Getting Personal: Pandji Pragiwaksono: The Power of Persuasion
Comedians have always played dual roles: the jester with the ear of the king, and also the speaker to the masses — the mission of Pandji Pragiwaksono in his ongoing second stand-up world tour.
In the tour, titled “Juru Bicara” (spokesperson), Pandji’s task is to broach the current affairs, issues and problems faced by society at home to Indonesians living abroad in the most amusing way possible.
None of the issues covered in the joke script, developed and polished through many open mic sessions over six months, may seem laughing matters, as they touch on human rights, environmental preservation, religion and drugs, to name a few.
“I’ve been around a lot and met many people who wanted me to speak on their behalf. It’s a privilege,” said Pandji, as he discussed a wide range of subjects, from Victoria’s Secret to entrepreneurship, sports to politics.
“I don’t know the answer to their questions, the solution to their problems.
But maybe someone in the audience does.”
His gig schedule, kicked off in Shanghai on April 2, will take him to 24 cities on five continents.
There is good reason that Pandji was bestowed with the task. He is an influencer who was able to collect hundreds of millions of rupiah in donations in just three days — exceeding the initial target amount for a one-month period — to rebuild a mosque in Tolikara, Papua, which was burned down in a conflict last year, by tapping people’s conscience.
He is also the man behind Indonesia Unite, a wide-ranging community that was formed in 2009 and got its momentum following terrorism attacks in Jakarta that year. Its members are eager to lead or take part in societal changes in their neighborhoods.
“I have experienced how people in shopping malls stop to listen to me. I could move people. These people are like armies. It’s scary to the point that it’s weird,” he said.
Perhaps he was being modest, but Pandji is well-known to the public from when he made his name as a radio DJ and program director in a fun-filled morning program. It led to him becoming the host of charity reality TV show Kena Deh! (Got You!)
“Many people still know me as that program host, but eight out of 10 already recognize me as the stand-up comedian,” he said.
Pandji, who was on the frontline in developing stand-up comedy in Indonesia, also appeared as the host of TV game show Hole in the Wall, emcee and presenter of many events and programs including NBA games. However, it was his Provocative Proactive talk show that changed his public image into a TV personality with social and political savvy. It not only made him stand out from other presenters but also opened up opportunities that have shaped him into who he is today.
Born in Singapore on June 18, 1979, Pandji spent his childhood in Jakarta. His father, Koes Pratomo Wongsoyudo, was in the timber business and often traveled across the country, bringing home souvenirs that awed his young son with their uniqueness. They made him curious about the people of the archipelago.
“My father was an athlete and he loved to watch international sports events on TV, especially when Indonesians were in the match. He would say: ‘Look, they are fighting for Indonesia’.”
It left an impression on the young Pandji, who was a trained gymnast and later joined an athletic club. “I guess I am a born athlete because I’m very competitive. I even see the world tour as a competition. More wins than losses, then it’s a good season.”
In 2007, he watched his first live soccer match during the AFC Asian Cup, when Indonesia faced South Korea in Jakarta.
Indonesia lost but Pandji gained something more memorable as he saw spectators becoming emotional as the red-and-white national flag was raised amid the playing of the national anthem.
“I cried and at that time I fell in love with Indonesia. It’s a newfound love and I would have defended it if anyone would have said bad things about my country. But my knowledge was still lacking so I learned everything about it,” he said.
“I found that Indonesia has such endless potential that if we could optimize it right, nobody else can compete. We can orchestrate the efforts to return the nation to its former state, long before it became Indonesia — a nation that creates.”
It’s is in his argument for insisting on using Indonesian on his world tour even though he is fluent in English, despite jeers from his peers.
“They said it’s not really a world tour as the audience was Indonesian students and the diaspora which is not completely wrong. But the point is putting the language out there,” he said.
“Koreans and Japanese use their own language everywhere and people learned the language to understand them. So why can’t the Indonesian language go global?”
With his concern for the future of the nation and his enormous presence in social media (he has 879,000 followers on Twitter alone), he has been approached by politicians seeing him as a future leader.
“I may have the passion, but not the competence,” he said. “Without the combination of the two, you would only be another problem for the country. Besides, I love what I do now, creating things that could not happen should I become a politician.
“The only scenario I could think of is to become a lecturer should I no longer have a job in the entertainment industry. If it also failed, then maybe I would join politics just to make a living,” he quipped.
SELLING IT RIGHT
Pandji, who acted in the biopic Rudy Habibie released in June, is also a hip-hop artist, a comic writer and pencillor and author of entrepreneurship books. He founded the comic website Kolam Komik, and there is also the in-progress mobile application Ayo Main for sports lovers seeking available courts to play and fellow enthusiasts.
He skillfully handles the promotion and marketing of his works, which he learned during his brief stint as an account executive in an advertising agency and a sales officer of an international cargo service firm in Bandung.
The graduate of the School of Art and Design of Bandung Institute of Technology said the factory producing underwear products for Victoria’s Secret was one of his biggest clients.
“They sent samples of wire bras in large boxes which translated as bigger bonuses,” he said.
The sales jobs piqued his interest in the marketing world. He bought books and subscribed to magazines on marketing and made his ventures his own lab.
He sold books, hip-hop CDs, world tour DVDs and merchandise online, monetizing through the free-lunch method he created to attract advertisers and at the same time changing the game in the entertainment industry.
“Nothing beats making a living out of what we love doing. I want to stay a comic, so I have to make money out of it. That is why for this tour I have dedicated the largest chunk of the two-hour show for entrepreneurship because basically we could generate money from everything. Anything.”
He has his own management team for the world tour which, he said, learned their mistakes first hand along the way.
“We have no one to consult with because we’re the first doing this. I love to be on the world tour, I am doing it twice. We want it to be perfect but it won’t happen without support from local organizers. It’s like what they say: ‘You can’t do epic s*** with basic people’. And I want to do epic s***.”
STARTING FROM HOME
He is married to fellow radio DJ Gamila Mustika Burhan, who is also a partner in his work. The couple’s parenting methods in raising 4-year-old Shira and 9-year-old Dipo were detailed in his video blogs and writings.
Pandji’s typical morning would be making breakfast, bathing and taking care of the children, before dropping them at school, “because it would be the only time I have for them during the day”.
The couple carefully selected schools based on their children’s pace of learning.
“I’m diagnosed with adult ADHD and I suspect I’ve been since little. I ranked last in school because I was slow and had a short attention span. The school gave up on me and, as a kid, such treatment affects you psychologically. I grew up ashamed of my being. I couldn’t bear crossing the street because I was afraid of people staring and commenting on me.”
He enrolled in Kolese Gonzaga private high school. He despised it at first because he was afraid the whole school would notice he only had two batik shirts to wear on certain days as opposed to the uniform of public schools.
“The benefit of wearing a uniform is that no one could tell you come from a family with money or not because you wear the same thing from head to toe as others,” he said.
“But in my first year I realized that those with a lot of batik shirts and the ones who wear the same thing every week sit together, the smartest and those ranked the lowest in class sit together. This is how Indonesia should be: not hiding your differences under the surface, but acknowledging them.”
If there is one thing that will keep Pandji going in the good place he is now it will be his father’s words.
“Dare to dream. If you knock it aside, it will go for a while but return as a regret. And I won’t spend my life wondering,” he said.