Have we, as a country, lost our sense of humour, or are the people criticizing the AIB roast just doing it for publicity? Whatever the answer, it’s evident that Indians are very quick to take offence, no matter what the subject. MW met Papa CJ when he was voted Asia’s best stand-up comedian, and we asked him several questions which, in hindsight, are relevant to the AIB controversy. Here are a few excerpts:

There are many small comedy clubs today that thrive on personal ridicule. What is your view on that?
Each audience is different and each comedian draws their own line based on their own personal values and respect for the audience. I have a lot of respect for all my audiences, and while I have no problem teasing and embarrassing them in jest, I’m very careful not to ever be hurtful. In my opinion though, most audiences are ready for anything, and once they understand that your intentions are simply to entertain, they will allow you to play with them. You just have to know how to get them to give you permission to take them down the path you want to. The one thing I will say is that when people come to my show, I do what I want. But if I come to a corporate or private event, then I’m respectful of the boundaries of the environment I’m in. However, when you’re a new comedian, unfortunately you may not have the breadth of material, stagecraft or understanding of human psychology to leave certain audiences unoffended!

Do you think it’s fair to have censorship rules when it comes to comedy? Do you think we have creative freedom?
I’m not in favour of censorship being imposed by an external body. If you don’t want to see a film, you don’t go. Or if you go and don’t like it, you walk out. It’s the same with a comedy show that is advertised as having adult content. But demanding censorship or expecting the state to be the moral compass of a people goes against individual freedoms. So I don’t support that. When I perform, I’m always aware of the sensitivities of my audience. That being said, I don’t change my point of view because my audience doesn’t agree with it. I need my audience to relate to where I’m coming from and not necessarily agree with it. So for me, no topic is off limits, and the only way to know where the line is, is to cross it. And the beauty is that each time that line is crossed, it goes just a little bit further. So as a comedian, I consider it my responsibility to dance on the line – two steps forward, one step back. Then, repeat.

What was your reaction to the Delhi High Court’s order to black out Comedy Central for airing inappropriate content?
We are the largest democracy in the world, and also possibly the largest hypocrisy in the world. Fortunately, better sense prevailed in the Supreme Court. I’m not a supporter of censorship, but if they want to start banning what they call ‘inappropriate’ content, they should probably start with Bollywood. It has a far wider reach and the last I checked, in almost every film, the way a man ‘woos’ a woman is considered sexual harassment in the real world.

Other than Papa CJ, there are other stand-up comedy groups that have come out in the support of AIB. TVF (The Viral Fever), AIB’s competitors, have released a video to show solidarity and support for the roast. In response to the controversy, AIB themselves released a note on Facebook. They say, “There’s a larger cultural conversation going on here, where we’re at the very edges of what it’s okay to say. And it’s a conversation we need to have now, because the world we live in is entirely too complicated to be run by silences”.

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