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Laughter is the shortest distance between two people ...

...said the late Victor Borge, the byline in the "Books and Arts" section of this week's edition of The Economist (October 28, 2004) about the global spread of stand-up comedy. Apparently, British franchises are finding markets all over the world now, with surprising successes in places like the Middle East. But if humor has traditionally been so culturally specific, why is stand-up spreading so fast? They argue "partly because American sitcoms have been sold to almost every country with cable television, and their brand of international humour has made all forms of comedy more accessible." Of course, western comedy doesn't always fly in different cultural milieus; the no-no's in Singapore were "politics, sex, and religion" (what else is there?).

folkdance1.jpg

I'd only add this: while the current comedy format may be a Western export, other cultures also have a similar tradition. The worry is that they get steam-rolled and lost. For instance, the Burmese have their version of stand-up, something called a-nyeint pwe, which is a theater form mixing dance, music, opera, drama, and slapstick humor that usually takes topics from everyday life. In addition to being good local entertainment for people, pwe also performed the important social release function of political satire. We all need court jesters and often it's the comedians who do the truth-telling in society. Since the Junta took control of Burma (changing the name to Myanmar), however, it's been very hard to practice pwe freely. When I was travelling there in 2000, I met one of the famous performers known as the "Mustache Brothers" in Mandalay. But his other brother, U Par Par Lay was imprisoned still for telling some jokes about one of the generals at the home of Aung San Su Kyi, the Noble Prize Winner and leader of the opposition. I seemed to recall a global protest from comedians world-wide, but I'm not sure what came of this. So while laughter may bridge the communication gaps and provide some comic relief during a trying time, laughter doesn't always set us free. Even so, this is still a quirky global trend to watch.

(See Toby, I can write a short posting :)

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Comments

While I was browsing technical stuffs, I found this post. It surprised me coz I’m from Burma and a few people know about Burma. This blog post is really true expressing the “A-Nyeint” and its role during this political turmoil.

Originally, A-Nyeint’s main part is dance show. Mean between dances, the comedians talks jokes and satires. But, nowadays, people pay more attention on comedians. Most of the political satires come from them. The most famous comedian, ZaGaNa, is said to be jailed for many times. People also said he was tortured in the jail. Once, at his A-Nyeint show, another comedian asked him if he has no teeth left. He then pulled out his set of artificial teeth from his mouth and said, “I have”.


Posted by: myo on 1 Nov 04

Hi there,

I know what you mean about people not knowing about Burma, which is why I like to talk about it. I happen to know about it because my grandmother was born and raised there, and her family was there for about 4 generations. So I care about the place immensely.


Posted by: NIcole Boyer on 1 Nov 04



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