A question I am often asked by aspirants is – “what does it take to be a stand-up comedian?” Well, quick wit, quicker legs and a lawyer on speed dial. India, the land of agriculture, is now becoming the land of aggro-culture where dissent is usually expressed by trashing a property or thrashing a person.
In this offence bazar of politically motivated agendas, vigilante velas, self-appointed bhow bhaus, there is hardly any space left for reason, let alone humour. There is no topic you can touch, no joke you can crack that won’t cause offence to someone somewhere with internet access on their devices and time on their hands. Don’t believe me? Let’s try it.
Comedian: Ek bar ek haathi aur cheenti…
Troll: How dare you fat shame?
Comedian: Knock! Knock!
Troll: So insensitive of you to tell jokes about knocking on doors while there are a million homeless people with no roofs or doors.
These are times when a comedian having an asthma attack on stage can also be berated for “making all those dirty dirty sexy noises”.
Sure, there are jokes being told out there that I don’t appreciate. Some even make me roll my eyes and say “kill me”. Umm…but kill ME, mind you, not the comic. A figure of speech I have rapidly dropped because it is likely to be taken rather literally these days.
The trombies’ faulty algorithm
My feeling is that there are certain key watch-out-for words fed into the central processor of these trombies (troll-zombies) and they home in on them like a faulty algorithm with no mind to the context of those words. There really ought to be some sort of captcha to weed out these brainwashed “protectors” of our culture. “Are you a humourless person? If not, click on all the things you don’t find offensive in the picture before you”. Now there’s an idea for a start-up!
Some of them spew bile into the cameras of their phones while sitting inside a car, probably because it just won’t do for their family members to hear their un-sanskari utterances. The others grace various social media platforms with fake or no DPs and a suspiciously low number of followers. With a woeful lack of both IQ and imagination (unless it comes to what they want to do to you if you hold a view contrary to theirs), these trombies seem to have some kind of official troll guide circulating amongst them from which they pick lines to deliver on people’s timelines. These lines range from suggestions to move to a neighbouring country, charting out your family tree as a complicated incest fest, questioning your allegiance to the flag, pointing out flaws in your upbringing because you seemed to have bunked the parental lesson on ‘sanskars’, or, hilariously, a list of topics that they will “allow” you to joke about. Their daily job list comprises vomiting one of the aforementioned slights from their guidebook on to your timeline and then favouriting their own tweet.
The closet intolerants
As much as I would like to believe that lack of humour is an affliction only the trombies suffer from, it might, scarily enough, not be entirely accurate. The current climate, coupled with a steady supply of fertile bovine manure, has made even the dormant closet-intolerants (CIs) come out in full bloom. These fence-sitters always took themselves way too seriously, but were in hiding till they spotted the other members of their cult coming out gradually, encouraged by today’s environment. They now add their voice to the trombies’ sponsored hate, taking offence at any joke poking fun at the socio-political goings-on in India. Bemoaning the loss of culture, values and over Westernisation, their bios often reveal them to be residents of some Western nation.
Sure, rules about what is kosher and what isn’t anymore are changing so fast, it’s hard for years of conditioning to catch up. No doubt that some sensitisation is for the better and has been a long time coming. However, some of it has been taken so far as to almost become farcical. How often have our grandparents ended up saying the most politically incorrect things in public that had us turning a deep shade of beetroot and pretending they were some random old people you were only hanging out with? Or for that matter, even our parents? Context is everything.
The truth offends
Offence-taking seems to have become not only a national, but an international hobby. It’s easier to outrage than to spend time forming an informed and balanced opinion. Humour, which is supposed to be a medium of holding up a mirror to society, is met with violence. I suppose it’s because people don’t like what they see – themselves. I staunchly believe every good joke has some element of truth in it. If you have to be offended, then be offended by the truth in that joke rather than the joke itself. Focus on the intent more than the content.
If only, like finding inner-peace or finding a connect with a higher consciousness, finding offence took years of dedicated meditation. There would be far less takers.
Neeti Palta is a comedian and screenwriter. Views are personal.