Fixing the standup comedy problem in India

Last week witnessed two incidents of standup comedians featuring in the news.

Published: 01st December 2021 06:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st December 2021 06:48 AM   |  A+A-

Vir Das's Hasmukh on Netflix

Vir Das.

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Last week witnessed two incidents of standup comedians featuring in the news. Vir Das’ poem on  2 Indias united the nation in outrage — proving that we are after all one India. And Munawar Faruqui announced his decision to quit standup comedy after death threats  and vandalism. He had even acquired a ‘censor’ certificate and promised to donate the money to charity. But it wasn’t enough, as someone had already taken offence. 

Munawar Faruqui

Taking offence is our favourite pastime. Italians make pizzas; Brazilians play soccer. We take offence. If there was a World Cup for taking offence, we would be the undefeated champions of the world. While politicians make inane statements week after week, standup comedians are held up to Aristotelian standards of morality, even if their job is to crack jokes. It doesn’t help that standup comedians are powerless. Standup comedy is a new field, and comics are youngsters without political or economic clout. We vote for politicians, but expect standup comedians to uphold morality and decency. 

As a comedian, I know that three topics make us uncomfortable — sex, religion and politics — the unholty triumvurate of Indian comedy. For someone like Yours Truly — whose jokes mostly revolve around these topics — there are no corporate or college shows offered. Which means we mostly have to perform in bars, where the only time we get to hear claps is when drunk uncles call the waiters to order for more beer! 

But I am a journalist too, and have a radical proposal to solve India’s problems with standup comedians. Let’s address the icky subject of sex first. Sex is a taboo subject in India, right from the generation when two flowers feverishly touched each other to depict sexual intercourse. Sex education in schools is a touchy topic too. When we were studying, the onus of explaining about the birds and the bees fell on the poor Biology teacher. We were warned in advance that anybody caught smiling or asking questions would be asked to leave the class.

The entire chapter was taught to us in pin-drop silence. To an external observer, it might have seemed like we were mourning the untimely death of Sigmund Freud! I recommend that standup comedians teach sex education in schools. It will give the kids someone they can relate to, and they can ask their doubts without worrying about life insurance. 

Which then brings us to religion. Politicians and social media trolls abuse each other on the basis of religion regularly. I recommend that this be institutionalised. Let standup comedians get on a platform and crack jokes on each other’s religions openly. There will be no more whataboutery, and it will be truly democratic. 

As for political jokes, the most famous politicians in India are known to have a sense of humour. They roast each other in rallies, as well as in the Parliament. Right now, standup comedians have to write their jokes, test them in open mics, take them to paid shows, and eventually to a special on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. Instead, let standup comedians write political jokes for Panchayat elections, then take the jokes to the Assembly elections, followed by a special in the Parliament that will be streamed on the Lok Sabha channel. 

Not only will this solve India’s problem with standup comedy, it will also be great service to the art form in general. I dare say it will also help deal with India’s burgeoning unemployment problem too! Sincerely, an unemployed standup comedian! 

(The writer’s views are his own)


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