Laughing All the Way to Prison
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Saturday, March 23, 2019


Laughing All the Way to Prison

By Ko Thet JUNE, 2006 - VOLUME 14 NO.6


Censors fail to gag popular Burmese comedian


Zarganar, the former dental surgery student who became one of Burma’s best-loved comedians and a mordant satirist, has had his teeth pulled by the censors. “No more public performances,” they told him last month, prompting threats by his colleagues—including well-known actors and directors—to cease production work in a display of sympathy.


The ban extends to all news about Zarganar in the Burmese press. The Orwellian regime has effectively made him a “non-person.”


Zarganar’s gag slipped, however, when The Irrawaddy contacted him by telephone at his Rangoon home. The irrepressible comedian chuckled as he talked about the regime’s latest attempt to silence him.


It was an interview in April with the BBC’s Burmese service that sparked the latest ban, Zarganar said. He had criticized official regulations that he said robbed Burma’s water festival of much of its traditions.


Zarganar, 46, and many of his colleagues had questioned what they saw as an effective ban on the water festival’s tradition of Than Gyat, the satirical stage shows that formed a popular part of the celebrations. Than Gyat pilloried government corruption and inefficiency and drew attention to the country’s social and political problems.


It was only a matter of time before the regime stepped in—Than Gyat scripts now have to undergo strict scrutiny by the censors, ensuring that the shows lose all their original sting.


Zarganar’s troubles with the regime date back 26 years, to the time when he was a third-year dental surgery student, registered under his real name, Maung Thura. He was a natural comedian and performed in shows at Burma’s universities. Soon he was a household name.


After completing his studies, obtaining a bachelor degree, Maung Thura took to the stage full time, adopting the name Zarganar. It means “Tweezers” and was a witty farewell gesture to a dentist’s career he swapped for the vagaries of cabaret and the stage.


Before the 1988 student uprising, Zarganar and his troupe entertained delighted audiences with their satires on the government and its corrupt ways. He got away with a highly popular play, “Beggar,” which ridiculed the late dictator Ne Win and his cronies.

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