Back in 90s when Govinda was the prime face of comedy in India, and he was literally hauling the humor scene of India, a new generation of kids was tussling to reinvent other genres of comedy. The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, launched in 2005, entered as a game changer for many unknown faces who were earlier struggling to sell their humor. The show emanated hope and optimism to many suppressed individuals who wanted to voice their opinions, their anger, and their frustration through humor. During this phase, when people with new faces were creating audience to appreciate slapstick and loud humor, Twitter arrived, and with Twitter arrived additional ladders for many of those new generation folks who were bubbling to ooze dark and insult comedy.
This new generation standup comics raised the standard of humor and tolerance in India, they unlocked new channels to convey many serious social concerns with subtility and class, but in the process of carving new paths, many of them started evolving from performers to priests, and then from priests to preachers. Since some of these standup comics, who became the new revolutionary rockstars, started getting compliments for standing against existing institutions, they decided to attack establishments with more and more insult.
It is not that India didn’t have people writing dark satire/comedy in the past. Poets like Dinkar, Parsai, Muktibodh were publishing sarcasm on the socio-political system in India, long time back in the 70s; books like Raag Darbari, Jeep par Sawar Illian, Bishrampur Ka Sant written to mock the political realities of India. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, released in 1983, is one of the finest dark comedies produced by Bollywood. Nonetheless there is a difference: earlier books/scripts were written with lots of investigations with attacks focused on ideological differences than on personal choices.
Role and involvements of these standups became more complex when apologetic Indian intellectuals and political ideologists who thrive on attacking the Indian cultural values found a symbiosis with these stand up comics. For this new symbiotic system, BJP and RSS were the prime targets for ridicule: statements issued by these parties became targets for criticism. Ancient texts like Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and even literature written in Sanskrit language started getting ridiculed just because BJP/RSS talked about it. Jokes on Hinduism became neoliberal literature, while jokes on other religion became communal tools.
There are two big issues with this evolved system:
– Unlike the satirists of 70s, these standups have gained publicity by mocking everything related to the existing Indian culture, that too without research. Therefore, they motivate people to attack social system, even without knowing what and why to attack
– These standups switch their morality gears according to their convenience. So, while they advocate freedom of speech while delivering sexist, racist, communal jokes, they take a moral stand against right-wing leaders leaving a loose statement. Fundamentally, being a socialist means treating everyone equal, but then they change gears and claim that leaders are different and they should not speak loose statements.
We are funny people.