Career Guide

They went from zero to hero

They come from a family of nine and had to survive on an income of just RM350 a month!

Hailing from a small village in Kudat, Sabah, Syaiful, Sharif and Atu (real names are Mohammad Syaiful, Sharif Kadil and Sharif Kunal respectively) are the sons of a traditional fisherman, Sharif Doli.

They come from a family of nine and had to survive on an income of just RM350 a month!

Life was difficult for them as you can imagine. But their luck turned around when they saw a television (TV) advertisement for a reality comedy show, Maharaja Lawak Mega (MLM) by Astro in 2013.

They failed to make it to the finals, but tried again the following year. They were crowned champions for MLM 2014 and walked away with RM500,000!

Their life changed after that.

1 Necessary sacrifice

The eldest, Syaiful, dropped out of school at the age of 13 to help supplement his father’s income.

He started off working in a school canteen earning about RM82 monthly. After a brief stint as a fisherman, he decided to work at a fast-food chain in Kudat – a work place which was considered glamorous in Sabah.

Here, he earned an income of RM400. Then, he moved to the big city to work at the same restaurant franchise in Kota Kinabalu.

In an interview with InTrend, he said: “I took pity on my dad who had to fend for the entire family, whilst there are four younger siblings who were still schooling. I dropped out, yes, but the sacrifice was worth it.”

Sharif, the second in the family, began helping his dad at the wet market from a young age. He would clean and weigh fishes before selling them to wholesalers.

Taking heed of his elder brothers’ actions, Atu, the youngest of the three, went to work as a labourer for his uncle Faisal at the age of 13 and earned about RM5–RM10 per hour.

The three brothers observed their father struggle as they were growing up and wanted to help the family, even if it meant sacrificing school or play time.

To win some, you’ve got to lose some.

In the end, it comes down to our priorities. What is the sacrifice for and is it worth it? In Zero’s (the name of their comedy group) case, I would say, yes.

2 Don’t stop trying

Sharif, also known as Abang Botak (translated as bald-headed brother), shares that he used to loaf around a lot after completing his education.

“Regarding construction jobs which I took, I would only work for a day. If I didn’t quite like it, I would quit. I did not stay long in my jobs previously, even though I tried,” he says.

Some of his work experiences include working as a caddy at a golf club and washing dishes at a restaurant.

From his exposure to performing arts in school, he realised he had the ability to entertain people.

“Even before I was in Zero, every time I got up on stage, I would get a certain vibe. I could tell that people liked my performance.”

Looking back at his fussy attitude prior to going into comedy full-time, Sharif advises graduates not to be picky when applying for jobs.

He recently met a Masters student selling vegetables in Kundasang, Sabah who couldn’t find a job as he is “overqualified” and would have to be paid more. Sharif advised him to stop being picky and just start from the bottom.

In today’s world, we are spoilt for choice and come under societal pressure to have a good job. Some may argue that it’s acceptable to be picky.

In my opinion, I believe everyone has the right to be picky regardless of their socio-economic status. But, you are only allowed to be picky provided the circumstances are in your favour.

Otherwise, the best thing to do is to grab the opportunity in front of you and make the best of it.

3 The sky is not your limit

Sharif shares that his father became deaf and mute at the age of 12 due to chickenpox.

“What’s amazing is that my dad is able to entertain people – he can make them laugh. He can also do magic tricks and we wonder where he learnt it all.”

He says that despite his dad’s condition and small income, he managed to take care of his family.

“In fact, my dad used to give a portion of his salary to me so that I have some pocket money to go and sell fishes at the market.

“If someone like him can take care of his family, why can’t we – the ones who have paper qualifications and physical abilities – do the same without complaining?” he says.

On Oct 21, 2012, their father passed away in his sleep. When Atu received the news, he was packing to fly to Africa for a Fear Factor programme he was a part of.

By the time he flew from Kuala Lumpur to Kudat, his father’s body was already buried. Atu never got to say goodbye to his father.

In life, it’s easy to blame the things around us for our lack of progress or failure, but Zero’s father proves that it’s just not a valid excuse. He is proof that anyone can do anything.

You are the only one limiting yourself; not the people around you, not your circumstances, and not your parents or bosses either.

4 Understand what the audience wants

Sharif says: “Before this, when we participated in any competition, we would sometimes feel as though we were not good enough. One; our dialect is different and two; some people don’t understand our ideas.”

The brothers failed to make it past the fifth week for the first MLM competition they participated in 2013. That didn’t hold them back.

Instead, they took in all the feedback received, worked on their weaknesses and leveraged their strengths.

They tried incorporating numerous elements into their comedy sketches to make it more versatile such as lion dancing, acrobatic movements and singing.

When they tried their luck again in 2014, they won first place.

It was through exposure and experience that they learnt their target audience’s preferences. In 2017, they emerged fourth place in the MLM competition.

Just like the three brothers, we all have great ideas. However, sometimes what we think is good, may not be perceived the same way by others.

Testing your idea with the market (friends, family, and public) is the best way to determine whether there’s a demand for it and from there, you can work on improving it or changing it to fit the market needs.

5 Remain humble

When I sat down with the Zero brothers, they were incredibly down-to-earth and tried to converse in English with me to break the ice.

I was moved when one of the brothers gave me a bottle of water prior to starting the interview.

When I asked them how their lives have changed since they won the MLM competitions and made a name for themselves in the local comedy scene, they tell me the following:

Atu: Our lives haven’t changed much since then. We still maintain our old ways.

Sharif: What’s different is our income.

Atu: With that income, we help our family and village friends because there are some who do not have it easy. We do this not for fame. In fact, what we have now is a result of all their support.

We have seen numerous celebrities and public figures rise up the ladder of fame and forget their roots and values due to the sudden stream of power, money and influence.

It is therefore important to remind ourselves that these are just temporary materials things in the world.

We need to consistently be thankful of what we have, remain open to growth, accept that we don’t know everything, and that we make mistakes.

Bringing it all together

Former United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said this: “The optimist sees opportunity in every danger; the pessimist sees danger in every opportunity.”

The Zero brothers saw a great opportunity in the form of a TV advertisement and took it. They worked hard over the years and made a name for themselves in the local comedy scene.

Now, they are each happily married with successful careers and are able to provide for their families and friends financially.

In fact, they caught the attention of Skim Latihan 1Malaysia (SL1M) secretariat head, Norashikin Ismail, and are now ambassadors of the SL1M programme for the second year in a row.

I hope their story has impacted you the way it did for me.

The Zero brothers were present at the SL1M open interview programme in Serdang and Sabah and are currently in Kedah to perform and motivate graduates attending a similar event there. If you’d like to know more about the SL1M programme, visit their official Facebook page at Skim Latihan 1Malaysia for the latest updates and announcements.

This article is available at, where you can download the PDF version.