It’s fair to say that Uus’ life, particularly his career, has been turned upside down recently.
Uus (real name Rizky Firdaus Wijaksana) is an Indonesian stand up comedian who was regularly featured on two of the country’s biggest TV variety shows. But those appearances stopped after he became the subject of controversy for joking about Islamic hardliners.
Last month, Uus posted a couple of tweets questioning the legitimacy of Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab’s claim to be an ulema (Islamic scholar) on social media. Many thought his remarks were perfectly on point, but, as with almost anything that involves questioning some aspect of Islam in Indonesia, they also set of a barrage of hate-filled comments. Many accused Uus of insulting ulemas in general, and, through some specious logic, the religion of Islam as a whole.
Coconuts reporter Feby Ferdian reached out to Uus almost exactly a month after he was reportedly fired from his TV gigs because of the controversy. We called him a champion of free speech then and that remains true. This stand up comedian is still standing his ground, even if it means suffering vicious lies and attacks on himself and his family.
Can you tell us how you remained so calm despite all of the attacks you were getting online?
Because this wasn’t the first time. I’ve been bullied before because of [commenting] about hijabs, [and I was also bullied] by K-Pop fans. So when I was attacked again, I thought, “so what?”
I’m aware that people’s standards of living are different. Some [haters] have admitted to me, “We’re stressed, our lives are difficult. So we feel it’s our right to insult others to relieve ourselves of stress.” That’s the gist of it. That was what one of them admitted to me.
Because of those attacks, did you lose your job?
I lost a lot of job offers. From the beginning, I’ve always believed that, whatever happens in my life, it’s a test [of my character]. This is a just part of that process.
And what I said [last month] wasn’t even insulting. I did not insult anyone directly. I did not use harsh words. I had an open statement – an opinion. You want to agree with me or not, it’s up to you. I wasn’t leading people to hatred. People can think whatever they like.
Including the part about ulemas?
When I was talking about false ulemas, I did not say any names. When I questioned if Rizieq is an ulema or not, it was a question, not a statement that Rizieq is not an ulema. I was not leading people to believe that. But they wanted to believe that, so it’s out of my hands.
What I express is my own personal opinion. So when it affects my job, I still feel that I didn’t do anything wrong. But there’s nothing I can do, maybe this is part of the process.
What do you think about the the status of free speech in Indonesia at the moment?
It’s like the slogan ‘stop bullying’ – there are many double standards. For example, we see someone say all kinds of harsh things, we don’t mind. But when Young Lex (controversial hip-hop artist) says it, people are all like, “What the hell is all this generation destroying nonsense?” That’s a double standard in my opinion.
And then there was the time when some women in hijabs saw my tattooed wife. They called her a whore, cheap, all sorts of things. And then I thought, “how can women in hijabs be like this?”
If you’ve read my writings, you’d know that my wife was a former addict, a former drug user, so that’s why her mental state isn’t always stable. She asked me, “They say women in hijab are kind, but why do they act this way?” Now, if someone asks that to a person who is not too educated about religion [like me], how do you answer that?
On the other side of the coin, young celebs, teenagers, are often depicted hugging, kissing, dating, but they are supported. That’s a double standard.
Like the other day. on my birthday, my wife wore a nurse costume and she kissed me on the lips. People were saying, “What kind of a family is that? That’s a horny family.” But when Bang Wendy (fellow comedian Wendy Cagur) kissed his wife, he wasn’t bullied.
Did you ever think about reporting them to the authorities?
If I did that, I wouldn’t be any different from them, spreading fear to prevent [other people from expressing their] opinion.
So I chose to respond to [my haters] with love. That’s why, when I’m bullied, I say “whatever”. Instead of both of us spreading hate, it’s better that I love them, joke with them.
Honestly, I did not expect to have a career this big. And when I chose an addict as my life partner, who asked me to help direct her to a better life, I took that on with an oath, not something to be distanced from.
I want all women to be respected. Regardless of whether they were drug addicts, or, sorry to say, prostitutes, they all have a right to be loved. Meanwhile, you, the “virtuous people”, are marginalizing them. You talk endlessly about women’s rights but there is no concrete action from you to realize them.
Have you ever met your haters in person?
No. Although, after the controversy, there have actually been a lot of funny incidents when I’m outside. Like the time someone shouted, “Bang Uus, stay strong, ya” at me, and I didn’t even know who it was.
What do you hope will come out of all of this?
The other day I was tweeting with Ibu Anisa Wahid (human rights activist). She said, “Mas Uus, I don’t know you in person, but I hope that you find ease in all that you’re going through.”
And then I said, if everything is made easy, then everyone is going to be soft. So I’d rather someone pray for me to be toughened up.
These days, Uus spends his days writing and performing stand up at several off-air events. We know many Indonesians appreciate his principles and his humor, so hopefully we’ll see him back on top soon enough.