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The sobering challenges of comedy in Malaysia


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The diversity of our society in terms of ethnicity, religious traditions and cultures provides rich material for any comic worth his or her salt to start cracking.

Similarly, the socioeconomic issues and political problems that emerge before our very eyes would not escape the rapt attention of comedians bent on making social commentary.

However, recent incidents, particularly the arrests of few people in the comic circle – namely Siti Nuramira Abdullah, who made a joke that fell flat and sparked outrage from certain quarters as she was alleged to have insulted Islam – may cramp the imagination and creativity of our comics.

Such arrests are obviously a cause for concern, particularly for comedians, as they may now need to tread carefully to the extent that they would find themselves exercising self-censorship, which would stifle their creativity.

It would be a daunting and intricate task to try to stay away from what may be construed as, say, hurting the feelings of a particular community, especially in a comic act where contradictions, stereotypes, aberrations and injustices are consciously exaggerated for comic effect.

Moreover, a comic act often serves to reflect the good, the bad and the ugly of society in a way that is meant for the audience to laugh at the object of ridicule as well as themselves.

The measured exaggerations, as well as wit and sarcasm in the act, are often aimed at jolting us to the harsh social realities outside of the performance hall. In other words, a comic act pokes fun at the authorities, communities and certain personalities, among others, in a social context where the audience expects humour to flow freely, and they are expected to chill as well.

It would certainly be unwise and unfunny if a comedian instead makes social commentary in a serious fashion in which the funny bone is kept in abeyance. The fun would have been robbed.

In a society such as ours, where a narrow worldview and bigotry prevail, certain quarters may still find fault in a comic act even though it attempts to steer away from material that could possibly cause ill feeling and disharmony among the diverse people. This obviously makes the comic craft dicey.

A stand-up comic would take the mickey out of personalities from a particular community who insist they are the moral guardians of that community when they could hardly be the epitome of morality. Would this act be deemed insulting to the community concerned?

Would a dig at the corrupt – from a particular community – in high places in the country be an insult to that community, even though their misdeeds have caused misery to the vulnerable, many of whom belong to the community concerned, as development funds have consequently dried up?

Similarly, would it be perceived as causing disharmony within a particular ethnic community if a comic pokes fun at the vulgar contradiction between the extravagant lifestyle of the community’s rich and powerful and that of their downtrodden? Would this be seen as pitting one group against another within that ethnic community?

Would it hurt the feelings of a particular ethnic community if the hero-worshipping of its corrupt leaders be parodied in front of an audience? Would such comic examination be seen as an affront to the dignity of that community as a whole?

Such is the treacherous path that a comic may have to tread, even for those who choose not to clearly mock a particular religion or blatantly provoke “disharmony” in the wake of the recent turn of events in the comic landscape.

A consequent sanitised comic act would bear witness to a society that is generally less confident about laughing at itself, let alone conducting honest self-reflection. – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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