British comedian Alison Thackray, who spent more than a decade in Indonesia, was one of the performers at the #PerempuanBerhak stand-up comedy show at Bulungan Sports Hall in Kebayoran, South Jakarta on Sunday (21/05). (JG Photo/Dhania Putri Sarahtika)

Five Female Comedians Changing Indonesia's Stand-Up Comedy Scene


MAY 23, 2017

Jakarta. "Hi, I'm bule [a foreigner], I'm divorced and I'm kafir [a disbeliever]," comedian Alison Thackray, better known as Alison Bule Bandung, said during her stand-up routine, gaining laughter and applause from the audience.

The British comedian who has spent 13 years in Indonesia proceeded to talk unabashedly about her experiences as a bule — a commonly used word in Indonesia to describe a foreigner — especially her sexual encounters with Indonesian Muslim men.

She did not hold back from using the word kafir, an Islamic term used to refer to disbelievers, one which is usually considered offensive, to describe herself several times throughout her performance. She also addressed issues of hypocrisy in Islam, saying that the religion forbids adultery.

The hypocrisy was directed at her ex-boyfriend who is the father of her second child, who cheated on the comedian with a Muslim girl.

Thackray, who delivered her jokes in Bahasa Indonesia and occasionally Sundanese, was not the only one who was talking about sex, religion and relationships at the stand-up comedy show at Bulungan Sports Hall on Sunday (21/05).

She took turns with Sakdiyah Ma'ruf, Jessica Farolan, Fathia Saripuspita and Ligwina Hananto on stage. Coarse language, crude sexual jokes, playful Muslim-shaming were heard throughout the night.

The show's name means both "women have rights" and "women in heels," highlighting the idea that women have the right to speak about anything they choose.

"The show's name came about when Fathia and I went to a comedy boot camp in Malaysia around 2012. There was a workshop about playing with words that have a double meaning. I was interested in 'hak,' which means both heels and rights [...] We wanted to say that we don't want to be stereotyped as women. We're diverse and so are our stand-up topics," Thackray told the Jakarta Globe before the show.

#PerempuanBerHak premiered in 2014 as the first ever all-female stand-up comedy show. Now it has returned after a three-year hiatus due to scheduling issues.

Sakdiyah and Jessica first met when they joined fellow comedian Ernest Prakasa's "Merem Melek" Tour across Indonesia in 2012. They were then introduced to Fathia and Thackray at Jak Fringe International Comedy Festival 2012 and decided to organize a show featuring female comedians.

Singer-songwriter Gamila Arief also decided to join the group to perform songs and be the master of ceremony.

"Our repeated encounters with each other made us think of making our own show," Sakdiyah said during the interview.

What makes this lineup special and interesting is their background.

"We happen to have an Arab, a bule, Sundanese, hijabi, and kafir [in our lineup]. Though we're all women, we're diverse," Fathia added.

Fathia, who is a communications professional and member of Mad About Comedy club, typically does her routine in English.

That night she spoke about her misadventures in finding a romantic partner and the pressures of being unmarried from her conservative Sundanese family.

She said with a flirty smile, "Girls, I'm here to perform my jokes, not to steal any guys. Guys, you know I'm just joking, right?"

Sakdiyah Ma'ruf, a researcher and language interpreter known to take a jab at religious fanaticism and intolerance in her stand-up routines, also delivered her routine in English.

Her subjects covered her life being from an Arab community and transitioning from being single to married, and the misconception of treatment towards women in Islam.

Sakdiyah Ma'ruf performed at the #PerempuanBerhak stand-up comedy show at Bulungan Sports Hall in Kebayoran, South Jakarta on Sunday (21/05). (JG Photo/Dhania Putri Sarahtika)

"I had an experience being face to face with a man who looked down because he refused to look at a woman in the eyes because it's somehow sinful. What an interesting approach, and I believe that many men will agree to that because they can avoid sinning while staring at women's breasts," said the woman who won Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent in Oslo, Norway in 2015.

Jessicaa stand-up comedian who works as a psychology-based trainer by day, told dirty jokes to the crowd.

Renowned financial planner Ligwina was a newcomer to the show. During her routine, she dived into politics and showed full support for Basuki Tjahaja "Ahok" Purnama.

Telling her jokes in a loud and animated way, Ligwina's most memorable part of the evening was throwing shade at Pandji Pragiwaksono, a stand-up comedian present in the audience who was also a loyal supporter of Anies Baswedan, Ahok's rival at the gubernatorial election.

Too Controversial?

"We're not that famous to have haters," Fathia said in the interview, when asked whether any of the five have received bad press because of their controversial topics and brash delivery.

Sakdiyah agreed, saying that they're still in the position of getting recognition, so there has been hardly any adverse reaction.

"There is some backlash on Twitter but we're glad that we haven't got any death threats. Nobody has threatened to boycott our shows because we rarely host one," she said jokingly.

"There will always be backlash but we're just starting to confront the society. Before there are responses, we need to have a space to talk first," Sakdiyah said.

She also underlined the lack of female stand-up comedians in Indonesia. Roughly there are less than 20 of them who are actively performing but none work full-time as comedians.

In addition, Thackray thinks they shouldn't care about negative reactions because they have the right to express themselves.

"That's why we picked #PerempuanBerHak as our show title. We have the right to be controversial. We have the right to talk and state our opinions. If people don't like it, then don't buy the tickets," Alison said.

Last Sunday's show pre-sale tickets sold out in 12 hours.

Fellow male comedians such as Ge Pamungkas, Mo Sidik, and Arie Kriting were also in attendance and praised the performers for their successful show.