Sun, 06 Feb 2000

Ulfa is more than just a comedian

By Endi Aras

JAKARTA (JP): Quite a few comedians showed up for the shooting of Ludruk Glamor, a TV program for SCTV on Wednesday Jan. 26. Noted comedian-presenter Ulfa Dwiyanti was seen among them.

In the make-up rooms backstage, there were only a few people left. Ulfa was there waiting her turn.

"Sorry, let's talk while my make-up is being done. Well, I have considerable time. I will appear in the second part," said Ulfa, who was accompanied by her future husband, Klaas, a Dutch businessman who converted to Islam under the name of Muhammad Ikhlas.

Ulfa, who has gained great popularity hosting various TV programs, including Ngerumpi di Mall (Gossiping in a Mall), met Klaas for the first time a year and a half ago in a mall when she was working for the program.

On Feb. 6, 2000, Ulfa will end her single lifestyle. A few years ago she got a divorce from her husband, a former photographer of a Jakarta-based magazine.

During the shooting of Ludruk Glamor (Glamorous Ludruk, a traditional folktale from East Java) Ulfa realized that she had taken the wrong costume.

"I thought I would need a kebaya (a woman's blouse, the front of which is pinned together, usually worn with a sarong) for my role. Well, I am mistaken. My role is that of a coquettish girl dressed like a teenager. Luckily for me someone bought me this T- shirt," she said.

Ulfa, winner of last year's Panasonic Award for the category of Most Favorite Presenter, was born in Bandung on May 4, 1972. As a presenter, her price is between Rp 5 million and Rp 7 million.

She shared stories of her childhood and her choice of profession as an entertainer with The Jakarta Post.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Question: Tell us a little about your childhood which has influenced you to become a comedian.

Answer: I used to be in a children's drama and played in Keluarga Pak Is (Pak Is' Family) with Mark Sungkar, and also with Aminah Cendrakasih and Mak Wok. I also appeared with Nunu Datau and Lala. Then, I appeared as a rude and ill-mannered girl, quite different from my character now. So my basics are in theater. At that time, I was in the second grade of junior secondary, about 14 years old. It was a program for state-owned television station TVRI. In those days children's plays were very popular. Then, when I was in senior high school, I joined a theatrical group. I also worked for SK (Humorous) Radio as a broadcaster. Finally, I met some comedians. Boim Lupus, the real person, not the one in the Lupus casting, took me to see them. They saw my skills and then I met Unang Bagito. Bagito asked me to join them. Later I joined Warkop and finally Empat Sekawan and all the comedian groups which used to get together at SK Radio. They have all promoted me. But Bagito has played the biggest role in this respect.

Q: Why the biggest?

A: I felt quite at home with Bagito because by joining them I could demonstrate all my skills. Well, I thought that I had a good knack in language. I first gained popularity thanks to my knowledge in Japanese. At that time I had just returned from Japan so in my acting I spoke real Japanese, like onggo, gekideska and so forth. This experience was still fresh in my mind.

Q: Have you ever learned Japanese?

A: As I have said I have a penchant for languages. I like any language. I learned languages by myself. Then I learned Japanese because I planned to go to Japan, which I had visited earlier, in fact.

Q: What for?

A: A scholarship. My parents had supported me. I went to Japan and took a Japanese course. Well, I practiced my Japanese in Japan. It turns out that my Japanese knowledge was useful to me in earning money (laughing). And finally people know that languages can create funny situations. At first, you know, I did not want to become a comedian only because I was afraid I would end up simply as a clown. So I racked my brains and thought of an idea for jokes through a communicative language. As I like Japanese, I spoke Japanese in my performance.

Q: When you spoke Japanese, who was your audience?

A: Well, at that time I performed at Hailai Ancol. If I am not mistaken it was a BCA program. Liem Sioe Liong, a tycoon who has a share in the bank, also attended this program. You know, Liem shook hands with me and tickled my palm (laughing). Well, I was sort of shocked. But then I thought he was an old man that I had to respect. Well, he seemed to like me for my Japanese.

Q: Besides your external association, which environment has influenced you? Your family sphere, perhaps?

A: My mom. My late mother influenced me at home. Like this. Once, I joined a theatrical group and she asked me why I did not join RCTI. Well, then Bagito called me to appear on RCTI. You know, my mom was really great, you see. She had a strong instinct. I even told her that she was like an angel. At another time she asked me again why I did not join Indosiar. At that time Indosiar had just started its TV broadcast. Well, a short time later Indosiar asked me to join in. Do you know how happy I was when Bagito called me? I thought it was a good chance for me to appear on TV.

Q: Did SK Radio contribute greatly to your career?

A: Yes. I am very grateful to SK. I always thought it allowed me to develop. I have gotten a lot of input from SK, about the comic situation, the mad appearance and also the tricks.

How much was your first fee?

The first time I earned my money as SK Radio's anchor was Rp 75,000. Do you know what I bought? A ring. I still keep it now. Then my previous wedding ring, I still have it ... oops, it's not here. But I still keep it.

Q: When did you first think that you were really funny?

A: When I joined Bagito as a guest star, well, as a Japanese girl. I thought I was quite funny and then I thought again that I had to add quality to my jokes so that the audience would enjoy my jokes better and think about them. I did not want to just say things that can make people laugh.

Q: Why?

A: Well, I used to be a great fan of Bill Cosby. He was funny even when he was just speaking. I am also a fan of Mr. Bean. So now I combine Bill Cosby and Mr, Bean, plus the expressions and the body language of Mr. Bean. That is my orientation.

Q: Is that what you really want?

A: Well, I used to want this. I believe I do still. Perhaps other people know better. My feeling is that, well, I am Mr. Bean because I like his expression. And Bill Cosby is a really smart person. I also want to fight for the sake of women. You know that it used to be taboo for women to be comedians. Well, I thought that it is not correct at all. I want to show that those opinions are not right. I can be one. Previously, female comedians should be fat, just like the late Tarida Gloria and Ratmi B29. I think that's the challenge of a comedian. She does not have to be funny because of her body shape, but she should be clever. She should have a diverse knowledge and know actual current events. That's difficult.

Q: Do you prefer to be called a comedian or a presenter?

A: An entertainer. An entertainer is someone who entertains others. Comedy is part of entertaining ... People can call me a comedian, presenter, or other which is an entertainer.

Q: Then what do you think of your jokes?

A: Each person has a different opinion of what they think is funny or not. If we say it's funny, the audience might not think so. Some even complain of the way we make jokes. If I'm not considered funny, I have ways to deal with it. I throw out a joke, if it's considered not funny, I throw out another joke. So we should always be prepared. A singer has his or her voice besides remembering the song's lyrics. But in comedy, we should prepare many jokes ... By saying that I'm funny, it's a burden to me. A big problem. Maybe because I have to maintain quality and I have to find funnier jokes. That is why we have to read a lot and learn. If I show up when I haven't learned anything, I'll look stupid.

Q: What books do you read?

A: I don't read scientific books or those read by college students. But for me, my loyal friends are the media, so I mostly read magazines and newspapers ... I learned from books during my school time. But the most valuable source is the media, my knowledge comes from there. With only Rp 2,000 or even Rp 600, I can get newspapers.

Q: What do you sell, actually, from your present profession?

A: I think ... a blend of information. To get information we can read news or listen to it. But the blend of information is what moves me. That's me. So my source is reading. We can entertain, we can do whatever we want by reading ...

Q: You recently received a Panasonic Award. Do you think you deserved it?

A: I don't know. But it's the viewers' choice and I'm grateful. I have to accept it since it comes from the viewers. The award is only a form of media. The most important thing for me is that my work goes on ... or at least that I can get more deals. With my achievement, everyone knows my quality.