Gurmit Singh was scared & 'ready to migrate' after Goh Chok Tong called out Phua Chu Kang's Singlish

'I just wanted to have fun and make people laugh, suddenly I'm like [a] terrorist or something.'

Mandy How | January 10, 2022, 04:40 PM

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"Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd" is one of the rare local productions that outlived its airtime.

The 167-episode sitcom, which spanned a decade from 1997 to 2007, starred Gurmit Singh, Irene Ang, Pierre Png, Tan Kheng Hua, Marcus Ng, Neo Swee Lin, and Lim Kay Siu.

Screenshot via On The Red Dot/MeWATCH

The cast recently reunited on "On The Red Dot", where they reminisced about their time on set.

But it was not all glam and glory—for a period, their use of Singlish on national TV became a point of contention.

"Don't play play"

Back then, the show had become so pervasive that phrases like "don't play play" and "abuden" were picked up by the audience.

Gurmit recalls parents complaining about the phenomenon during Season 2, and it became such a "serious thing" that the actor got letters, emails, phone calls to watch the National Day Rally, where Phua Chu Kang and Gurmit himself would be mentioned.

Screenshot via On The Red Dot/MeWATCH

People were apparently unhappy with the Singlish used, and then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had said in his speech,

"Teachers complained that students are picking up catchphrases like 'Don't play play'. The students may think that it is acceptable, and even fashionable, to speak like Phua Chu Kang.


Gurmit Singh can speak many languages, but Phua Chu Kang speaks only Singlish. If our children learn Singlish from Phua Chu Kang, they will not become as talented as Gurmit Singh."

Rewatching the scene on "On The Red Dot," Gurmit laughed wryly.

Screenshot via On The Red Dot/MeWATCH

Screenshot via On The Red Dot/MeWATCH

But it was a different story when the speech first aired—back then, the actor was so scared, he was ready to migrate.

"I just wanted to have fun and make people laugh, suddenly I'm like [a] terrorist or something," he said.

The crew was also concerned that they would have to stop production at the Prime Minister's behest.

"A 'lah' is not a swear word. Why are we treating it as if someone has said some vulgarities?" writer and director Esan Sivalingam questioned.

In response to Goh's speech, the producers tweaked the language used in the show and had Phua Chu Kang complete an English course at the start of Season 3.

"Actually Singlish is the only thing that connects us with people from all walks of life," (Pierre) Png, who played Phua Chu Kang's brother, expressed.

Screenshot via On The Red Dot/MeWATCH

"It's our language," Gurmit added.

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Top image screenshot via On The Red Dot/MeWATCH