On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Laughter cut off in an instant

Despite its biting spoofs, the group has been tolerated
because it performs to a limited urban crowd of mostly English-educated
liberals who can afford the pricey tickets.

But last week, the ICT got itself into trouble following its sell-out show The
2nd First Annual Bolehwood Awards 2003 – The Director's Cut.

I would have joined my friends, including one who drove from Penang, to watch
the show if I had not had to leave for Ukraine last week to cover the visit of
the Prime Minister.

I know of many Umno leaders who genuinely enjoyed ICT shows, although their
egos may have been deflated by the jokes. Some have even engaged the ICT to
perform at their private functions.

Last week, following a complaint letter in Utusan Malaysia on July 11, KL City
Hall decided not to issue any performing licence to ICT after the group refused
an order to revise the script of the show.

ICT had been ordered to change the script after City Hall deemed parts of the
show ''sensitive'' following the complaint.

City Hall public relations officer Sarifuddin Ibrahim said ICT was asked to
delete parts of the script, and the group was advised to conduct its
performance in a more ''ethical and decent manner and not cause uneasiness
among the public.''

At its final show on Thursday night, City Hall enforcement officers served a
compound notice to the show's producer for performing without a permit.

Such sledgehammer treatment is shocking in Kuala Lumpur. We are not in Beijing,
Teheran or Karachi.

For some time, artistes have complained of the requirement to submit scripts to
City Hall but the grievances have never been loud because its officers have
generally been cooperative.

Still, such a requirement in this time and age seems out of place. It is just
another form of censorship.

However, the complainant in Utusan Malaysia has valid points. Some of my
colleagues, overseas-educated Malays who regard themselves as liberals, were
offended by the wide use of profanity in the show. They reckon that the use of
vulgarity was unnecessary and added no theatrical value to the

Many of those who attended the show have been followers of ICT, and certainly
expected a strong dosage of government-bashing. This time, the consensus among
those I know was that the show was too harsh and blunt.

The criticism against bumiputra privileges went a little too far, they told me,
but sportingly admitted there were elements of truth at some points in the

In short, according to my friends, the spoofs could still have been funny and
punchy without creating ill feelings.

Perhaps a sense of caution could be exercised by the ICT, especially on racial
issues, when they next perform.

I see nothing wrong in poking fun at government politicians or opposition
leaders professing to be pious in the manner of their dressing.

Stripping the hypocrisy of Malaysian leaders and the people has been the
trademark of ICT and the fact that we can laugh at ourselves is a reflection of
our tolerance and maturity.

And, certainly, many of us who have been attending ICT shows did not become
rabble-rousers inciting racial hatred. For most of us, an evening of laughter
is what we're after.

A two-hour comedy, despite its anti-government inclinations at times, can
hardly indoctrinate the audience. So what if one or two performers in ICT are
said to be opposition campaigners?

The fuss over the ICT performance is turning into a comedy of errors. It is
becoming a farce – City Hall seems to be the one grumbling, not the Home

There are plenty of complaint letters against City Hall in our newspapers and
city folk know they get no response, let alone action.

We may not agree with the stand taken by ICT on numerous issues but let's
defend their right to perform. That's what democracy is about.