Singapore’s foreign minister and the country’s High Commissioner to Malaysia have apologised after a Singapore-born comedian performing in New York made the disappearance of MH370 the punchline to a joke.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he was “appalled” by the “horrendous statements” made by stand-up comedian Jocelyn Chia.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“We treasure our ties with family and friends in Malaysia and are sorry for the offence and hurt caused to all Malaysians,” he wrote on his Twitter account on Thursday.
High Commissioner Vanu Gopala Menon said he was “appalled by the gratuitously offensive comments” Chia had made during the performance at the Comedy Cellar in New York.
“The Singapore government does not condone words or actions that cause harm or hurt to others, and Chia, who is no longer Singaporean, does not in any way reflect our views.”
Many Malaysians were shocked after Chia, who used her set to poke fun at Singapore and Malaysia’s long-running rivalry, chose to joke about MH370, which disappeared on its way to Beijing in 2014 with 239 people on board.
The audience did not seem to find that element of the performance funny and Chia responded: “Some jokes don’t land. This joke kills in Singapore.”
The short video went viral after Chia uploaded it to her social media account.
In comments beneath the video, Intan Maizura Othaman, the wife of Mohd Hazrin Mohamed Hasnan, who was among the MH370 crew, accused Chia of a “distasteful cheap shot” to gain popularity.
“Inferiority & insecurity can sometimes turn people into this ugly self-loathing persona, and manifest itself as an awkward and heartless (or maybe brainless) comic,” she added.
In a statement late on Wednesday, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir said Chia had shown a “total lack of sensitivity and empathy towards Malaysians and victims’ families”.
Malaysian comedian Harith Iskander echoed that view, saying that while freedom of expression was necessary for comedy, Chia’s joke had gone too far.
“It is equally important to exercise some level of sensitivity and empathy when doing certain material, especially topics that are deeply personal or tragic,” he said in a video posted online.
Some debris from MH370 has been found on beaches in Indian Ocean islands and eastern Africa suggesting the Boeing 777 probably crashed into a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean. Multi-country efforts to search for the plane, however, have not been successful.
Singapore was briefly part of Malaysia before it became an independent nation in 1965.