Lu Maw makes fun of the time his brothers have spent locked up in prison. He says that Par Par Lay – the first comedian – helped him avoid jail three times.
Par Par Lay, the leader of the Moustache Brothers, was sent to prison for the first time in 1996.He spent almost seven years building roads and beating stones in the northern part of the country.He was condemned for laughing at the bad situation of the Burmese people. Thanks to international campaigns, including some lead by a group of Hollywood comedians, Par Par Lay and his cousin Lu Zaw were released before their seven year sentence…only just a few months before.
Next time they were imprisoned, in 2001, they spent just 6 months behind bars. The third arrest was in 2007, when they joined the street rallies led by the monks. This time Par Par Lay spent only 28 days in prison. Maybe the international pressures over the country were taking effect.
Before being blacklisted, they would tour the country with their A-Nyient performance – a traditional style of Burmese theatre, combining comedy, regional dance and silly characters, in one lengthy performance. They were hired to participate in family celebrations, ear-piercing ceremonies or Buddhist festivities, and their shows would last till dawn.
Today, the Moustache Brothers, in their kind of house arrest, can’t perform outside, as they used to.They can only perform for foreigners, in their front room – a sort of garage full of puppets on sale, banners with the most bizarre sentences, and posters of them with Aun San SuuKyi, the Nobel Prize winner and hope of the Burmese freedom.
Perhaps the government feels much stronger now that they’ve controlled their jokes. Now, they are only told in English, and the Burmese can’t hear them. But more importantly, they have now found a powerful and blindfolded ally: China.
The trade with China has strengthened the Burmese government, securing a constant flow of foreign currency, cheap motorcycles and an important international partner.
But the Moustache Brothers know about the power of the media. Beyond looking for publicity for their own business, which every professional would, they are aware, and perhaps, they acknowledge Westerners as their best resort towards freedom.
That’s why they opened their doors to funproject (just a tiny social media), delighted as if we were the CNN. They believe in us and they believe that the increasing flow of tourists can open a door to the outside world.
And overall they believe in a sense of humour, one unaware of media and internet censorships, one that breaks cultural borders to ultimately reach global understanding and compassion through one of the most basic of the human rights: the Freedom of Laughter.