Alden Boon

Edmund Khong on the Business of Clowning, Making Children Laugh, and Overcoming Gaming Addiction

11/10/2017

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Sometimes, the happiest people are the saddest
The lights have gone out, the boisterous applause now a distant whisper, and children with smiles etched by Edmund’s finesse are streaming out of the venue. It has been many hours of joy-making, and Edmund is physically and mentally spent. Most performers would pack up and call it a day, but Edmund has something pressing to do — a creeping desire gnaws at him. He reaches into his bag, retrieves his phone and launches the app “Shadow Era”. He readies himself for an online match with a disembodied gamer halfway across the world. There in the vacated venue he loiters, all alone, eyes fixed on the screen, whisked away to another world.

“I went through a dark period when I developed a serious addiction to mobile gaming, and it led to a downward spiral: It took up a lot of my energy, and I did not have enough time to run my business. I simply lost focus in life.” His wife, who helps at his events, had to bear the brunt of his festering frustration. Edmund would micro-manage her, and snap at her whenever she made a mistake. Onstage, he was this loveable, larger-than-life character, but offstage he was, by his own admission, short-tempered and at times downright nasty.

His career hitting a plateau, Edmund was like a boat impeded by blinding blackness of the night, directionless, carried forward only by the waves. “I kept wondering about what my next move would be, and I didn’t know where I was headed, career wise. My income began to dip slowly.” Another problem was plaguing Edmund as well: His health was debilitating, his weight gain brought on by unhealthy eating habits. “After a show, the last things I wanted to eat were sweet potatoes or oatmeal. I would scarf down high-fat foods such as chicken rice, fried noodles and the like.” At just thirty-three, Edmund became at risk of diabetes as well as high cholesterol and blood pressure. He also experienced persistent throbbing pain in his right knee.

Edmund Khong Professional Clown
At his heaviest, Edmund tipped the weighing scale at over ninety kilograms. Now also battling addiction, work became routine for Edmund, who (literally) had to put on a happy face. “Every day going to work I had to ‘artificially’ make myself happy, and I did that by telling myself that I needed the money to survive.” His passion was dulled, the music of children’s laughter did little to inspirit him.

Gaming soon became his refuge. “In the real world, we have to deal with problems and imperfections and inconveniences. Not so in the gaming world — everything is organised perfectly: The names of your avatars are listed alphabetically; problems are resolved instantaneously with a touch of a button.”

Like mould at first unheeded that eventually infested every nook and cranny in the house, gaming became Edmund’s apex priority, his day-to-day orbiting his online characters: Even on days when he had a gig, he would wake up at three in the morning to engage in matches. He became the reigning world champion in numerous tournaments, and at this juncture his reality and gaming milieu were dichotomous. Here was a sanctum where he excelled tremendously, celebrated even, and no troubles dwelt. The lure was strong.

“I tried really hard to quit the game, and when I went cold turkey I experienced the same symptoms as a drug addict would: my hands shivered; my energy level plummeted. And so I kept relapsing. But in 2014 I finally managed to quit the game.”

Out of the frying pan into the fire
Edmund was now extricated from the webs of addiction, or so he thought. Before long he was, unknowingly, on the prowl for yet another fix. Filling his void was Marvel Puzzle Quest, a lethal combination of his favourite Marvel characters and Candy-Crush-esque matching games. All told, Edmund splurged a staggering five thousand dollars on in-app purchases.

I do feel regret whenever I think about all those years, which were supposed to be the prime of my life. But there’s a part of me that wants to move on. I have a talent, and I want to share my gift with the world, and I haven’t got any more time to lose.

His life between 2012 and 2015 was spilt between such debauchery and his so-called passion: a wavering candle flame on the last inch of wick. His reset button came unexpectedly one day, and in the unlikeliest form: silly banter courtesy of his wife. “I was watching an entertainment show on TV, and I commented on how attractive the actress was. To that my wife said, ‘She would never like a fatso like you!’” Though said in jest, these words were a reality slap. Concerned about his health, Edmund began reading online resources on weight loss and body transformation. He found a new passion: powerlifting, and thanks to a strict regimen he began losing weight and cutting a tapered physique.

But it is a fine line between passion and addiction, and addiction is like black ice: not always visible yet deadly. Soon Edmund slipped back into his old obsessive ways, purchasing supplements in the hope of bulking. Then he heard on the grapevine a certain pre-workout drink would energise him, and then he learnt about branched-chain amino acid supplements. The convenience of online shopping meant that he had ready access to all these products, and once again he spent a considerable amount of money on his new hobby.

When an obsessive person has exhausted all his options, he begins exploring dangerous territories, says Edmund. “Steroids are proven to work, which is why so many people turn to them.” Fortunately, he was able to sidestep this slippery slope by employing the same technique he uses to get into his clown characters: envisioning the end result. “My goal was to become healthier, and steroids achieve the opposite of that.”

Wiser and more in control of his life, Edmund recognised the pattern of addiction, and he swiftly curbed his online-spending impulses.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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