The plight of a comedian in a humour-less society

Arts & Culture

Very few stand-up comedians choose to be political, while others fear backlash from viewers for speaking against the government.

By Nikita Arora

A Facebook post of Kunal Kamra, a popular stand-up comedian, reads, “One day your landlady will ask you to vacate her house and look for another place because of your political opinion. And while all this is going on and you’re particularly suicidal, HDFC will message you asking you if you’ve linked your Aadhar Card. So choose wisely about the comedian you want to become.”

While the constitution of India provides the right to freedom of speech and expression in Article 19 1(a), comedians in India still have a long way to go. 

Kamra continued in the post, “As a comedian having a political opinion comes at a cost. Perhaps, you are thinking ‘What is the big deal in making fun of people in power?’But there are consequences. A corporation will call you two days before your show and say ‘Sorry, We’ll have to cancel this one because our CEO is a big fan of the PM and we don’t want any political jokes’. You protest as you asked them this exact question 40 days ago…but they respond by saying ‘He only joined last week, but let us work together on something soon’.”

Shubham Jain, who makes sure he never misses Kamra’s shows, said, “I don’t understand why someone would not want such politically-charged shows to take place. All of them create a space to have a dialogue and think about what is happening to the country because of its leaders. For what it’s worth, no comedian can make his/her audience national/anti-national because of their act. The people in power, who don’t support these acts, are nothing more than the puppets of the government. They fear that all the lies that they have been hiding will come to haunt them.”

Many  stand up comedians avoid using political content in their acts. Kenneth Sebastian, in his stand-up video titled, “Why I don’t do jokes on Politics” said, “Our government is insane. Rapes are happening in the country, people are getting murdered, journalists are getting shot in the –head—the government does not pay heed to do that. However, when films like Padmaavat are released, they suddenly get very active.

“I don’t do jokes on politics because I am scared. It’s not like I don’t want to get punch lines on political jokes. It’s just that I don’t want to get punched on my face. It’s sad that you feel scared in a democracy. If you don’t believe me, go to a movie theatre and don’t stand for the national anthem. When you don’t stand up and those goosebumps come, that is called fear.”

Indian Standup comedians on politics

Priya Dileep, a performing arts professor at Christ University, said, “I believe that this is the first time that people are being told not to use speech that questions the acts of the ruling government. Despite saying this, I believe that witty content can solve the problems of the stand up comedians. There are a couple of artists I know who use their content quite smartly. Their acts are filled with sarcastic comments, like those of Hasan Minhaj’s.”

She added, “The stand up comedians should also try to reach out to big media houses which can support this art form. Thankfully, we have online video streaming services these days. They are indeed going to put forth witty content which will enable the artists to reach a larger audience.”

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