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Beyond the greasepaint

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Siem Reap comedienne Chea 'Fish' Channy takes time out to lift up the less fortunate

Photo by: Peter Olszewski

Chea Channy, better known as Fish, returns to the stage.

FISH is back in show business. It's Monday night and her comeback gig is at Siem Reap's Shark Fin Soup Restaurant.  She takes a deep breath, strides purposefully onto the stage, into the spotlight where the heat from the light instantly reacts with her make-up and creates that old familiar smell: the smell of greasepaint. She rolls into her routine: rolling her eyes, contorting her face, cracking the gags, getting the laughs, and doing the corny slapstick routines that are part of her gig as a professional Khmer joker.

She's got the funny stage name too, Kantrop, or Fish, because of the faces she pulls.

She's also a singer but tonight she's sticking to the jokes as she returns to the stage after a yearlong absence. She quit showbiz last year to work as housemother and mentor in a Siem Reap orphanage with mostly troubled wayward teenage girls.

But she couldn't long resist the lure of the limelight.

Later, in her apartment, she reverts to 24-year-old Chea Channy and, curled up in an oval rattan armchair, reminisces about her career. She's always loved singing and in 2001 she was tutored by the father of local singing superstar Sister Khat.

She picks up a glossy Khmer celeb magazine and taps her finger on the cover photo of Khat So Kim.

"Her father first taught me to sing, and in 2003 I shared a house with Sister Khat and she taught me more. I've always loved performing because I want people to know who I am."

In 2006 she got her first taste of real fame appearing on CTN in a program with joker and singer Mr Roy, now star of M-Phone ads.

In 2007 she needed a break from show business and found a new calling, working for Kampuchea House, a home for orphans in Siem Reap.

"I go to the orphanage on weekends where I cook and look after the children. I'm on call as a relief house mother, and I also teach singing to one of the orphans, Sophary. She's 18, and in grade six at school."

Kampuchea House CEO Les Stott is a former teacher from Australia's Wesley College.  He said Channy is instrumental in saving some of the girls from veering into the sex trade. "We're the only orphanage that takes 18-year-olds," he said.

"With a girl like Sophary, having someone like Channy who is trained in singing to teach her, hopefully we can get her out of the rut of falling into the sex trade.... The beauty of having someone like Channy on board is that she's an inspiration. She's very close to the 18 year olds, more like a big sister."

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