Stand Up Comedy

The Ministry of Communication and Information (Kominfo) was organizing “Information Week” and celebrating the National Awakening Day in Medan, North Sumatera last week. During the week, Kominfo was presenting a series of public discussions with various topics and art performances. Kominfo invited me and a representative from KPK to give a presentation about corruption culture on Monday evening, May 25th, 2013. It was an exciting event because Kominfo was delivering the presentation in a talkshow style combined with a comedy. The facilitator for the corruption presentation was a rising comedian star: Cak Lontong!

Currently Cak Lontong is a famous comedian who appears regularly in a stand up comedy program by a TV news station. He is also a regular guest star in style “Sentilan Sentilun” a comedy talk show which is hosted by the famous comedian Butet Kartaredjasa and the senior movie star Slamet Raharjo. The funny thing about Cak Lontong’s delivery style is his serious expression when delivering his comedy bits. Not only does he has a serious face, Cak Lontong can also present blank expression on his face when he tells a funny story. Before the performance, we had dinner organized by Kominfo, and in my opinion, he is actually a serious person because during the dinner, there was not any jokes at all.

The main objective of Cak Lontong’s joke is his foolishness and the different meanings of several particular concepts. He told a story that it took him so long to earn his BA degree instead of taking any lessons (pelajaran) he was taking lessons learnt (hikmah). Sometimes, he could give a surprise ending the audience didn’t expect. In a stand up comedy show, he told us that it has been a long time since his last performance on that tv station. He really missed the show and the audience, and he acknowledged the love that connected him with the audience. Then he also said that the audience came to the TV station because they loved comedy and suddenly, there was a surprise, he came to the TV station not for the love but for the money. 

Cak Lontong is my favourite comic, a term referring to a stand up comedian. In a stand up comedy, he was telling a story that seemed to follow a logical plot which the audience was supposed to be able to predict the end of the story. But the funny thing is, Cak Lontong and the other comic twisted the end of the story so it did not follow the logic. Instead, the story ended up in a funny thing that came out from a totally different meaning from the beginning of the story. Bahasa Indonesia is quite rich on different meanings of the same word, such as “masak” that does not only mean “to cook” but it also can also be used as an expression for “excuse”….. (masak aku yang harus bayar….masak aku yang harus pergi… with aku aku masak lontong).

I think stand up comedy is a new genre of comedy in contemporary Indonesian performance art. In the past, it was only a part of bigger comedy stories like Srimulat. Srimulat shows mostly started with a kind of stand up comedy, delivered by a character that played a servant carrying a cleaning rag. Do you remember Gepeng, Mamiek or Basuki? Those are the stars of Srimulat with a similar style, a foolish servant with a cleaning rag, complaining and joking about anything, such as his boss, his jobs or his friends. This stand up comedy style is a central opening for Srimulat and only a few comedian have such kind of skill. Now, stand up comedy programs on TV station encourage young people to do stand up comedy. 

However, there is an open space for stand up comedy that we did not have in the past under Soeharto’s New Order. Most of stand up comedy show gives a lot of social critics to the government and the current situation. I could not imagine that such kind of jokes would have been approved by the government or the TV owners in the past. In addition, there is also a political space for TV stations to broadcast critical programs without any consequences of revenge from those in power. In the past, TV and any media that allowed a space for criticism would have been banned by the authoritarian government.

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