Jakarta. Sharing dirty jokes among men is common, but having a woman make one in a casual, unrestrained manner, is a rare sight, especially in Indonesia.
But that rule does not apply to Jessica Farolan, a standup comedian who works as a psychology-based trainer by day. Jessica does not hold back when talking about taboo subjects such as sex and virginity, which are often discussed in hushed tones. It is her way to criticize society's approach to those subjects.
"My trademark is 'dirty' topics, those that are considered taboo. I want to say that those things aren't supposed to be taboo, because if people can't talk about that freely, they tend to misunderstand many other things," she told the Jakarta Globe before performing in the #PerempuanBerHak standup comedy show at Bulungan Sports Hall in Kebayoran, South Jakarta, on Sunday (21/05).
#PerempuanBerHak, which features only female comedians, first took place in 2014 to put the spotlight on Indonesia's handful of female comedians. Sunday's show was the second gig after a three-year hiatus.
The name itself is a homonym, meaning both "women have rights" and "women in heels." The show seeks to address issues normally faced by women in a light, humorous way and puts things in perspective, especially for men.
Sex was a topic raised during every routine on Sunday night, but was most apparent in Jessica's performance. In fact, she is famous for bravely using a crude term to refer to women's genitalia as she seeks to make it less taboo to talk about the female body.
The 28-year-old comedian also commented on people's obsession with breasts as women's most prized physical possession.
She criticized the lack of sexual education in Indonesia, marked by simple gestures such as parents' hesitance to give their children "the talk." When children ask their parents where babies come from, they usually spare the biology and settle for something like "God's gift" and "a stork delivers the baby."
Another topic she tackled was society's insistence on overvaluing women's virginity.
"I don't agree with the idea that virginity is a woman's badge of honor. If she loses it, does it mean she's lost her honor? It's not supposed to be that way," Jessica said.
The former contestant in the second season of Standup Comedy Indonesia, hosted by a local TV network, also slammed polygamy. Women are often blamed when they cannot give men a boy child as an heir, which gives men an excuse to remarry.
However, Jessica debunked the excuse by stating the biological fact that only men can contribute the Y chromosome needed to conceive a boy. She said this shows how this biological condition is used to mask men's pent-up desire to have more than one spouse.
Taking the Stage
Jessica's talent as a comedian is indisputable, because the room constantly roared with laughter as she kept the jokes coming in a relentless pace, thanks to her fast-talking skills.
She considers the stage as the most comfortable platform to talk, as opposed to television, which is why she has not achieved much fame for her standup work.
She only appeared on TV several times in 2014, instead focusing on performing off the air. Besides doubting that sexual topics will be acceptable on TV, she also does not consider herself the television kind of funny.
"I really hope #PerempuanBerHak will go on because it's so me. I'm not the type that looks funny on TV, such as [fellow standup comedian] Ge Pamungkas, or others. While onstage, I feel like I have more freedom to explore subjects to talk about," Jessica said.
However, she admitted that she has learned a lot from her peers who are famous not only on TV, but also in film. Her favorite Indonesian standup comedians are Pandji Pragiwaksono, Ernest Praksa and Ryan Adriandhy.
"Pandji has a strong message about the country's issues such as education. I also admire Ernest because of his storytelling style, while Ryan's standup comedy is very 'artistic.' He really knows the art of delivering comedy," said Jessica, who also derives some of her influences from Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon and Henry Chow.
Focusing on Her Day Job
What attracted Jessica to learn standup comedy in the first place was watching the first season of Standup Comedy Indonesia, which she joined later.
"Performing jokes was never my thing. But after watching the contest and getting introduced to some comedians, I was interested in it. Then I invited Ernest and Ryan to Atmajaya University [Jessica's alma mater] to speak in an introductory class about standup comedy, showing how to make short jokes. It turned out that I could do it," she said.
Nevertheless, she never aimed to make comedy her full-time job.
"I'll stick to being a trainer. I can't let it go because it's my passion, plus I have a learning center that I built from scratch," she said.
Jessica is a senior trainer and certified hypnotherapist at Aethra Learning Center, a psychology-based learning center catering to a diverse range of clients – from schools and corporations, to public events. The training on offer ranges from leadership and public speaking, to character building.
The standup comedy does not go away anytime soon though, and Jessica often uses it in her training.
"It's easier to start a training session with jokes. You don't necessarily have to do games to break the ice. Just tell some jokes then start delving into the subject," she said.
Another reason she will make time for standup comedy is that it is her ultimate platform to voice her thoughts on issues that concern her.
"Comedy is the perfect means to deliver a sensitive message. If it's delivered in a serious way, the response may lead to debate. But comedy can bring down people's defenses, making them easier to accept [different] opinions," she said.