by Associate Prof. Dr Azmi Abdul Latiff and Associate Prof. Dr Khairil Azmin Mokhtar
During a recent stand-up comedy performance, Singapore-born comedian; Jocelyn Chia made several controversial remarks about Malaysia, mocking the missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370 among others. This did not go well with Malaysians and the international community. In response to the insensitive jokes, Malaysian police said they would seek help from Interpol to help locate Chia to help them in their investigation. Even Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Chia’s joke was “horrendous”. Nevertheless, unapologetic Chia defended that her joke was taken out of context. She added that her comedy act was a roasting joke, which according to her, is part of comedy club culture in New York, where she is currently based.
Roasting comedy refers to mocking or insulting someone for comedic purposes. The term roasting in the context of humour was first used to describe events in which a guest of honour would be subjected to various jokes at their expense. This concept of joking is popular in the United States. There are even TV series in the country showing the roasting of celebrities, including politicians, Hollywood stars and sports personalities. The writer believes Chia’s jokes more aptly fall under the black comedy category instead of roasting. Black comedy, also known as dark comedy, morbid humour, gallows humour, or dark humour, is a style of comedy that makes light of subject matter that is generally considered taboo, particularly subjects that are typically regarded as serious or painful to discuss.
Despite her justification, Chia should have clearly understood the consequences she is enduring. She knows the Asian community does not widely accept such comedy acts. Quoted in BBC News, Chia reportedly said that “Americans can appreciate humour that is harsher, edgier and more in-your-face, as compared to in Asia where the stand-up comedy scene is still in its early days. You won’t find a lot of edgy comedy in Asia”. Thus, her defiance and unapologetic response to the backlash is greatly deplorable.
According to psychologists, sick jokes or black humour might have their place as a coping mechanism, particularly for those involved in a tragedy. Dr Gil Greengross, an evolutionary psychologist from Aberystwyth University, Wales, wrote that humour plays a defence or coping mechanism for victims who are overwhelmed by tragic events, thrown into profound misery, become desperately suffering and turn completely helpless. Humour will help them to take a break from the horrifying unwanted reality looming over them. Nonetheless, the writer agrees that committing any black humour needs to stay within the perimeter of the affected people. In other words, such jokes should come from the victims or people close to them, not from people outside the circle. As an outsider, Chia is not related to the MH 370 tragedy. As such, others saw her comedy act as demeaning or disrespectful to the ordeal, primarily to the family members of the flight victims.
Humour is part of human speech and expression. Hence, from the legal perspective, it comes under the protection of freedom of speech and expression, as in Article 10 of the Malaysian constitution. All types of humour are protected. However, humour has its boundary. As with other forms of speech and expression, in this country, it is subject to laws pertaining to security, friendly relations with other countries, public order, morality, protection of the privileges and dignity of legislature and judiciary, defamation, and incitement to any offence. As long as the joke does not transgress the legal boundary, it is safe legally. One must remember that no country allows the absolute right to free speech. All countries have the right to free speech and expression. They only differ as to the extent of the rights. Each country has its laws regulating and restricting their rights.
Thus, everyone, including comedians, must respect the countries’ laws and the respective communities’ sensitivities. Rights must be safeguarded to protect and seek justice. Rights must not shield and protect crime, offensive remarks, or any behaviour that purports to undermine peace and tranquillity. Human beings communicate so that we can understand each other and live in peace, harmony, and dignity. Seditious statements that tend to cause hatred, ill will or hostility must be suppressed and cannot be allowed. It is one of the primary sources of violence, riots, and chaos. Human rights must not be abused by allowing wrongs and crimes to perpetuate.
Associate Prof. Dr. Azmi Abdul Latiff
Dean of the Centre for Language Studies
Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM)
Associate Prof. Dr. Khairil Azmin Mokhtar
law lecturer at Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyyah of Laws
International Islamic University Malaysia
This article was published in:
1. Astro Awani (astroawani.com), 6 July 2023: When comedy does not fly and could possibly lead comedians to land into hot soup