Raditya Dika on Making a Living Off Laughs

Raditya Dika in his latest movie ‘Cinta Brontosaurus.’ The movie, screened in nearly 200 theaters across the country, was watched by 150,000 people in the first two days of its release. (Photo courtesy of Starvision)

Raditya Dika in his latest movie ‘Cinta Brontosaurus.’ The movie, screened in nearly 200 theaters across the country, was watched by 150,000 people in the first two days of its release. (Photo courtesy of Starvision)

Many young Indonesian readers were first introduced to comedian Raditya Dika, or Radith, through his first book, “Kambing Jantan,” but for a lot of people, especially those familiar with the Indonesian blogosphere since the early 2000s, Radith remains a blogger first.

While still a student in Australia, he set up a blog to post stories of his life abroad.

Before signing a book deal with GagasMedia publishing company in 2005, he was thinking of becoming a politician.

As it turns out, the book deal changed his life. He took down his blog, published the content in printed books and became a very productive author since.

He published a new book every year, including “Cinta Brontosaurus,” “Radikus Makankakus: Bukan Binatang Biasa,” “Babi Ngesot,” “Marmut Merah Jambu” and “Manusia Setengah Salmon.”

Today, Radith has come a long way from his humble beginnings as a student.

He is the author of six books, writer of a web series and at least four motion pictures, cofounder of the Bukune publishing company and Internet market consultancy and co-owner of a durian pancake brand — Celebrity Pancake.

Every day, he interacts with no less than 4 million followers on Twitter.

Jakarta Globe had a chat with Radith in Jakarta last week in which he talked about juggling his many different projects, his latest film “Cinta Brontosaurus,” and people who inspire him.

You have been terribly busy, working on three films since earlier this year.

Yes. Well, since last year. I started writing ‘Malam Minggu Miko’ [a comedy web series on KompasTV and YouTube that premiered December 2012] in November last year. ‘Cinta Brontosaurus’ had been in the works since a year and a half ago and it was locked in March. I wrote ‘Cinta dalam Kardus’ in January. And ‘Manusia Setengah Salmon’ is recently locked.

Why did it take so long to finish “Cinta Brontosaurus?”

I kept editing my work and gave myself options. I changed most of the scenes. Almost all the scenes in the movie didn’t start out that way, especially the dynamics between Kosasih [Soleh Solihun] and Dika. I just found it on my last draft.

How do you find your style in writing fiction?

We have to steal a lot and steal from the best. If we steal, we will own it. If we borrow, that’s plagiarism. Woody Allen said, steal from the best.

Speaking of Woody Allen, I read that you idolize him.

I really do. I made ‘Cinta Brontosaurus’ because of ‘Annie Hall.’

Woody Allen changed how I see my life and love in general. His techniques in writing and acting are brilliant. “Cinta Brontosaurus” is not a homage to Woody Allen, but if you notice, there are a few images of him in the movie. My cellphone wallpaper, the poster in my closet.

I think he is very insightful in expressing his concerns. ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Manhattan’ talk about modern love and the life of writers. I haven’t seen an Indonesian film like it, a film that speaks about modern love in a very articulate way.

Modern love is a very complex and entirely different issue from a pop kind of love we are used to discussing. This is the kind of complexity that I wanted to put in ‘Cinta Brontosaurus.’

It took you four years to release your second movie. What changed?

I’m a whole different person.

‘Kambing Jantan’ was written by Salman Aristo, Mouly Surya and me. I didn’t understand anything. I didn’t even know how to write ‘fade in’ and ‘fade out.’

I completely listened to the director [Rudy Soedjarwo]. It was a special movie for me but I was very stupid, well, I am still stupid now, but I have learned a lot.

I feel like ‘Cinta Brontosaurus’ is more me, because I was involved [during the whole process.]

What are your writing routines like? And how did you find your writing style?

I write everyday, from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Always.

When I write comedy, I only need to make myself laugh.

I always believe when writing comedy, you have to deliver the unexpected. For me, to be able to write scripts for my own movies, I have gone through a very long learning process.

I used to question myself and wonder when I will ever be confident enough to write a script for a comedy that a lot of people will want to watch. So I wrote 26 episodes of ‘Malam Minggu Miko.’

I wasn’t sure if people were going to like it, but we got a total of 18 million views. So, I thought, if I put the same formula on film, it might work. I then wrote ‘Cinta Brontosaurus.’

What makes comedians funny? Do you think it’s their way of seeing their life?

Comedians look at their life in a very cranky way. If you are not cranky, you are not funny. We [comedians] have to be easily upset and worried. That’s how we get a different perspective from everybody else.

You sound very bitter about life.

I am, indeed, a very bitter person. A hundred percent. ‘Cinta Brontosaurus’ is actually a bitter story, because it doesn’t believe love can last forever.

Who are your favorite writers?

I love Neil Gaiman. I love all of his books, especially his short stories, ‘Smoke and Mirrors.’

I don’t like fantasy, but if Gaiman wrote it, I would like it. He is a clever writer and he always successfully blurs the line between myth and reality. I think that’s a difficult thing for modern story tellers to do.

I also like David Sedaris. My favorite is ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day.’

Have you ever thought about writing something else that is not comedy?

I really enjoy philosophy.

I spent many days falling asleep in my school library in Adelaide. But I like comedy, too, because it’s equally difficult with philosophy.

I want to master comedy writing, because I love the genre. I think I will write comedy forever. Even if I write something serious, it will be a dark comedy.

Once, I wrote this serious novel, but I felt like I wrote it to appear clever, and I don’t want that. I feel like I’m cheating myself. So, yeah, I am sticking with comedy.

You are one of the pioneers for stand-up comedians in the country. What are your plans for the business of stand up comedy in Indonesia?

I want more comics to be able to play in the movies. That’s why I asked Soleh to join me in ‘Cinta Brontosaurus.’ That’s my idealism. If I get offered to make a film or TV show, I want another comic to be cast. I want stand up comedy to be a legit industry in Indonesia.