23 May 2024

Stand-up comedian Udom “Nose” Taepanich has again ignited controversy with a joke, this time drawing fury from conservatives and royalists.

In his “Deaw Special: Super Soft Power” show now streaming on Netflix, Udom makes a sarcastic joke about self-sufficiency while ridiculing celebrities who pretend to have a self-sufficiency lifestyle “just for show”.

He also admits to discovering he’s not suited to rural life growing his own organic vegetables.

“I have to confess that it’s not my cup of tea. I just wanted to show people I live a self-sufficient life, but I found out that it’s not easy,” said Udom, 55.

“I am not a farmer. I was poor enough during childhood that I don’t need to pretend to be poor now. I want to live in a cool, air-conditioned room with strong internet connection. I am a consumer,” the comedian quipped, sparking laughter from the audience during the recorded show.

He goes on to lampoon celebrities who promote self-sufficiency on social media by harvesting rice. These people, said Udom, apply thick layers of sunscreen before leaving their air-conditioned vans, posing briefly at a rice field, uploading their photos to social media, and scurrying back to the comfort of aircon.

Royalist critics have interpreted his jokes as veiled mockery of the late King Rama IX’s self-sufficiency philosophy. Others, including Udom’s supporters, say the comedian is simply ridiculing himself and social media influencers for pretending to adopt a simple way of life while still indulging in luxuries.

Coming under fire

Politicians, political activists, and former senior policemen are among those who have criticized the comedian for what they claim is an improper attitude toward the late monarch’s advice.

Some observers said the content of his show was designed to appeal to a young and Bangkok-centric audience. This is the same group that helped the liberal Move Forward Party win the highest number of seats in last year’s election. They noted that the comedian rarely jokes about Move Forward or any of its key figures.

Disqualified MP Pareena Kraikupt has even filed a police complaint accusing Udom of lese majeste, while serial petitioner Sonthiya Sawasdee has asked police to investigate the content of Udom’s show for evidence of misinformation about the self-sufficiency philosophy.

Udom has also drawn flak on social media, with some users accusing him of “making a living by bullying people”.

On the other side, Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn said Pareena had “gone too far” in accusing the comedian of insulting the monarchy. Celebrity lawyer Decha Kittivittayanan, meanwhile, warned that those who unjustly attack the comedian could face defamation charges.

Critic of previous leader

In 2022, Udom’s “Deaw 13” show sparked an online clash between supporters and opponents of then-prime minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha. Without naming names, Udom likened coup-maker Prayut to a security guard trying to fly “the Thailand plane” while professional pilots were barred from the cockpit. The comedian also suggested that the leader’s “weakness is in his head”.

Udom was born on September 1, 1968, in Chon Buri province. He 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 appendage, although his original family nickname was “Oud” (the Thai version of “oink”).

He began his working life as a cartoonist for a children’s magazine before shifting to another journal to work in the art department. It was then that he got his first taste of showbiz, 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 comedy character and impressive comic talent quickly catapulted him to stardom.

Udom staged his first solo 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.

Dhammakaya follower

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 grocery and bakery to showbiz promotion and modeling.

In 2022, his flagship business, Made In Happy Land, made a profit of 43.6 million baht from revenue of 230.8 million. His souvenir design and distribution company made a profit of under 1 million baht from income of 16.7 million. The three other companies all suffered losses in 2022.

Thai PBS World’s Political Desk