in 2016

Harith Iskander Image copyright Laugh Factory

Malaysian stand-up comedian Harith Iskander has been crowned the "World's Funniest Person" in 2016. The BBC's Heather Chen spoke to the 50-year-old funny man by telephone after his win in Levi, Finland.

At least one person is laughing as 2016 draws to a close. This year has become the year of internet anguish and memes but for Malaysian comedy king Harith Iskander, it's all good.

"It's all about how you look back on it," he says. "My job is to see the funny sides of life and present it in a humorous way.

"I think the world of Western comedy is ready to hear the voice of an Asian comedian, I have a Malaysian voice and style of comedy."

Iskander beat four other finalists to be named the funniest person in the world by US comedy club chain Laugh Factory, which has hosted comedy greats like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle as well as American talk show host Jay Leno.

He was declared the contest winner through an online voting system, through which fans had 24 hours to cast their votes.

"There was competition from other big names from Europe and around the world so to eventually come out victorious was a truly humbling experience," he says.

It looks like he will also be laughing all the way to the bank. He is set to receive the grand prize of $100,000 (£80,000) as well as a US comedy tour.

Harith Iskander on....

Western horror movies: An American family moves to a new town and they're looking for a new house so they're walking around with their housing agent when they come across an abandoned house.

Creepy vines climbing over, cobwebs everywhere and they ask their agent: "Oh my God, what happened to that house?"

Their housing agent tells them the story: "25 years ago, a little boy killed his whole family. They say he was possessed by the devil."And what does the family say?

"That's interesting, let's go have a look at the house!"

Basically Asians be like: "Eh bodoh (Malay for stupid) You didn't hear what the housing agent said? Why you still want to go and look at the house?!"

Dealing with race and ethnicity in Malaysia: "When I grew up, I had an English mother and a Malay father - I was very normal.

On my first day of school, I sat in class with my friends and the teacher handed out to us forms and I filled out my name, class, school.

But when it came to race: Malay, Chinese, Indian or other ... I ticked 'other' and put an 'M' in front of it (Mother) so that was my box.

The teacher said I was confused."

Traffic jams: Malaysians in general are some of the nicest people in the world.

But there's something about being in the confines of a car that changes us into different beasts. We scream at the world and if we hit something, we'll get out and take a picture.

Malaysia, represent

Iskander has been part of the country's stand-up comedy scene for the past 26 years and he credits his win to using "local material with an international context".

"Malaysia is really 'Truly Asia' because within our country, it's a bit like a buffet, there are different races and cultures, there's a little bit of everything," he says.

Image copyright Harith Iskander
Image caption Iskander has been a veteran in the Malaysian stand-up comedy scene

In a Facebook post that drew close to 30,000 reactions on the site, Iskander said his goal was to unite Malaysians through comedy.

But he also stressed that he is not a "political comedian".

"If you read everything on Facebook, that's only one view of our world and it looks very negative, doom and gloom. However, it's different when I perform my comedy routine.

"In a room, you'll see a thousand people laughing together. You can't fight if you're laughing. Even if you disagree about things, you laugh together."

Additional reporting by Woon King Chai in Kuala Lumpur.

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