We currently live in a time where the radars of taking offence are always ready to go off. Add to this, India is no stranger to the notion of bans and violent protests. It is precisely because of these reasons that any sort of popular medium in our country be it cinema, music, television shows, radio or even theatre, play it relatively safe when it comes to talking about issues that are even slightly controversial or challenging the norms. At such a time, it is English stand-up comedy in India has come to the forefront as one of the last bastions of free speech and expressing opinions in an unhinged albeit presentable manner.
In a very short span of time, the bold men and women who are part of the English stand-up comedy network have garnered a mass audience individually, as well as by being part of collectives like All India Backchod (AIB), East India Comedy (EIC) and Shitzengiggles (SnG) to name a few. In no time they have accumulated massive following on social media besides performing to packed auditoriums across the country. And most importantly they get millions of hits for their videos that are uploaded on a regular basis on their website and Youtube, which is indicative of the rising popularity of what they are doing. From their fan comments, one can make out that their following range right across the spectrum — from teenage college students to office going professionals, from small towns to men and women in large cities.
Even though AIB grabbed headlines because of their now infamous comedy roast ‘AIB Knockout’ back in December 2014, their true impact can be measured by seeing the amount of spotlight they were able to throw on the issue of Net Neutrality right after the roast controversy. By providing information infused with their unique style of humour, AIB were able to make Net Neutrality a ‘trending topic’ on twitter and direct users to government websites where they could write to the Information and technology minister about wanting a free and fair internet without any obstruction by telecom companies. Such was the impact of the videos that e-commerce giant Flipkart was forced to drop out of a deal with Airtel. The two videos titled ‘Save the internet’ and ‘Save the internet 2: Judgement Day’ together have more than 4 million views
AIB : Save The Internet
AIB : Save The Internet 2
Taboo No More
Perhaps one of the most upsetting trend in India is labelling certain topics as “taboo” to speak about. Here stand-up comedians are breaking the mould in a big way. Comedian Daniel Fernandes has garnered a reputation of scathingly taking apart topical issues that are being talked about in the media. Some of the issues that he has built his stand-up routine around include the death penalty, the Charlie Hebdo attack, freedom of speech and even marital rape. In a similar vein comedian Aditi Mittal’s material includes jokes about sanitary napkins and vaginal tightening creams, she even addresses the awkwardness of talking about a taboo subject to a roomful of people by equating it to saying Lord Voldemort’s name in the Gryffindor common room. Our averseness with talking about sex and obsession with Indian culture is brilliantly captured in EIC’s 8 minute sketch ‘Sex education in India’ which has received more than 3 million views. By venturing into themes that are often frowned upon in society through stand-up comedy, there is a chance that people will give them a second thought and at least start a conversation.
EIC: Sex Education in India
The Death Penalty – Daniel Fernandes Stand-Up Comedy
Aditi Mittal – What Do Sanitary Napkins and Voldemort Have in Common?
Time to Speak Out
The new generation of humorists doesn’t shy away from speaking out against authority. ‘Aisi Taisi Democracy’ is a political satire show featuring comedians Varun Grover and Sanjay Rajoura along with singer Rahul Ram. The content of the show takes a dig at various authoritative political figures and parties and also holds up a mirror to us as a society with all of our class, caste and religious biases intact. Comedy groups have also reacted to the government’s recent knack of banning things at the drop of a hat. Some notable efforts were AIB’s comedy sketch on the Porn Ban as well as EIC’s ‘Ban! Ban!’. Bangalore based comedy collective Them Boxer Shorts took a shot at the rampant moral policing by hilariously turning the issue into an over the top south Indian Cop show.
Another style that comedians have adopted is the ‘newscaster behind the desk’ approach, made famous in the US by comics like Jon Stewart and John Oliver. This gives the comedian a chance to do a roundup of news in the past week or month and systematically tackle them one by one. A few notable comics with this approach are Sorabh Pant with his show ‘The Bottom Line’ and SnG’s Karan Talwar with ‘The Dope’.
Aisi Taisi Democracy
Moral Police Force TV show
The Bottom Line
Despite different styles, avenues and genres, the emergence of stand-up comedians and their subsequent impact through social media, comedy has now become the de facto voice of the bold, new generation.