As Mynamar emerges from political isolation there’s been an explosion in artistic expression in the country.



Before there were strict controls on what Burmese could do on stage, but now artists are seeing a relaxation of the rules and their changing country is providing them with plenty of inspiration.


The country’s most famous comedian, Zarganar, has reunited with this group Thee Lay Thee – Three fruits – and is enjoying exploring the new-found freedom.


Rebeccah Henschke reports.



Zarganar stands in the middle of his studio in downtown Yangon, a circle of dancers listening to his every word.


He has selected them carefully in order to make a political statement.


“I choose all of the colours and I choose all of the religions: there must be Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and the Hindus. There are all of them from different backgrounds so we can say this is unity in diversity.”

“Why is that important now?”

“Because in our country some people said our people, our Burmese people, they can not accept the diversity. Diversity is very important for the democracy you know. So unity in the diversity is very important recently in our country. Some people they don’t know what diversity is, what unity is and what democracy is – they don’t know.”


This, his latest dance and comic performance, is a response to the ongoing civil war and ethnic conflicts that are raging across the country.


Zarganar’s stage name literally translates as ”tweezers” – it’s said that he pulls out fear.


Jailed four times for criticising the government, he continues to push the boundaries.


“In our country 25 per cent of the parliament seats are already occupied by the military automatically so I would like to ask our President that they should give another 25 per cent of the seats to our comedians so that half the parliament would be crazy. This is just a joke but I don’t like this 25 per cent – why do we have to give the military 25 per cent?”

His freedom to make jokes like this is very fresh.


He was sentenced to 59 years behind bars in 2008 for criticising the government.


An international campaign led to his release.


To escape similar arrest, Kay Thee from Zargarnar’s comic group Thee Lay Thee avoided arrest by going into self-imposed exile in Thailand.


He recently returned home to Myanmar and is not really sure how the authorities are going to respond to their work now.


“As a comedian I have a duty to say what I think. I don’t care if I will be arrested for it. It is my duty. Maybe one day they will come and arrest me but I can’t predict what is going to happen. But comedians are better than politicians because the people listen to us.”


Like many political activists, his family has paid a high price.


While in exile in Thailand his father died and he didn’t get to say goodbye.


He left him this letter that Kay Thee reads often.

“If my father knew the suffering I would have in Thailand he wouldn’t have recommended my path in life, but he did motivate me. The other thing that motivated me is the cruelty, the torture, the monopoly that is happening in Mynamar.”

During his years away, his parents dealt with their longing by taking photos with his stage posters.

And to protect his mother he never told her why he was in Thailand.


“When I first found out I had to be hospitalised because of the shock and worry. But now people come and praise his work to me and I am very proud.”


She too was a performer; a dancer.


And now she can watch her political comic son performing out in the open, continuing the family tradition and pushing for a new more just Myanmar.


But for now everyone, including Zarganar, is cautious.


“Now we have a little bit of freedom in our country. Not full freedom. Our country is not America. Our country is not England. Our country is two years old. Just two years old. So just baby steps, we can say.”

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