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Indian standup comedy has a bright future, even in these times of intolerance

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Comedy in India is about to blossom in different dimensions of human life.

What I mean by this statement is that the seed of comedy has already been sown in the Indian heartland and it has already sprouted and is now growing into a plant.

By comedy I mean standup comedy and by seed I refer to the AIB (All India Bakchod) that was started in 2015 by a bunch of talented guys.

It ended after the epic AIB roast but what it did begin, in the process, is the reintroduction of satire and sarcasm in its raw state without any censorship.

Satire and sarcasm are tools through which one can criticise an institution in a funny way. TV shows like ‘Flop Show’ by Jaspal Bhatti that started in 1989 used the same tools to criticise those then in power. The new age standup comics take inspiration from all the senior artistes like Bhatti.

At this point, it is important to make it clear that it is unnecessary to do clean content if you are a standup comic, in my view. As a standup comic, your job should only be making the audience laugh and think. Nothing matters after that.

It should be the conscience of the audience that should decide whether to laugh or not to laugh at a dirty joke. This will inspire the comic to make changes in his content. Before blaming the artist for doing his job we should ask ourselves if we can take a joke as a joke or not.

Comedians for starters

For me the pioneer of the Indian standup comedy scene is Vir Das who started Hamateur Nights and Weirdass comedy club, giving the industry artistes like Rohan Joshi, Varun Grover, Tanmay Bhat and others.

Das started his standup career in New York s a comedian who uses English as a medium. Bhat, a ‘giant’ in the comedy industry, after doing AIB is now streaming full-time on YouTube. He plays different games, makes vlogs, educational videos and comedic reaction videos.

Grover is an excellent lyricist and screenwriter apart from being an outstanding comedian. He is also a part of ATD, a group comprising Rahul Ram, a musician and Sanjay Rajoura, a satirist. Kunal Kamra, the one-man army who fights for comedians’ respect is also an excellent comic to look out for.

The comedy industry is the only industry that gives one a fair share of opportunities and struggles.

There are comics from the LGBTQ+ community like Naveen Noronha. There are plenty of female comics that are quite pathbreaking like Kaneez Surkha, Sumukhi Suresh, Sejal Bhat, Anu Menon and Prashashti Singh, who are giving a tough fight to their male counterparts.

There are also regional standup comedians who are quite popular in their niche audience. These are akin to different ‘gharanas’ of comedy like Gujarati, Bengali or Chennai- and  Bengaluru-based comics.

Some great Bengali comedians like Sourav Ghosh, Anirban Dasgupta, Dipangshu Acharya. Language is just a medium that does not restrict anyone and there have been many regional activists whose voices were heard in the Parliament. But it’s still a long way to go for the Indian standup comedy scene.

Fear of comedy

For a comedian to grow and prosper the environment needs to be sadistic and depressing because that’s when the light of the comedy will shine brighter. And keeping in mind the current situation of the country, the level of comedy is going to know no bounds.

The arrest of Munawar Faruqui was really helpful in showing the mirror to the hypocritic face of the government. It seems that standup comedy is the new form of activism as people have started taking jokes seriously and as a personal attack. This is a result of an intolerant attitude, which does not fit Indian psychology. If you look through history, Indians were never intolerant.

The new age comics like Faruqui and Samay Raina are the torchbearers of standup comedy activism.

Standup comedians nowadays are exploring different fields like singing, acting, gaming, streaming and more. And this is going to enrich their content.

It can therefore be concluded that one chapter in the book of Indian standup comedy is over and the page is turned for the newcomers to write. Comedians are as important as doctors because laughter is the best medicine. So leaving you with a classic setup here: “Why did the cow cross the road?”

Jyotirmoy Biswas Priyadarshini is a student of Institute of Architecture and Design Studies (PIADS), Nagpur

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