For the first time in his showbiz career, former (for now) Sam Willows member Benjamin Kheng says he is enjoying “unlimited power” - and it’s not because of any gem-studded gauntlets or spiky metal thrones (please excuse the pop culture references).
Instead, it’s thanks to The BenZi Project, an online sketch series he launched with seasoned YouTuber Hirzi Zulkiflie in November last year. The duo handles everything from writing to directing to editing to scoring - in other words, they are their own bosses, and they get to do whatever they want, even if it’s just “letting the camera roll and doing stupid s***”.
“We basically have full autonomy and control, which I can’t say I’ve ever had with any other project outside,” Benjamin told us during our chat last Friday (Jun 7). The 28-year-old added that he’s “always wanted to do sketch comedy”, but with a strong message behind said “stupid s***”.
As Benjamin elaborated, “Humour is a great way to mask everything - first you go, hey, this is funny, but then you realise that it’s also real life and it’s happening to you. It’s also a great way to approach sensitive topics without inflaming certain internet online sections. (Laughs)”
But there was one small issue: Benjamin had never done comedy before, only “emotional, serious stuff”, so it was important for him to get an “expert” in that area.
“I consulted a few people, but decided that Hirzi and I have a lot of the right differences and similarities: we’re different in the way we write and think, but similar in terms of our goals, so it’s a very nice ‘marriage’,” he said.
And if anyone’s wondering if the pair has run into any “creative differences” (that was our nice way of saying “work arguments”, to be honest) so far, Benjamin laughed and declared, “No, I’m very easy to work with! Seriously! I believe in the power of collaboration and even if there’s tension, it’s good tension.”
That said, he quickly acknowledged that “there have been differences”, but nothing too devastating à la the Jonas Brothers. “There’s nothing that seven years of Sam Willows ‘training’ hasn’t prepared me for,” he chuckled. Where is that shifty eyes emoji when we need it?
Continued on next page: Benjamin thinks he “could have done a lot things better” on 'Wonder Boy'
Okay, we don’t need it, because as Benjamin claimed, there is “no great conspiracy theory” behind their hiatus. “We did contemplate giving a juicier story, but we were like, nolah - we’re all still very close friends!” he laughed, adding that they made the decision together, then had a group hug, then went out for Hai Di Lao.
Benjamin also revealed that there were originally more plans as a group this year, namely a Southeast Asian tour that was tragically axed due to unforeseen circumstances.
“After the news dropped we were like, okay, do you want to keep doing this? Or should we take some time to rediscover who we are?” he recalled. “And sometimes you need to spend some time alone before coming back with a fresh perspective.”
Fans would be pleased to hear that there is solo music in the pipeline. “It will happen by this year, but as of now, I’m concentrating on The BenZi Project and a few other things on the side,” he shared, cheekily describing the concept of his potential record as “Ben Kheng singing songs”. Thanks [eye-roll emoji].
Of course, “a few other things on the side” includes acting, something Benjamin has dabbled in quite frequently in addition to his pop star endeavours, most recently for Toggle Original After Love, as well as for Dick Lee biopic Wonder Boy, this month’s Lights. Camera. Singapore. highlight.
Looking back on the latter film two years later, Benjamin confessed that he feels he “could have done a lot things better across the board” with his portrayal of Dick, despite validation from the renowned songwriter himself.
“To be honest, I agreed with most of the reviews, both good and bad,” he mused. “And I think I could have plotted the character a little better because I was paying homage to someone who wasn’t just very much alive, but actually directing the story. Then again, I guess you’re always your own harshest critic.”
“Dick told me he was very pleased, but he’s the kind of person who doesn’t dwell on things very much,” Benjamin continued. “Not that he didn’t care about Wonder Boy, but he did the job and moved on to the next thing, and you’ve got to appreciate that.”
Watch ‘Wonder Boy’ on Channel 5 and Toggle at 10pm on June 25.
Visit the Lights. Camera. Singapore. microsite for more information and to watch past films.