Ross Stephenson is a funny-man with a funky hairdo! A psychology graduate with a knack for serving, he believes he has a God-given gift to bring joy to people and therefore, relies on his talent to sweeten the disposition of those around him. Ross deals in the currency of comedy and his goods and services include laughter and free selfies with his Afro. Ross is also well versed in the art of magic; usually combining magic & comedy for a unique entertainment experience. As such Ross has been hired as an Emcee, Comedian, Magician and a Mad Scientist as well!
Walk us through your normal workday.
I usually wake up late in the morning, then immediately get onto my computer and “wake up” my brain by watching some videos on YouTube. After that I usually reply client emails or send out any pending invoices. Following lunch, you can usually find me preparing my props for my emceeing shows or other shows at night. I’m usually quite exhausted after performing. But if I do have any leftover energy, I like to go out for supper with friends to unwind. Once I reach home, I usually sleep like a log.
What motivates you to get out of bed and go to work everyday?
To be very honest, it is the need to pay the bills. I live a fairly comfortable life, and I hope to keep it that way. Thus, I strive to work hard so that I can earn enough to cover my basic monthly expenses, and have a bit extra for savings and entertainment.
Can you share with us the pathway taken to where you are now?
It was a very long and windy path. It’s best to mention an incident that occurred when I was 9 years old that shaped a large chunk of my current career path.
My father sent me for a holiday workshop course where I learnt some magic tricks. Since then, performing magic has been a big part of my life. As I went into college and university, there were numerous events for me to showcase my skills in performing and slowly, people began to take notice. Upon realizing that I could make a sustainable stream of income from my performing career, I decided to form a sole proprietorship after I left university and for an entire year, I focused on developing my emceeing business.
There were many other things that came my way later on. I believe in seizing every opportunity that comes my way and as such, I found myself teaching English part time at Monash University. I have a love for teaching, which I discovered in college, and I intend to further pursue it to become a lecturer one day.
I love education and teaching as much as I enjoy performing and I am hoping that one day, I can make both my educator mindset and my entertainment mindset merge seamlessly in order to create a stimulating learning environment for my students.
How did your time at university affect your career path?
The greatest effect that university had on me was that it provided the perfect platform for me to network with people from all sorts of different areas.
My business has flourished, thanks to having such a diverse network and now, I have connections in practically every industry.
The education I gained from university (psychology degree) was good, in and of itself, but it was the life experiences I gained from learning to work with difficult people, taking charge of university events, and balancing my time between studies and work that taught me more valuable things.
What do you think is a misperception that the general public has about your job, or an aspect of your job that many people aren’t aware of?
People often assume that entertainers are very happy people all the time. But what people often don’t realize is how incredibly exhausted an entertainer is after a show.
Unfortunately, it’s after the show when everyone wants to come up and take pictures with me, so I usually have to find a bit more energy to smile and respond, but in actual fact I just want to go home and have a good sleep.
People also often assume that I can perform on the spot without any preparation. While this is not entirely untrue, it can be annoying when I tell people I’m a magician, for example, and they immediately expect me to perform a trick in front of them. Or when I tell them that I’ve done comedy before and they immediately put me on the spot, demanding jokes. The thing that they don’t realize is that performers only do their entertainment under specific circumstances. In the same way if someone introduces themselves as a doctor, you wouldn’t ask them to suddenly perform open heart surgery on the spot. They need to prepare too. The same goes for entertainers.
“I do what I can to help them forget about their troubles and worries, just for a few hours.”
What are some of the major challenges of your industry?
The biggest challenge is language. Because Malaysia is so diverse, an emcee like myself needs to be able to connect with people from different backgrounds easily. I only speak English and BM fluently, and because I don’t speak Tamil or Chinese fluently, I lose out on a lot of jobs in different markets.
The second challenge is finding good clients. Unfortunately, in Malaysia, many clients tend to pay entertainers late, or they try to negotiate an unfairly low price. Clients sometimes do not appreciate the value of what we do to entertain an audience. This is a problem because entertainers often live paycheck to paycheck and every time a client delays payment, we suffer. Thankfully, to resolve this, I decided to demand for a 50% deposit upfront, and I do not give in to negotiation demands easily.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
Making people smile. Watching their faces light up with joy. Hearing an audience laugh. These are the things I love the most about my job. It makes me feel like my life is meaningful.
Are there any moments where you feel down in your work?
Definitely. Usually after a long show, I feel particularly exhausted and down. In order to cheer myself up, I will try to go for supper with a close friend just to chat and unwind.
Another thing that can affect me is if I feel I did not do a good job. If I made any serious mistakes during my performance, I would feel guilty for the rest of the night.
What problems do you aim to solve in the country?
I am both an educator and an entertainer. I don’t really aim for country-wide problems but rather, I try to focus on impacting the lives of the people in my immediate vicinity. My classroom of students for example, I try to encourage and help them do better in class. Or at my events, I do what I can to help them forget about their troubles and worries, just for a few hours.
What would you consider as your greatest success so far?
I was asked to emcee an event in Penang for a company that was closing down. All the employees had only just been informed that they would be retrenched and out of job at the end of that month. I assumed this was going to be a normal fun company annual dinner, because I was only informed of the real situation about 1 hour before the event started.
If I had a choice, I would never emcee the dinner of a company that has just retrenched all its employees. But I prayed to God for wisdom and I went up on stage and did my absolute best. I performed my best tricks, used my best jokes, entertained with my funniest stage interactions and went all out to make sure the audience had a great time. Right at the end, after an emotional closing video, I concluded the night with some touching words and asked everyone to give each other a hug. I saw people crying, I saw the boss shaking hands with people, tears in his eyes. I have never in my life faced such a difficult and emotional event, but I’m glad I did my best to help them forget about their worries for a while.
“Making people smile. Watching their faces light up with joy. Hearing an audience laugh. These are the things I love the most about my job.”
What can an aspiring entertainer do to prepare themselves for the field?
Firstly, build up your skills by trying new things and experiences. I started off with learning magic, then comedy, then emceeing, and now I can even do balloon art. I am constantly exploring new skills, constantly learning, constantly finding things to add to my repertoire of skills so that my performances remain interesting for audiences.
Secondly, networking is key to getting consistent jobs. A performer needs to put themselves out there so that they are known and as long as you’re good, people will start to take notice. A performer should intentionally network with a wide and diverse group of people, because you never know when you might just get a connection that gives you the best job of your life!
Did you face dissuasion/negativity from your parents/ friends and if so, how did you deal with them?
Initially, my parents were not supportive of my performing career. My father thought that things like performing magic were a waste of time, and he told me to focus on my studies instead. I proved him wrong. I maintained my good grades AND I still honed on my performing talent, taking every opportunity I had to show my skills and now, years later, my own father is recommending me to his friends!
What I needed to prove to my parents was that I could earn enough money from performing to sustain myself. Once I did that, they had no reason to stop me. But at the same time, I recognize the importance of education and I never allowed my grades to drop.
How/When did you decide to make the switch from your traditional degree/career to this one?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision, because I am the kind of person that makes decisions based on whatever opportunity comes my way.
I realized somewhere around my university days that I could earn sufficient income to cover my monthly expenses, and that was around the time I decided to devote more attention towards performing.
That being said, I do intend to get a more stable job as a lecturer because as mentioned previously, job security is hard to come by in the entertainment industry.
As someone who has been in the entertainment industry for quite awhile, do you still face stage fright?
Oh yes! Every time I go on stage I feel a little nervous. There was once where I took part in a public speaking competition, and I had to go to the toilet to throw up because I was feeling so nervous.
Thankfully I don’t throw up anymore, but I do still feel a little queasy from time to time. As one of my mentors told me, it’s okay to feel a little nervous, because that feeling keeps you on your toes and ensures sure you don’t get overconfident.
What motivates you to keep going & continue engaging with your audience?
I think it is just the joy of making people laugh that keeps me going. Whenever I hear someone say how much they enjoyed my show, it encourages me to know that I made a positive impact in someone’s life, even if it’s just for a moment.
“A performer needs to put themselves out there so that they are known and as long as they’re good, people will start to take notice.”