Mark of a man: 8 things you didn’t know about “the comedy king”

In the final installment of Toggle Talk, we put Singapore’s “comedy king” Mark Lee in the hot seat and quiz him about his (unspoken) riches, his (unheard) take on love and fidelity, and his (unseen) henpecked side


Photos: Lee Lay Na

AH BENG MADE GOOD: That’s a phrase used to describe local comedian Mark Lee, who’s unarguably one of the most well-loved beng kias on this little red dot, adored not just for his irrepressible sense of humour but his sense of loyalty and righteousness.

This 48-year-old’s rags to riches story never gets old: his dad was a “failure” and his mother became the sole breadwinner of the family; when Mark was in secondary school in the 1980s, his family’s finances were in such dire straits they “couldn’t even afford to buy 50 cents worth of rice”. You’d think life picked up when they finally moved into a home—a HDB flat—of their own and when he finally started working in 1989, but that’s not the way the story goes.

“I was so cash-strapped that I couldn’t even afford to buy a copy of the newspaper which costs around 50 to 60 cents [during 1992 or 1993], and I walked home crying that day,” Mark revealed, “I did not take the bus home from work because I really wanted to save on the bus fare to buy a copy of the newspaper, but the irony is I didn’t have enough [cash] to afford the papers.”

Contrary to what you might think, he did not shed tears over his poor and penniless state, said Mark, who made light of his pitiable plight. “I cried because I could have taken the easier route home (by bus) instead of walking.”

Back then, he remembered getting paid $25 on a weekly basis (or $100 per month), for a grand total of 18 months, for his stint in popular sketch comedy show, Comedy Nite. The budding comedian barely scraped by as his take-home pay was close to nothing, leaving him with no choice but to rely on additional allowance from his sister’s income and mother’s “meagre” earnings from her food stall.

Before he hit the big league, attained a spot in the All-time Favourite Artistes’ hall of fame, set up his own talent agency, production company, and co-invested in a hair salon and Old Town cafe business, Mark was truly a rich poor boy – rich in talent, poor in cash. But he roughed it out, paid his dues, and things started to pick up for him -- just look at who and where Mark Lee is at today.

We speak to “Singapore’s most good looking guy” (claims Mark – not us, and based on his official Facebook fan page name) and pick up a thing or two from his lessons learned through the school of hard knocks. Read on and watch the videos for more!

Watch: Mark tells all about his personal life and assets

#1 He plans for the second generation, but does not overindulge them

Mark has come a long, long way, from having no money in his pockets to becoming an owner of two private apartments and several cars. The funnyman explains that his goal is to own three condominium units, which will be given to his kids in future, in order to give them a better life when they grow up. What they will eventually do with it – be it selling or staying in it – is none of his business, said Mark.

“In my parents’ generation, they could afford a three-room flat in three to five years’ time if they scrimped and saved, but for the young today, you can’t even afford a piece of COE (Certificate of Entitlement) in 15 years’ time even if you scrimped and saved. Am I right?” he pointed out. “It’s not easy!”

To sound slightly morbid, he only has one condition for his three kids: “They’d need to stay in a flat first, before I die and they will only inherit my fortune after I have signed the papers, closed my eyes and passed on. I think this is the most basic [they can do].”

#2 His mysterious affinity with the number ‘4’

While most Chinese frown on and avoid the number “4” like plague (it sounds like ‘death’ when said in Chinese), Mark embraces the number and calls it his “good luck charm”. His uncanny affinity for it began many years ago when he purchased a new ride that had a number “4” in its car plate number.

“I didn’t like it in the beginning too because of how ominous it sounded. But a fengshui master, who is also my godfather, told me that the number 4 is my lucky number,” he recalled.

On the day he was told the good news, Mark said he bumped into Fann Wong, who was behind him, at the TV station. She gave him the thumbs up sign and he struck 4D second prize for the number “0400” on that very day.

Looking back on his fortuitous encounter with Fann, he jokingly remarked, “Thank goodness I bumped into the second Ah Jie-in-waiting and she gave me a ‘good’ sign which helped me to win the second prize. Luckily it’s not the sixth Ah Jie-in-waiting, can you imagine if it’s Ann Kok [I met]? I’d have won the consolation prize instead. (Laughs)”

From that moment on, he’d try to include the number “4” in his life wherever possible, like staying on the fourth floor, or having four of everything – four kids, four cars, four houses, just not “having four wives,” Mark reiterated firmly.


#3 An AV (adult video) film ended his eight-year wait for a child

Mark and his wife are infamous for their attempts to conceive a child in the early years of their marriage – they have tried all types of traditional methods and even sat on Zoe Tay’s bed after she gave birth (a traditional belief that’d help with the chances of conceiving). But nothing worked for them and after eight years of trying, they were stressed out by the very mention of “come home early tonight” because that’d signify a long night of you-know-what ahead of them.

It got so bad they’d avoid full month birthday parties to evade pregnancy-related questions, said Mark. “My mum did not pressure us to have a child, neither did her mum. And all the more we felt guilty and sorry so things got extremely stressful.”

Well, you know when they say good things come when you least expect it and the couple finally struck gold, during a work trip to Japan – with the help of a Japanese AV (Adult Video) film.

“After dinner we returned to our room and turned on the TV. We didn’t understand the Japanese programmes and we’ve already seen the movies showing in Singapore, so we decided to give their AV films a try since it’s not available here… And my first daughter was conceived under such circumstances,” he laughed.

Given his long wait for Calista’s arrival, it’s no wonder he babies her the most. “I’ve always thought I’d treat them equally, but I finally realised that is not the case,” he confessed.

When Calista is crying in her room, Mark’s immediate reaction would be to check in on her; if Marksonn is crying, he’d ask his wife to go check in on him; and if his youngest daughter Calynn is crying, Mark said, “I’d just be sitting there, watching my TV programme.”

Watch: Mark gets candid about his baby-making adventures

#4 He gets grief for his poor grasp of English

Due to his poor education background, Mark leaves his wife in-charge of the children’s academic matters while he schools them in “things that are unseen” like moral values and being street smart.

But that has not stopped him from telling them bedtime stories in English (he spent a month telling them the story about the Monkey King’s journey to the west) or joking around with them in a mixture of dialect and English, which has, unfortunately, backfired.

Once, his son’s school teacher requested for him not to communicate with his kids in English when Marksonn repeated a nonsensical joke Mark shared with him in school. “I said ‘yes-si or no-si, no-si is pi-sai (nose booger)’ and I didn’t think a 3-year-old would pick it up and he actually said the same thing in school!

“It felt like a slap in my face when the teacher said: ‘Mr Lee, next time you don’t try to speak English to your children’… it was both painful and funny at the same time,” he chuckled.

How does Mark avoid unwanted advances from women? Continued on the next page.

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