A Visit with the Moustache Brothers
January 09, 2008

A Visit with the Moustache Brothers

By Aye Lae / Mandalay

The day comedian Par Par Lay was released from prison, on October 30, 2007, I visited his home-theater in a humble neighborhood in Mandalay. Par Par Lay warmly welcomed me and was eager to talk about his prison experience as my video camera was recording.

The leader of the The Moustache Brothers, a famous A-Nyient comedy troupe, Par Par Lay was arrested on September 25, 2007, as he was giving alms at a local Buddhist monastery. He was detained for five weeks in Ohbo, an infamous Mandalay prison. 

The joke is this time he didn’t even get to tell a joke before he was imprisoned.

He talked about his fellow prisoners and the lack of medicine in prison, joking that all ailments were treated with Paracetamol, a common pain killer.

He said he was sad because members of the National League for Democracy and other protesters were still imprisoned.

"But however or whatever we suffer, we are like the traditional Burmese toy called “Tumbling Kelly”…we are unbowed forever," he said.

He introduced me to his extended family, all traditional comedians and dancers. They have performed in their home since the military government blacklisted the troupe in 1996, in effect placing them under house arrest as artists.

I was greeted with warm smiles, in part because they knew I represented The Irrawaddy magazine, and my video would be seen around the world. They said they frequently show copies of the magazine to tourists who arrive at their home nightly to see them perform.

The walls of the home were festooned with Burmese marionettes, various comedy props and photographs of the family with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. 

I had arrived as they were tuning into a news program on a Chinese-made shortwave receiver—their access to news and information that’s not available to ordinary Burmese.

Par Par Lay and his colleague, Lu Zaw, were sentenced to seven years for a satirical skit they performed in 1996 at an Independence Day performance at the Rangoon home of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (See “Back Street Boys," The Irrawaddy online, September 1, 2006)

My video shows Par Par Lay recalling his imprisonment and he, Lu Zaw and Lu Maw trading jokes.

Part of the video is in English and part is in Burmese. Non-Burmese speakers will be interested in hearing and seeing Par Par Lay’s physical gestures and the timing of jokes spoken in Burmese, demonstrating that humor translates even when a language is not understood.

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