Punchy punchlines of a courageous comic

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Indonesian comic Sakdiyah Ma’ruf battles Islamic extremism through comedy. Photo: Youtube.

Amid all of the accolades Indonesian standup comic Sakdiyah Ma’ruf receives for her activism, it’s easy to overlook that she’s genuinely funny.

Asia Times compiled a sampling of her material, including from a gig at last year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, Indonesia, all told from under her hijab and loose clothing that leaves only her face and hands uncovered. Her punchlines follow:

“I was so excited to be here I got a haircut. I even shaved my legs.”

“Getting a haircut for hijabis is like a WonderBra for non-hijabis – it enhances your inner beauty.”

“I’m a Muslim and I’m a woman, so I know your expectations have been lowered. I see many of you have been drinking – that’s good for me.”

[Comforting her husband after he noticed her sleeping during sex] “You’re not bad. I’m just good at multi-tasking. That’s why men don’t think women are funny – we make jokes about you.”

“Dolce & Gabbana unveiled a hijab line. I like it. It makes polygamy unaffordable.”

“There’s also the Nike Pro hijab for Muslim athletes and those fleeing oppressive regimes and abusive husbands. And the Durex halal condom: No kidding. Later on, it will be available for married couples and then second wives.”

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Sakdiyah Ma’ruf performs art the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, Indonesia, November 2017. Photo: Courtesy of Ubud Writers and Readers Festival/Wirasathya Darmaja

“Thanks to technology I can finally end my search for God. I can find God in a search engine. I found a Caucasian man with a beard – and Morgan Freeman.”

“One might ask a person like me, why do you speak such good English? Ever hear of CNN? MTV? Colonialism?”

“I was born in an Arab community in Central Java. You either get married at 16 or have a sex change. Most of the girls get married in my community at 16, 17, 18 or 15. They’re either pretty or rich… so my parents sent me to school.”

“In college, I witnessed for the first time separation of men and women in public spaces, men seated on one side of the curtain and women on the other side. I thought, what an amazing way to teach the basic skill of phone sex.”

“I was coming from a conservative community but there was no such thing as separation – women just didn’t go out. In my community, men are sitting on one side and women on the other – like an Australian barbecue.”

“Some male friends, when they talked to me, they looked down. They said it’s a sin to look in a woman’s eyes. You mean you’re avoiding sin by looking at my breasts?”

“I went to school with so many conditions, I wish I had a lawyer to negotiate. I’m not supposed to go anywhere outside class, not supposed to go to other activities, not supposed to know anyone of the opposite sex. I never knew my parents were so supportive of lesbianism.”

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The audience responds to jokes at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival held in Bali, November 2017. Photo: Wirasathya Darmaja

“After all the conditions, I stood up and looked at my father, and I said yes – then I kept on doing what I was doing behind his back. I practiced creative, analytical thinking [by] making up excuses for my dad.”

“I’m labeled a Muslim female comedian against extremism, as if I have been fighting against extremism on a daily basis. But maybe today I will. By a show of hands, how many of you are extremists? Muslims? White supremacists? Australians? Raw food vegans?”

“Can comedy tackle extremism? Governments around the world are failing. Now you’re turning to comedy?”

“I do have a solution. In Indonesia, we have abundant natural resources. We should stop using guns – it’s too foreign – and use native weapons like sharpened bamboo sticks and call it eco-terrorism. We hate you, but we love the environment.”

“I got married last year at 34 – that shows how Western and feminist I am.”

“I do have a joke about wishing I had a picture of the Prophet Muhammad, so I wouldn’t have to have Shah Ruhk Khan over my bed.”

“Life is sometimes scary, especially when you’re asking your dad permission to kiss your boyfriend. As a devout Muslim I would never try that, I never did that – ask my dad, I mean. I kissed my boyfriends many times – by text message.”

“Muslims are strictly prohibited from extramarital sex. I was fortunate. I experienced it once. A handsome Western man looked me over slowly… then he asked me to take off my belt… and my watch. ‘It’s boarding at gate 12,’ he said. Now I know why people love to travel.”

Muhammad Cohen is editor at large of Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set during the 1997 handover about TV news, love, betrayal, high finance and cheap lingerie

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