Comedy Group Defend State Counselor Joke

By Thae Thae 26 October 2016

Footage of a comedy skit criticizing Burma’s de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has gone viral and prompted the group responsible to defend the performance as “not an insult” but a bridge between the government and the people.

Local comedy group Har Style’s performance at a pagoda festival in Mandalay Divison’s Kyaukse Township depicts Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as caring more about international travel than the concerns of everyday Burmese citizens.

It has been both celebrated and denounced online.

“It is normal that jokes draw criticism,” Ko Kaung Htet, one of the group’s four members told the Irrawaddy, adding that Burmese comedians, including the renowned Zarganar, often made satirical jokes under previous governments.

Ko Kaung Htet said it is a comedian’s job to criticize the government’s shortfalls and that they had no intention of making a personal attack. “We just want to reflect the country’s happenings,” he said.

This is the first well-publicized instance of a comedy group explicitly criticizing the National League for Democracy (NLD) government since it came to power in April after winning last November’s general election by a landslide.

The video footage shows a comedian dressed like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi answering questions from other comedians in the troupe playing the part of civilians. The skit presents the State Counselor as having no regard for the difficulties civilians are facing, and only concerned with visiting foreign countries.

Despite the controversy, Ko Kaung Htet said that state broadcaster Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) had invited them to perform on one of their TV channels.

Zarganar, a well-known comedian who was subjected to frequent imprisonment for his criticism of previous military regimes, said the group did nothing wrong.

“Comedians will criticize,” Zarganar told The Irrawaddy. “The government needs to perform well if they don’t like criticism,” Zarganar said.

He said that the most striking feature of comedians in successive periods of Burmese history was their freedom of expression.

“Even in the time of monarchy, comedians could criticize the monarchs and were exempt from punishment,” he said. “No comedian was arrested under British rule,” he added.

Chit Sayar, a well-known Mandalay-based comedian who has made jokes critical of previous governments, said that the new government was doing a difficult job.

“This government was elected by us,” he said. “What the government is handling now is the legacy of the previous government.”

Chit Sayar accused Har Style of “poor political awareness.” He added that he himself would criticize the government if he found faults.

Former Information Minister U Ye Htut shared a post about the joke on Facebook. Blindly supporting a leader or a government in spite of its actions harms a government, he argued.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.