‘If you can make them laugh, they will listen to you better’


By Wilson Chew

When the conversation turns to issues like religion and faith, humanists often face a dilemma – whether to keep their views to themselves, or risk sparking friction or a disagreement. In a lively and amusing presentation at the Asian Humanism Conference, however, Indonesian stand-up comedian Reggie Hasibuan points out the usefulness of humour, allowing us to have it both ways.

Reggie is no stranger to controversy; his routines, focus heavily on matters like religion and race, which can be risky to even raise as a subject. The first portion of his presentation revolves around the necessity of talking about such subjects, though.

  • The best way to change people’s minds is to raise the subject.
  • One can take the opportunity to clarify their viewpoints and stand.
  • Sometimes there’s no choice but to address the elephant in the room, and to make people aware of their unspoken assumptions and unchallenged beliefs

Important as it is to speak up, though, speaking up often has consequences, and this is where humour becomes the key. As Reggie puts it: ‘If you can make them laugh, they will listen to you better.’ When suitably employed, ‘laughter is the neutraliser’; it is difficult for people to laugh and be angry at the same time, which allows sensitive issues to be put across without offence.

Reggie goes on to back up this idea with some examples from regional comedians. The routines that he picks often illustrate the gap between the strictures of religious obligations, and the reality of a practitioner’s environment – for example, the difficulty of expecting a child brought up speaking Malay or Indonesian to also memorise their holy texts, written in Classical Arabic.

Besides performing the routines, which are sharply observed and often darkly humorous, Reggie also goes on to comment on and analyse them, identifying the risks of appearing to openly mock religion; better, instead, to focus on human foibles – or even the darker, more aggressive impulses of human nature – in a religious context. Can such jokes make people laugh? Yes, as Reggie’s presentation shows. But, more usefully, they can also make people think.

The Asian Humanism Conference was held from June 20-21, 2015. You might want to visit: