Laugh, Perkasa, and Be Effing Happy!

By Kee Thuan Chye

The disclaimer at the beginning of the show tells it all: “This programme is intended for immature audiences only. This programme is NOT intended for educational purposes, merely to stimulate FUN. If you are easily offended, mudah tersinggung or terkeliru, probably best to close the window right now.”

This is That Effing Show, described by its producers as “a satirical news show that laughs, pokes fun and points out the (often) obvious and not-so-obvious absurdities of Malaysian socio-political life”. Created by a bunch of clever, creative and concerned young people, it has been coming out regularly on the web TV network PopTeeVee since 2010.

By its own description, the show is a parody of Malaysian life, done in good humour, which means it is not to be taken seriously. Those who are easily offended or confused are warned not to watch it. This being clear, the show should therefore not expect any complaints against it except aesthetic ones – like perhaps it failed to generate fun or to entertain, or that the technical production was sub-standard, or that its actors performed badly.

Perkasa, however, is taking it very seriously. The Malay rights organisation has taken exception particularly to the series’ recent segment, ‘That Effing Show #95: Allah, Apa Lagi?’, and its complaint is not on aesthetic grounds. Perkasa has even made not just one but nine police reports against it!

Selangor Perkasa chief Abu Bakar Yahya says show #95 insults the recent ruling made by the Court of Appeal, which banned the Catholic weekly newspaper The Herald from using the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God. He says the show has also offended the Islamic community. No kidding?

I have since viewed the six-minute video a few times, and I still can’t fathom how it could be an insult to the court’s verdict. At no point does any of the performers in the video question the verdict, either directly or obliquely, let alone show it any disrespect. What one of them does say is that Muslims need not fear getting confused if others used the word ‘Allah’; it should be the other users who would be confused. Besides, Islam is the official religion, so what’s there for Muslims to be worried about?

The video gets funnier in the next skit, which features a banter between two Malays on one side and two Indians on the other.

The Malays (played by Ezra Zaid and Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri) emphasise that now the court has given its ruling, other religions should use words other than ‘Allah’ for their God – like ‘Tuhan’ or ‘Jesus’ or ‘Yahweh’ – and leave ‘Allah’ solely to the Muslims. The Indians (played by Kubhaer Jethwani and Umapagan Ampikaipakan) retort, “OK, if you want to play like that, if you Muslims want to take back words, we also can take back words!”

At this, the Malays shrug and pull funny faces to mock what they’ve heard. Until the Indians tell them, “You think Bahasa Melayu is so original? There are actually many words in it that originated from Sanskrit, Tamil, Portuguese, Persian.”

“Hah!” scoff the Malays. “Original or what, take back lah what you want! We have ‘Allah’, what more do we need? Go ahead!”

“Confirm?” ask the Indians.

“Confirm,” say the Malays.

Then the Indians say that the first word they want to take back is rokok (smoke/cigarette). The Malays are taken aback. “Where did the word come from?” they ask.

“It’s Dutch,” say the Indians.

The Malays are a bit flustered by this, but they say, “OK, take it back. Surely, that’s all. Anyway, we still have ‘Allah’.”

But the Indians reply, “There are many more.” Then they rattle off a few other words – bahasa, budaya, bumiputra, raja, negara, pahala, puasa, cinta. As the Indians savour each word, the Malays agonise. They can’t stand it now. “These are favourite words of the Malays!” they cry. “From the time we wake up in the morning, we use all those words!”

The Indians try to console them. “We are merely concerned. We don’t want you to be confused. Because so many words in Malay originated from Sanskrit, when you guys use them, we don’t want you to ‘terHindu’!” (terHindu = accidentally become Hinduised)

The Indians continue: “Because that would be a ter-rible problem.”

The Malays ask each other, “What do we do now? We surely don’t want to ‘terHindu’!”

“I know, I know,” says one of them. “We’ll call on our big back-up ... we’ll call Uncle Ib … we’ll call Ibrahim Ali.”

“He’s from Perkasa, right?” ask the Indians.

“Yes,” say the Malays.

“Perkasa …,” reply the Indians, “… that word sounds Sanskrit.”

This is too much for one of the Malays to stomach. He launches into a manic mimic of that famous moment caught on video of Perkasa President Ibrahim Ali blustering in an interview with Al-Jazeera, “I … I … I … I … Don’t talk shit! I tell you … three times! Don’t talk shit! Don’t talk shit!”

Hahaha! Perhaps this is the part that offended Perkasa the most! And drove its members to make the police reports!

But it’s a great send-up that comes at the right time in the show, and provides the perfect satirical ending to it. As the “Don’t talk shit” bluster goes on, the Indians pointedly tell the Malays, “If you don’t like it, you can belah!” (belah = short form for get out of the country, leave, emigrate, vamoose.) The tables are effectively turned, the Malays are on the receiving end, the laugh’s on them.

Is this supposed to be taken as an insult to the Malay-Muslim community?

Well, only by those who are dense and have utterly no sense of humour. And of course those who don’t understand satire and parody.

That Effing Show does what it does well, which is to invite us to laugh at ourselves. If the people of Perkasa are unable to do so, it’s not the fault of the show’s creators. It’s more a reflection of the level of evolution these Perkasa people are at. After all, it takes intelligence and sophistication to be able to laugh at oneself.

Besides, as US theatre director and educator Elizabeth Gaidry says, “If … we can laugh at ourselves and laugh at our situations, I think we become happier people.”

Perkasa – and other uptight Malaysians – might want to take note of that. Then, instead of habitually running to the police station to cry over every little thing that makes them unhappy, they could sit back and relax instead. And call out three cheers for That Effing Show!

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.