The importance of sense of humour in India
Comedy is an art form which has evolved a lot in recent years in India. We were under the impression that humour in India was only restricted to movies. However, we tend to forget that humour is deep-rooted in our culture, dating back to the times of Raja Birbal and Tenali Raman – witty people who made the king chuckle and provided general relief from the burden of being a full-time king.
In a way, they were the first stand-up comedians ever. Although, it was quite different in the bygone days. The medieval comic had to perform for only one audience member – the king. Of course, there were others in the court too, but their reaction didn’t really matter. In contrast, today a comedian has to stand in front of hundreds of strangers on a weekly basis, hoping they connect to them over an abstract topic. They use anecdotal, topical, observational, improv and sketch comedy to appeal to everybody in the audience – one person clapping his hands in the front row won’t do.
So, what exactly is a sense of humour?
A sense of humour doesn’t actually mean memorizing jokes and jamming them into conversations. By definition, someone who often finds things amusing, rather than being serious all the time is said to have a sense of humour. But wait, it doesn’t end there. Is being funny same as having a sense of humour? Not really, there’s a thin line between the two.
• Being funny means being able to express humour of one kind or another—may be a witty pun, or a good well-timed joke. You do need to have a sense of humour to be funny.
• Having a sense of humour means being able to laugh at—or at least see the humour in—life’s absurdities. You do not need to be funny to have a sense of humour.
So why is it important?
Having a sense of humour means having something to laugh about. Suppose you have a bad day, now that the day is over and you’re with your buddies; no one would honestly want to listen to you whining about it. If you manage to find something funny in your situation, it becomes not only interesting but also likeable. Basically, everyone likes a good laugh. Having a sense of humour will help you breeze through the toughest periods of your life. It is advantageous and attractive because just like optimism, not everyone has it, but everyone desires it.
It has multifarious benefits such as becoming much more relatable and understanding to others, finding it easier to break the ice when meeting new people, developing a great sense of balance and not getting offended easily. But wait, aren’t we Indians infamous for getting offended and being intolerant? Does that the mean majority of us don’t have a sense of humour? Hell yes!
If you think we do have a sense of humour, let me show you the real picture.
• In 2014, All India Bakchod (now defunct) had to remove their roast because it attracted widespread public backlash from religious groups, Bollywood actors, and certain right-wing political activists for being “too vulgar” and “against Indian culture”
• In 2016, Tanmay Bhatt earned death threats and a written complaint to the police by MNS because of a Snapchat video he made mocking Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar.
• In the same year, popular comedian Kiku Sharda was sent to 14 days judicial custody for mimicking Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on his show.
• In 2017, Kunal Kamra faced death threats and was asked to move out of his home due to the strong views and opinions he had on the government.
• In 2018, Rahul Subramanian faced severe backlash from DJs because of a stand-up bit he performed mocking their profession. Some even threatened to beat him up and abused him on social media.
• In 2020, comedians like Sahil Shah, Agrima Joshua, Rohan Joshi, Azeem Bannatwala, Alokesh Sinha, Sanjay Raoura, Aadar Malik, Neeti Palta, Sourav Ghosh were subject to death and rape threats because they supposedly hurt religious sentiments.
And these are just the tip of the Iceberg. Truth be told, being offended by jokes and not by serious issues like eve-teasing, people getting lynched openly for eating beef, students being attacked by the mob, pissing in public, journalists getting murdered, 12% tax on sanitary napkins, beating up people in wheelchairs for not standing up for the national anthem, marital rape, etc is exactly like being stupid, its’s painful for others.
But why does our nation eat offence for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
We Indians are sensitive and intolerant and I think we all can agree to this. Not only sensitive, we’ve become a lot more entitled to our feelings. If we feel something is important, we want to let everybody know. Now, why do we do this?
Earlier, when kids got in trouble in school they would go home and tell their parents “mom, dad the teacher doesn’t like me” to which the parents would say “so what, figure it out.”
However, nowadays kids come home and say “teacher doesn’t like me” and their parents go “well that means the teacher should be fired because my kid is perfect and everybody likes my kid.” This engraves in his\her brain that the world should bend to them. He\She is the same person who says “I find that joke offensive.”
The offence usually happens when you question or insult someone’s fundamental beliefs, something that simply cannot be wrong (from their perspective, at least). Rarely, people will admit they were wrong and change their mind. We Indians take our religion, state, caste, country, profession as our identity. However, what most of us fail to understand is that we’re much more than this. A human being is not bounded by these characteristics. So, if anyone says something bad about any of these, we take it as a bullet on our self. Add to that the extreme diversity of such identities, which creates a kind of competition among each group and the result is that even when praising one group, you may seem like you are belittling the other.
Yes, I get that comedy is always subjective, whether people find something funny relies on their assumptions, their understanding, their familiarity with certain references. If they’ve never heard of the TV show that the comedian is mocking, they won’t find it funny.
In this country, you’re looked down upon by the society if you talk or joke about taboo topics like rape, incest, suicide, violence and sexism. Unless you’re the creator of Game of Thrones, in which case you can make an 8 season show only about those topics and nobody will bat an eye.
All we do is complain, but we don’t help and we think that’s enough. In life people are not going to like you, figure it out. I read this somewhere “If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you’re fooling yourself. That’s like expecting the lion to not eat you because you vegetarian”
So, what is the limit, or is there a limit to “humour?”
To be honest, No. I believe you can joke about anything and everything, it all depends on how you construct the joke, what the exaggeration is because every joke needs one thing which is way out of proportion. Comedy’s whole purpose and existence is to be shocking. And if you still find the joke offensive, it’s because words offend you, not the sentences, meaning, tone, timing or the context. Every little detail about the joke matters, the better the joke the more fragile it is.
And I’m not saying it is not okay to be offended, it is completely okay, or as Neha Dhupia says “It’s her choice”. What is not okay is going all Hindustani Bhau. Come on, if engineers knew sitting in a car hailing abuses could be a career, they would’ve had one already. Oh wait, they can’t afford cars. So, I think there are two main takeaways from this article.
1)Don’t threaten the artist with death\rape, take a joke as a joke.
2)Or if you want to go down that route, at least don’t record yourself and post it online for the cops to see.