Thailand’s top stand-up comedian sticks nose into political divide

(Photo by thaistandupcomedy Facebook page)

Stand-up comedian Udom “Nose” Taepanich is under the spotlight after jokes in his latest show drew criticism and ignited an online clash between supporters and opponents of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Some observers see the drama as proof that the deep and long-standing divide in Thai society is no closer to being healed.

The two sides have been trading heated arguments on social media since October 11, when Udom’s “Deaw 13” show debuted on Netflix.

The 54-year-old comedian performed 10 rounds of his show between June 10 and 19 to a packed audience at the 5,000-seat Royal Paragon Hall. However, the public drama over his jibes directed at General Prayut only erupted after the show reached the masses via online streaming.

Intentional or not, the controversy helped propel “Deaw 13” to No 1 position in the streaming service’s “Top 10 TV Shows in Thailand Today”.

Lampooning the leader

The comedian spends a large part of his three-hour show lampooning Prayut, though manages to avoid naming the leader. Udom likens the PM to a security guard trying to fly “the Thailand plane” while professional pilots are barred from the cockpit.

“Our country is being piloted by someone who can’t control the plane,” he says, to gales of laughter from the live audience.

The term “security guard” is used by Prayut’s critics to refer to the Thai military in general, and to the PM in particular, following the 2014 coup that he led.

Udom has also drawn criticism for seemingly sympathizing with anti-establishment protesters.

“Traffic is bad today because protesters are trying to drive away someone we want to go. Let’s forgive them. Just consider that they are working for us.”

One group not amused by the jokes are the prime minister’s supporters. They accuse the comedian of going too far and insulting Prayut by suggesting that the leader’s “weakness is in his head”.

Udom’s fans point out that he doesn’t just poke fun at Prayut, having also targeted past prime ministers during his previous shows.

He often satirizes political leaders without naming names, joking about their well-known characteristics or blunders. But observers note that Prayut seems to have suffered Udom’s harshest and longest attack, with previous targets given a much lighter roasting.

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Art college dropout

Born on September 1, 1968, in Chon Buri province, Udom dropped out of the Poh Chang College of Arts and Crafts because he could not afford the tuition fees.

His friends nicknamed him “Nose” due to the prominent size of the organ.

He began his working life as a cartoonist for a children’s magazine before shifting to another magazine to work in the art department. It was then that he got his first taste of showbiz, when he was recruited as an extra in a stage play.

After the magazine closed down in 1991, Udom jumped back into showbiz with a role in a popular TV comedy-variety show of the 1990s called “Yutthakan Khayap Nguak” (Operation Moving Gums). His amusing character and impressive comic talent quickly catapulted him to stardom.

Udom staged his first solo stage performance in August 1995, when stand-up comedy was still new to Thailand. “Deaw Microphone” (Solo Microphone) played to packed audiences at the Muang Thai Life Assurance Auditorium in Bangkok. Fifteen more solo shows have followed since.

Responding to popular demand, Udom has performed at least three dates for each of his shows, culminating in a record run of 43 performances of his sixth show held between October 1 and November 12, 2003.

A controversial act

The comedian stirred controversy in his previous show, “Deaw 12”, in August 2018 when he bent down as if to kiss actress Ranee “Bella” Campen, who was in the audience. Udom seemed to be mimicking a romantic scene from Ranee’s popular TV drama “Bupphesanniwat”, but earned criticism for what many said was “inappropriate behavior”.

A devout follower of the controversial Dhammakaya sect, Udom is often spotted taking part in the temple’s ceremonies. Its charismatic founder and former abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, is on the run following a 2016 crackdown by the Prayut government. The monk is wanted for embezzlement and money laundering.

Udom is also a businessman, serving as an executive director of five companies, according to Business Development Department records. The companies are involved in a diverse mix of activities ranging from food and bakery to showbiz promotion and modeling.

In 2018, his businesses earned combined revenue of over 300 million baht and profits exceeding 43 million, but most have suffered big losses in the last two years due to COVID-19. Two of his firms reported combined losses surpassing 29 million baht in 2020.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk

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