Antares speculates on how it might feel to be a fan hit by Jit’s wit and wisdom
Would I like to be Jit Murad? Sure, for a few weeks at least, why not? I saw a movie called Being John Malkovich, in which a puppeteer finds a way to take over actor Malkovich from within, a novel twist on spirit possession and body-snatching. Now imagine there’s a vortex that leads directly into Jit Murad’s interior.
The moment you find yourself inside Jit’s skin you’ll feel a buzz in your head. After a while you’ll realize it’s only the crackle and hum of synapses firing away at near lightspeed. Whereas your “average” flat-footed human is content to plod up and down linear mental pavements with a 5,000-word (or, at best, 15,000-word) vocabulary, Jit flies loop-the-loops around the multidimensional, ideational cosmos in his 150,000-word Lexicon Mk VII – and has the option of coining his own words, as and when the need arises, in at least three languages (or a wacky combination thereof).
Indeed, Jit’s verbal agility is a gift he employs to great advantage in his chosen career as actor, raconteur, playwright, philosopher and social commentator. A champion debater of the venerable Victoria Institution in his early youth – with Jit, one can only describe the different stages of his life as early, middle, or late youth – this puckish Peter Pan of Malaysian theater is a true tribal griot who has outgrown tribalistic concerns.
What’s a griot? The antithesis of a grinch, of course. The world is a wayang kulit punch-and-judy show in which the hearts and souls of the hoi polloi are perpetually fought over between griots and grinches. Whilst griots seek to educate, liberate and heal by captivating us (with song-and-dance and storytelling), grinches are forever trying to cast a hypnotic spell of anxiety over us and make us slavishly hand over our money and power, holding us captive, generation after generation.
Academia, bureaucracy, politics, public relations, international espionage, and law enforcement are the sort of domains where grinches lurk (that’s right, there’s always a City Hall grinch or two in the theater, waiting to pounce on every “offensive” word and use it as an excuse to ban the production).
You’ll find a lot of griots in the arts, especially the performing arts, from obscure street buskers to celebrity entertainers at glitzy functions. Jit Murad has earned himself a well-deserved place among the local celebrities – but he’s pretty much the same lovable Jit I first met in the mid-1980s when he appeared (with Liza Othman and Jo Kukathas) in Thor Kah Hoong’s Caught In The Middle. He subsequently played my son in Maureen Ten’s For The Time Being in 1988 – and from then on there was no stopping him.
Jit Hits The Fan, his current comic monologue at the Actors Studio, Bangsar, was a last-minute production, a rabbit out of a magician’s hat. Comedy Court canceled their scheduled slot and Jit was roped in to do a stand-up comedy routine. A lot of it is ad-libbed, but there’s a beautiful internal structure to his spiel which indicates that he has sketched out the entire show in his head and committed it to memory. It’s simply breathtaking the way a man with only a microphone and a well-tuned voice can hold everyone spellbound for close to an hour (okay, a man and a hairstylist named René Choy) – and make us laugh so heartily and effortlessly just by talking about himself. Even when he’s being narcissistic and self-indulgent, he is amusingly so, and instantly forgiven.
There was really no need to get a fellow named Scott to introduce Jit Murad and “warm up” the audience with a best-forgotten bit of lame-brained humor, but by the end of the show, nobody cared anyway – everyone went home smiling. Maybe Jit just liked his all-American good looks; at any rate, Scott did a great job of “lowering the bar” and helping Jit pass with flying colors.
Over the years, Jit Murad has honed his performance skills to a degree that will gain him ready admittance to the Universal Comedy Hall of Fame, taking his place amongst established names like Woody Allen, Peter Ustinov, Lenny Bruce, Severn Darden, Chris Rush, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and Eddie Murphy.
Unfortunately, in Malaysia we’re so preoccupied with promoting the mediocre and the banal that we seem to have overlooked everything with genuine export potential. The problem, perhaps, is that everything with export potential is vastly more intelligent than the powers-that-be and therefore invariably comes across as being a threat to the political status quo.
Take, for instance, the case of the Instant Café Theatre: what a crying shame that this astonishingly talented crew has yet to have local television exposure. Instead, City Hall recently made an idiotic attempt to ban them! In a mature, egoically secure cultural context, ICT would be as big a hit as Monty Python in Britain or Saturday Night Live in the U.S. – and just as exportable around the world.
And Jit Murad wouldn’t be voicing his anxiety that only 12 tickets had been reserved for the second performance. Well, his routine is so cool, so breezy, and so brilliant –anyone careless enough (or broke enough) to miss it ought to be given a second chance to view it on DVD or VCD. So where have all our local entrepreneurs gone? Jit lamented the fact that he can’t even take his show on the road – except, perhaps, to Ipoh and Penang. Aren’t there people in Malacca, Seremban, Dungun, Alor Setar, Teluk Intan, Johore Baru, Kota Bharu, Kuala Kubu Bharu, and Kuantan with brains – and a few bucks to spare towards the comic stimulation thereof?
As a stand-up comedian, Jit’s inherent compassion and lightness of touch gives him licence to play court jester throughout the known universe – I can see him charming the socks off, and doubling up in helpless mirth, audiences in heaven as well as in hell. And we all know Malaysia is strategically located between those extremes.
11 September 2003