On Oct. 20, up-and-coming comedian Tretan Muslim uploaded the latest episode of his comedic cooking series “Last Hope Kitchen” onto YouTube.
Ten days later, after accusations of blasphemy, widespread criticism and numerous death threats, Tretan and fellow comedian Coki Pardede announced that they were resigning from comedy group Majelis Lucu Indonesia and the Indonesian entertainment scene in general.
The video was meant to be funny. Some Muslims, however, failed to get the joke and were more insulted than amused.
In the video, Tretan, a Muslim, teamed up with Coki, a Christian, to cook pork with date syrup and honey at the series’ usual setting of a building rooftop at night.
Tretan joked that he could hear the pork saying “Hell, hell, the fires of hell!” and the two speculated about whether adding dates, which Muslims are encouraged to consume when breaking the fast, would reduce the haram level of the pork, or turn pork tapeworms to mualaf (converts to Islam).
The pair later remarked that they perhaps should have also gotten some Zamzam water, which is considered holy in Islam, to add to the dish as well.
The video went viral after popular preacher Derry Sulaiman posted a short clip of it on his Instagram account with a message condemning the two comics and implying that the video was “blasphemous” and “insulted Islam.”
Tretan and Coki, who eventually apologized for the video, escaped blasphemy charges, but they learned the hard way that joking about religion in Indonesia today is no trifling matter.
Indonesia’s blasphemy law was introduced in 1965, but was only used to prosecute around 10 people between 1965 and 1998.
Since the Reform era, on the other hand, over 100 people have been convicted under the law, with 17 imprisoned in 2017 and 2018 alone, including former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, according to data from Amnesty International.
Tretan and Coki joined eccentric Islamic preacher Gus Miftah and former magician Deddy Corbuzier in a video uploaded to Deddy’s YouTube channel on Monday, to further explain the thinking behind the pork video.
“We did not mean [to insult religion], but rather show that we can still make fun of each other in a tolerant way,” Coki said.
Gus Miftah, who came under the spotlight in September because of a sermon he gave at a Bali nightclub, said that while Tretan and Coki may have been looking to satirize how some people overly revere religious symbols, their audience may have not understood that.
“Because the context is Indonesia, and Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country, such a message will always result in problems,” he said. “So even if your opinion was not wrong, maybe the place was wrong.”
University of Indonesia (UI) communications expert Devie Rahmawati agreed that context was important, saying the rise of the internet was a factor in the apparent increase in “societal friction” on the matter.
“If I make a joke to my friends about their race or religion, they might find it funny, but if that joke reaches a larger audience that does not have an emotional connection with me, they might be offended.”
Social media, however, is not the only factor. Stand-up comic Iyam Renzia said he felt that audiences had become increasingly sensitive to topics such as religion and race, and therefore, he rarely made religion-related jokes in highly-publicized settings.
“I’m careful about when and where I make the jokes; I look at the location and the situation first,” he said, adding that at the off-air charity stand-up show for the victims of the Central Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami, “The audience members were asked not to record the show so I felt safe in making the jokes.”
When he did make religious jokes, he said he made sure to stick to topics on which there was a general consensus.
“For example, I once made a joke about how NU [Nahdlatul Ulama] and Muhammadiyah followers used to argue about whether they should perform the qunut [supplication] during dawn prayer,” he said. “The punchline was: Now they don’t argue anymore because no one performs dawn prayers.”
Hijab-wearing comedian Sakdiyah Maruf, who often uses religion-related material in her stand-up act, including jokes about terrorism, gender roles within Islam and her Arabic descent, said she used that material because religious practices and religious people had many flaws that were good targets for “introspection through comedy”.
“There are so many things that are interesting to observe, for example how many people are quicker to believe sermons that are spread through WhatsApp groups over more authoritative books or clerics,” she said. “That’s funny!”
She said that for her, the difference between religious comedy and blasphemy was the target of the jokes.
“To me [the line is] that the jokes should be reflections about religious life and not making fun of the religion itself,” she said.