Sunday August 5, 2012
The lighter side of Malaysians
Some things about Malaysian life are downright funny or ridiculous and beg to be made fun of. That is precisely what That Effing Show' does.
IF you are easily offended or confused, you probably shouldn't watch That Effing Show.
After all, the five-minute online comedy show that comes out once a week is meant for an “immature audience only”. Or at least that is what it says in the disclaimer at the start of every show.
Taking a leaf out of funny American television shows hosted by Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon, Jerry Springer and David Letterman (as there is no Malaysian equivalent here), “jokers” Ezra Mohd Zaid, Umapagan Ampikaipakan and their gang wanted to give Malaysians a dose of satire ala-Malaysia. That was how That Effing Show was born.
It's been more than two-and-a half years and the show now has a loyal following that includes popular singers Yuna and Zee Avi who have wanted to be guest on it.
The idea behind the name of the show, Ezra explains, is a play on censorship and “any word that people, society, or the government-in-power are not comfortable with that eats away at all things we can do, say or think.”
He also says that for the longest time, there has been a vacuum in comedy in Malaysia when the “political and social atmosphere” was tense.
Ready to laugh
“Malaysians are now really learning the art of laughing at themselves. We have been so sheltered all this while and thinking can we say this or can we say that?' So let's talk, let's laugh, let's be silly. Malaysians are ready to laugh at the stuff we were not supposed to laugh at. We can't be angry all the time,” he adds.
That Effing Show makes fun of so-called “facts”, hypocrisy, the idiosyncrasies of the different races, the people, politicians and the goings-on in the country.
“We are trying to master the art of trying to be funny but at the same time, we want it to be somewhat informative of the climate of this country the political temperature, the social vibes and the people's take about living in this society,” says Ezra.
Umapagan admits that the show is “tersirat, layered, subtexted” because “that is the way we feel we can get away with it”.
When the show started, he says, they tried to figure out who they can or can't make fun of and decided it was hands-off for the royalty, and Islam because it might get them in trouble.
“We'd skirt around it a bit but not really get into it.”
But after the 10th episode, Ezra says they threw out the rule book.
“Things are so ridiculous in this country that it is disingenuous not to mention some of these issues,” he adds, referring to reports on Indonesian model Manohara and the Kelantan prince, Malaysian businessman Jho Low and celebrity Paris Hilton, Muslims not allowed to celebrate Valentine's Day and the “no-panties” day.
“When things like that happen, you can't not make fun of it,” quips Ezra.
When uztazah Siti Nor Bahyah Mahmood went on national TV to say Valentine's Day was forbidden for Muslims, Umapagan says That Effing Show did its research and debunked all that she said. That show turned out to be a big hit.
“Our show gets hits for wow that is good' and you guys are going to burn in hell',” he says good humouredly.
Their shows on politics are popular too.
“We get a big reaction with politics and religion. Malaysians really get worked up over these things. And we get really turned on by that,” he laughs.
Umapagan says That Effing Show team are “equal opportunity bashers” - they bash whatever is funny, be it from the Government or opposition.
“Everyone in this country gives us enough material and enough stupidity. No one is above it,” he says.
Ezra, whose father is politician and former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, says they also make fun of his dad on the show.
“My dad gets' what we do and finds some bits funny. But there is a generation gap in the comedy thing; I don't think he understands totally but he is supportive of the show and thinks it's something that should have been done a long time ago,” he shares.
Umapagan and Ezra also claim they get a kick out of what Information, Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim says and joke that they should give him a writing credit as he provides “so much material” for the show. And they would absolutely love to have the colourful and controversial Perkasa chief and Pasir Mas MP Datuk Ibrahim Ali on their show because he is usually in “top form”.
The team thinks nothing of poking fun at Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Khairy Jamaluddin, among others.
“If you are a public figure, it is not meant to be a rosy ride where there is no scrutiny of your actions. Khairy understands that we are doing this for laughs.
“If a five-minute show pokes fun at you, you should be able to handle it. If you can't, then you shouldn't be doing what you are doing,” says Ezra.
He regards the stuff said in parliament as “gold”.
One recent episode was on Sri Gading MP Mohamad Aziz “questioning” in parliament if Datuk S. Ambiga should be hanged for organising the Bersih 3.0 protest. He had likened it to treason and compared it to terrorist organisation Al'Maunah's raid of an army reserve camp in July 2000 where they seized a huge cache of weapons because they wanted to overthrow the Government.
“These are elected representatives who are supposed to craft legislation, yet say such irresponsible and ridiculous things. You are asking to be made fun of and we can do that.
“We always use people's own words against themselves. If a politician says something stupid, we make fun of the direct quote. So they do it (make themselves look stupid) all by themselves.”
Ezra points out that using the people's own quotes protects the show against defamation.
“We take all of these things into consideration” he says.
No anger involved
They also make it a point not to be angry when they write a show. “If we write a show (while) angry, it ends up being a rant and people won't find it funny.”
Because Malaysians tend to get emotional over many things, That Effing Show likes making fun of people's reactions too.
Umapagan says they received a lot of flak for their show on Bersih 2.0 last year because they made fun of the people.
“We had people saying I went man, I am patriotic, I am awesome.' You didn't go? You are a loser. You don't love this country.'
“We were making fun of the extreme reactions people had. That if they got tear-gassed, it made them better Malaysians than you and I,” he says.
But that got people accusing them of being pro-government.
“It's difficult for people to comprehend that we abide by that which is funny and not partisanship,” Ezra explains.
“People ask, Why didn't you do a show about police brutality?' But cops beating up people is not funny. We are a comedy show.”
Both Ezra and Umapagan stress that they are not activists and certainly not martyrs.
“Some come to us and say Keep up the good fight' as if suggesting we are fighting for them. We are not. We are everyday jokers fighting for the biggest laugh and for the best-scratching-your-head moments,” says Ezra.
Umapagan says they would love to have competition and hoped more people would also shoot their own videos and start doing their own parodies of Malaysia.
All it takes, he says, is a couch, a microphone, a crappy camera and some software.
“If others do it better than us, it will make us up the game. And it also adds a layer of security because they can't catch us all. The more, the merrier,” he says.
That Effing Show cast is small, multiracial and in their 20s and 30s. All six members, including Ezra and Umapagan, have become good buddies. They record on Saturdays and shooting for a five-minute show can take them hours. They only stop recording when they themselves find the video funny.
“We play with stereotypes. We push it to the extreme that it is unbelievable so you can laugh at it whether you are Chinese, Indian or Malay without feeling bad.
“With comedy, you don't want to feel like a bigot when you laugh. That is something we are very conscious about,” says Umapagan.
Ezra says they read the comments viewers post of their show because they are curious as to why people like it or don't. It also gives them a temperature of people's state of mind and perspective.
“Those who don't like it have said mean things about me and the cast but we don't take it personally because it is part and parcel of what we do. We throw as good as we take.
“For all the crazy things that happen in this country, if you laugh for five minutes, okaylah,” he quips.
(That Effing Show can be seen on YouTube and popteevee.net)