“Hey you, the guy in ugly shirt,” pointed Russell Peters towards a male spectator with striped shirt on the front row during his “Notorious” tour in Jakarta last week. The giant screen on both sides of the stage zoomed in the face of this ugly-shirted guy. Hm, the guy looks strangely familiar.
“What’s your name? asked Russell.
“Ardi,” answered the guy. Blimey, that’s why I thought I had seen his face elsewhere! It’s Ardi Bakrie. His surname means he doesn’t need further introduction and Russell just thought that his blouse is far from decent.
“RD? Is that a nickname? What’s your real name, Sir?” the comic came again in the similar sarcastic manner.
The guy laughed before he answered, “Ardiansyah.”
“Ardiansyah? What kind of name is that? Isn’t it supposed to ‘Aren’t cha, Ardi’? Man, your name is dyslexic!” Russell blurted out the punchline of the joke and the aforementioned guy bursted into laughter, clearly enjoying himself being roasted by the Canadian-Indian comedian.
The sold-out show was a huge success and for the first time the Jakartans saw an internationally-acclaimed stand-up comedian performing in their city. It’s an astonishing fact considering that despite its status of being kept in the closet for a long time, the stand-up comedy scene in Indonesia has boomed only merely a year ago. The fact that thousands of people willing to pay a large sum of money to watch one guy talking and making fun of them is encouraging. Although his original DVDs are hard to find here, thanks to a lot of YouTube clips and Torrent files, Russell Peters has a place in the heart of Indonesian stand-up comedy enthusiasts and watching him live is kind of a dream come true. At least for me.
The weirdest thing from the show was some people are actually offended by Russell’s jokes. Russell’s routine mainly evolves around ethnic stereotypes and having an Indian heritage himself, he likes to highlight how funny the Indian people and culture could be. A couple of friends and some people on Twitter said that they sat next to somebody who looked really pissed in the audience. I, myself, noticed how a guy’s face, presumably Indonesian, turned sour after Russell threw his bit about Arabic culture and language and his reaction showed that he didn’t enjoy the show ever since.
It’s fair to say that those whose cages have been rattled that night are not the lionshare of the audience. Most of the audience went home chuckling while the pissed minority prompted a question of why they were bothered to splash cash to be there at the first place. We should feel sorry for those wasted their money just to go home moaning and grunting.
On the other hand, the rise of the comedy scene doesn’t come without backlash. Some people seem shocked of how rude and obscene comedy can be, especially when it comes to topic and subject that were considered sensitive. For example, Indonesia’s own Pandji Pragiwaksono had to deal with criticism a few months ago after he jokingly made a remark about the president and cannabis. Some other comics also received similar attack when they highlight religious issues in their routines, which is not really surprising in this pious country.
It’s not limited to stand-up comedy though, the former Law and Human Rights Minister, Patrialis Akbar made the fuss after a TV show, Provocative Proactive, turned the comedy spotlight to him and suggested that due to his performance as a state minister, he should be called “Patrialis Mini” (An Arabic word, “Akbar” means “Great” in English). He brought the case to the National Broadcast Committee and the TV show had to apologize in public. Later, Patrialis was removed by the president in a cabinet reshuffle and there’s not bet in guessing who had the last laugh.
It’s been widely believed that comedy can be used as a tool of social critics and the practice is not really new because even in the New Order era, Warkop DKI and Bagito, two national comedy greats, had used humor to tease on political issues. The rise of local stand-up comedy scene promises the chance to repeat that feat although the slapstick comedy that has been more popular means there’s a hill to climb.
Usually the debate on comedy evolves around which genre is smarter, stand-up or slapstick when actually it’s futile to get involved in such row. It’s never about who’s smart and who’s not, because comedy is about taste. Just because you don’t get it, doesn’t mean it’s not smart, and vice versa, although it’s pretty baffling how one could get irritated when a national issue is being ridiculed while it’s OK to knock someone’s head with a hammer made of styrofoam.
The most frequent asked question is how long the stand-up comedy euphoria will last – is it just a trend or is it here to stay? It takes another article to talk about it, but we all know that comedy is better enjoyed when you leave your anger and prejudice behind because comedy is not for the faint-hearted.
At least we now know whose heart is not faint, it’s “the guy in ugly shirt’s”. He had a good time being a subject of comedy, even when Peters asked him a question which made me jumped off my seat: “How much oil and gas drilling have you been doing?”