November 28, 2023
JAKARTA – From television skits to social media clips, comedians have long used comedy as a tool for political criticism in the public sphere, but few women have participated in it until recently.
The recent “Gadis Kritik” (Critic Girl) segment on Mata Najwa on Nov. 19 is one example of female comedians emerging and taking the stage to criticize politicians, election candidates and their policies ahead of the elections.
During the 13-year celebration of journalist Najwa Shihab’s talk show Mata Najwa, established comedian Rina Nose performed a monologue as Dasiyah, the main character from Indonesia’s newest popular Netflix series Gadis Kretek (Cigarette Girl), only with a twist.
“The taste of tobacco cannot be manipulated, unlike the law in this country,” Rina said onstage while donning Dasiyah’s traditional outfit from the series.
Rina’s sarcastic comment was met with thunderous applause. It was one of the many moments in recent years when Indonesian female comedians felt more comfortable taking a jab at the government in their comedy.
Rina’s solo performance was hot on the heels of another female comedian Kiky Saputri, who has been making a name for herself through her “roasts”, a form of comedy targeting jokes at a specific guest to entertain the audience.
Kiky’s roast targets range from celebrities to politicians. The latter now becoming more common as even two presidential candidates, Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo, have volunteered to be “roasted” on the comedy program Lapor Pak! where she performs.
Though Indonesia has seen female comedians dabbling in political material throughout the years, it is only recently that more women have established their own act, said political communications lecturer Nani Nurani Muksin of Muhammadiyah Jakarta University.
“There were female comedians performing political satire in [famed comedy group] Srimulat, like Nunung, but it’s easier to bounce off political jokes in a group. It takes courage to do it alone,” she told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Both politics and comedy are male-dominated fields, Nani said, and the fact that women have more space to thrive in them now is an “impressive feat.”
“It’s really hard to balance jokes and criticism, especially [when it’s] political. That’s an art in itself,” she said.
But it is also important for these rising female comedians to prop other women up, according to Jakarta-based feminist activist and writer Olin Monteiro.
“[Their political criticism] is good as long as they have a gender perspective and women empowerment in mind, so they don’t objectify themselves or other women,” Olin said to the Post on Tuesday.
Olin took issue with Kiky’s words beyond her shows, like her comment in one Mata Najwa interview that women have to be “mentally strong” in the entertainment world.
“We can’t just tell women to be strong when the infrastructure that supports them is not there. What’s important is establishing a more inclusive comic ecosystem so women can feel more comfortable participating in it,” she said.
But Olin still applauds them and hopes more female comedians will come up and learn from each other. She mentioned stand-up comedian Sakdiyah Ma’ruf, whose gender perspective helps her challenge conservative societal norms in her jokes.
Sakdiyah said she was elated to see all these female comedians and will fully support them.
“For me, comedy is a [form of] activism and it shows throughout history. I hope it continues,” she said to the Post on Wednesday.
More comfortable or careful?
Political satire is said to be as old as politics and government itself, according to political science associate professor Robert W. Speel of Pennsylvania State University in Erie, the United States.
Indonesia itself is only several decades out of the New Order era, when the slightest criticism against the government would result in imprisonment. The New Order lasted over 30 years from 1966 to 1998 under former president Soeharto.
More comedians, like comic Pandji Pragiwaksono or internet-grown comedian Bintang Emon, are now comfortable including political content in their stand-up sets or sarcastic social media clips.
Still, they are not free from malicious attacks or censorship. Emon has been attacked by paid social media accounts, known as “buzzers”, from political figures for his online content, while Kiky said that parts of her roast of presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo had to be cut out on television to maintain his image.
Ganjar and his team have denied involvement in the cut.
Nani believes this is because comedy as a political criticism is “a very effective way of communication”, powerful enough to bring crowds together through laughter.
“Political figures participating in the comedy are fair and square because they get publicity in the end. But they have to be mentally ready to take the joke and laugh it off,” she said.