The Jakarta Post
Pekalongan-born standup comedian Sakdiyah Ma'ruf is among 2018 BBC's 100 Women list. (JP/Jessicha Valentina)
The Jakarta Post met Sakdiyah Ma’ruf at a humble guesthouse in Menteng, Central Jakarta, on Saturday afternoon in November. The 36-year-old standup comedian was in town for a short trip and would be taking a train to her hometown Pekalongan, Central Java, in the evening.
Sakdiyah’s voice could be heard from the back of the reception area, she soon appeared and was very apologetic for not being ready. Her phone rang again, she picked it up and became engaged in a conversation, while her right hand expertly prepared a meal for her daughter.
The petite woman in the unassuming floral long black dress with pink hijab and pink Disney Tsum Tsum apron was listed in the 2018 BBC's 100 Women. Sakdiyah had also received the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Oslo Freedom Forum. She may look like a goodie-goodie, but Sakdiyah is all about breaking stereotypes.
Leading a double life
Sakdiyah’s journey as a standup comedian was not a walk in a park. If you happen to stumble upon her very rare videos on YouTube, you may think Sakdiyah is a brave rebel, making jokes about her experiences as an Indonesian Muslim. In reality, Sakdiyah was anything but brave nor courageous.
“I was not brave or courageous. If I could talk to my younger self, I would [encourage her] to be more courageous,” she said. As an Indonesian woman of Arab descent, she was expected to marry young, not share her thoughts and experiences on stage. In the beginning, the Pekalongan-born comedian did not dare tell her family about her comedy gigs. Instead of telling her parents about her profession as a standup comedian, Sakdiyah covered up her gigs, telling her parents that she was doing interpreting jobs. “I canceled gigs when I could not find a reason [to tell them],” she said.
Finally, she found hiding her passion was keeping her from really thriving in her work, and was relieved when she was supported. “[My family] basically supports me, with a lot of buts,” she shared, adding that her family had asked her to tone down her material and not speak [too much] about being a Muslim. “Then what [should I] talk about? It’s part of [me],” she said.
On becoming female Muslim comedian
BBC’s 100 Women list celebrates inspirational women across the globe. On the website, BBC writes, ”Sakdiyah is Indonesia's first female Muslim stand-up and uses comedy as a way to challenge Islamic extremism and violence against women.”
When asked about the recognition, Sakdiyah said that she did not expect it. “In the past year, I did not [produce] many works. I gave birth in April and took maternity leave for two months. Then I take [my daughter] around, not only for shows but also for my other profession as an interpreter,’ she said, thinking that the BBC may have considered her previous work and coverage she received from foreign media.
“I share this recognition with as many female comedians as possible,” she said, saying that the recognition proved that comedy matters.
“[Comedians] are seldom recognized based on content, message and their influence on social culture [context],” she said, noting that being a female comedian in Indonesia was not an easy task.
“From 2011, when KompasTV first hosted Standup Comedy Indonesia, until now, [there’s] only a handful of female comedians,” she said.
“I also feel responsible for that. Maybe I was not going all out in this art. But, until now, there’s no a female standup comedian that created comedy special or [the likes],” she said.
Apart from performing solo, Sakdiyah and several other female comics had created an all-female stand-up show called “Perempuan Berhak” in 2014 and 2017. She aims to hold the same show in 2019, if she gets sponsorship. “Please write it, female comedians need more sponsorship. You can contact Sakdiyah for sponsorship opportunities through The Jakarta Post. You can give out my number or even [write] it in the article,” she quipped. But in a matter of seconds, her demeanor turned serious, her tone changed, “[We’re that] desperate. You can feel it right now, I am willing to give out my number."
Although celebrated as the first Indonesian female Muslim stand-up comic, Sakdiyah said her frequent exposure might have validated a stereotype. Admitting that the "title" had given her a lot of benefits, including recognition, it also led her to question why it matters.
“Is it because of the stereotype that wearing a hijab would make you [feel] oppressed? So if there’s someone wearing a hijab does something [unusual], such as standup comedy, she does not only become standout but receives so much appreciation. [Don’t you think] it’s one way or another validates the stereotype?” she asked. “For me, female standup comedians, with or without hijab, deserve appreciation. Because it’s hard [for us] to be in this [performing art],” she continued.
In the end, Sakdiyah still expressed her wish to always be accepted by her family, despite her profession, “I fight to have a happy family like Full House [TV series],” she laughed, saying that she believed everyone always wanted to find their way in. (asw)