For the past few years Stand-up comedy in Bharat has had a tremendous growth, albeit mainly in the urban areas. New comedians are springing up like mushrooms. There are even comedy specials of some of them in the OTT channels. And for all this period during the rise of its popularity, the amount of Hinduphobic content that the so called comedians have mouthed in the form of supposed ‘jokes’ has only increased exponentially along with a severe dose of anti-nationalism. Jokes on Lord Ganesha and other Gods, Gau-mutra, Hindu Saints and Kings etc. are common in most of their comedy routines. And I’m not even including what they say about Hindutva parties like BJP and its leaders. Hence they have been at loggerheads with Hindus (at least the practicing ones) for quite sometime now with one controversy over another.
The recent case of Munawar Faruqui, a supposed stand-up comedian, who was arrested for his remarks in Indore, has brought the issue to the fore once again. Hence it is now imperative to examine this supposed art-form, its origins, its present condition and its relationship to Bharat and its culture.
My premise for this article is that modern stand -up comedy as practiced now in this present form, is un-Indian to the core. This is probably a politically incorrect statement to make, at least for the English educated urban middle class and the rich. But it is a fact nonetheless. When I say un-Indian, I’m referring to it with respect to our culture and especially the Hinduness of our Bharatiya culture. It does not pertain to the citizenship of the comedian. I will, in the coming passages, attempt to substantiate my premise.
Stand up comedy evolved in the United States of America. Now, I’m not claiming that just this fact alone qualifies it for being un-Indian. It is not something like, say jeans which probably has no adverse effect on the culture of the society. The roots of stand up comedy is from the vaudeville acts that was performed on stage in the U.S. in the early twentieth century. They were a combination of several musical, dance and other entertainment acts put together as as shows to entertain the audience. Humor was very much a part of their routines. After the meteoric rise of the popularity of movies, the vaudeville acts started disappearing and its performers found their way to Hollywood, and various music & strip clubs. Stand-up comedy took its form there though it was a lot different from what it is today. Some of the legends of the old school comedy from the 50s like Don Rickles, Bob Newhart etc had decent jokes and were still funny. They would make fun of race, color etc., no doubt, but never in a mean-spirited way. It was for fun. And it remained that way.
The stand-up comedy of the sixties especially after Lenny Bruce, who introduced politics, sex and vulgarity in his routines, got transformed considerably. It was soon taken over by the likes of George Carlin, Richard Pryor etc. This changed the landscape of the comedy scene. They were funny, brash and could freely talk on subjects that were considered hitherto as indecent and vulgar.
The crux of modern stand up-comedy, as acknowledged by stand up comedians themselves, rather hypocritically, could be summed up as follows: There is nothing sacred in the world. Consequently everything is up for grabs to be made fun of. And hence it is the right of the comedian, nay in fact his or her duty, to be offensive. This has been the key aspect of modern stand-up comedy. It is because of these very reasons that the comedy clubs were able to open in two days even after such a big attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2002 in New York. It is the reason why they could freely make fun of politicians and politics, well at least on one of the political parties, with no supposed repercussions. I will explain the hypocrisy of this axiom- ‘Nothing is sacred’ in a short while.
But let us first take a look at this key concept on its own and see how it is in such a contrast, in fact completely opposed to our culture. For us as Bharatiyas, ‘Everything is Sacred’. Our Sanatana Dharma Shastras be it the Vedas, Puranas etc. or the teachings of Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism etc. propound this crucial concept in unison with no compromise. We see divinity in everything, from a tiny microbe to the biggest star in the Universe. Every Bharatiya who believes in this culture, conducts his or her life accordingly, to realize this profound truth. The Late Pujya Shri Swami Dayananda Saraswathi used to wittingly say that everything in India is sacred except politics! It is the core of our philosophy, of our nation. It is such an essential part of our consciousness that it has even rubbed off on other religions and cultures which do not belong to this land and whose world view certainly doesn’t match ours. Therefore how can the modern day stand-up comedy, imported from the West, have anything to do with Bharat when there is such a stark contradiction between the two? The Indian stand-up comedy scene has essentially fashioned itself along its American counterpart in almost all its aspects.
Let us now look at why even the supposedly liberal and brave claim of stand-up comedy, as mentioned earlier, is nothing but a bunch of high-sounding words with hypocrisy at its core. Every decent rational human in this world believes in something that is precious to him/her. It could range from anything like philosophy, ideology to personal relationships and even material objects. Those are the things that the person would certainly not make fun of. Now let us give the benefit of doubt and assume that all these stand-up comedians are indeed decent and rational human beings.
For example, George Carlin was one of the early trendsetters of modern stand-up comedy. He was a liberal and hence he would attack everything conservative in his comedy routine. He has even attacked a democrat like Bill Clinton. But he wouldn’t attack someone like John F. Kennedy (for that matter, none of the comedians would talk about him) even though he was a womanizer and a pedophile. That is because he really respected the American President. Nor would he attack the Palestinians, because he believed in their cause. Let us take another example: Louis C.K. Like most other comedians he is also a liberal and was an accused in the #MeToo movement. Unlike Mr. Carlin, he would not say anything against the Clintons, but he does believe strongly on the relationship he has with his daughters. Would he make fun of that relationship? No. Would he allow others to make fun of his relationship with them in an offensive way? No. Hence although there is this supposed claim that the role of a stand up comedian is to push the acceptable boundary line in a society, there are things which they would never touch upon. And these things are entirely subjective, depending upon the comedian’s belief, ideology, relationships etc. What is profane to them could be sacred to others and vice versa. But they would never let this fact come in between when they are sermonizing to others in the name of comedy.
The hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. In the U.S, no comedian would make fun of their country’s soldiers. That is the limit that they wouldn’t dare to cross. Even people like Mr. Carlin would restrict their target to the army or governmental policy in general, but would never target the soldiers. Similarly, no stand-up comedian would make fun of Islam. This is a global phenomenon. In the West they would target everything but Islam. They would target Christianity (but not Jesus), the Church, and other religions. In India, of course the only religion they would target is Hinduism. We all know how the comedians of All India Bakchod (AIB) grovelled under the Christian priests, apologizing for a joke that they had made. Another important topic that no stand-up comedian in the West, including Muslim comedians like Dave Chapelle, would ever broach is the Jewish holocaust. But they would definitely make fun of Hitler. These are those imaginary acceptable lines that they wouldn’t dare to breach in spite of severe chest beating and glorification of their art-form’s courageous purpose.
But even that decency is not to be seen with Indian Stand-up comedians who would not even acknowledge the Hindu genocide that has been going on for centuries in this country and elsewhere. Instead many would justify or make fun of the violence committed on Hindus like the recent routine of Munawar Faruqui where he had made fun of the burning of Hindus in Godhra while they were returning from Ayodhya in 2002. Nor would they under any circumstance criticize a monster like Aurangazeb. Such is the blatant hypocrisy of these ‘funny people’ who consider themselves as unbiased flag bearers of Freedom of Expression!
Another reason for why this form of comedy and its underlying principle is incompatible with Indian ethos is its essential Abrahamic nature. A global phenomenon that is found in the stand- up world everywhere is that almost all of the performers will identify as being liberals or leftists. More than half of them will even claim to be either atheists or agnostics. And many also claim to have some belief in a supreme power but not in any religion. Indian comedians are no different. In the West, as mentioned, many do call out the Church and the priests on their evil deeds and policies. So how can this so called ‘art-form’ be Abrahamic in nature? Well, it is for the most part a continuation of the core Abrahamic principles and in a few cases of militantly atheistic comedians like Ricky Gervais, a step more than the Abrahamic religions. According to the Abrahamic faiths, their God doesn’t reside on this earth. He resides up in the heaven. Though He created everything in this Universe, it is all for man’s exploitation. Furthermore since there is sin attached to each individual and there is a much better after life that awaits them in heaven after their death, nothing worth while is on this planet. Therefore there is nothing inherently sacred in this World. Whatever is sacred is up in the Heaven. This is exactly the same principle under which the modern stand-up comedy works: Nothing is sacred. Everything is up for grabs. Miseries of others could be exploited to make jokes and consequently earn one’s living. It doesn’t matter if there is a heaven or not, life on this Earth is pretty much not an enjoyable affair, hence anything is acceptable to make one’s life happier. Once again these concepts are so alien to our Bharatiya culture. We don’t accept any of them at any level.
Quite an interesting detail came out during the recent attack and arrest of Munawar Faruqui for speaking against Hindu Gods and Hindus. Another ‘comedian’ Samay Raina who was tweeting in support of Faruqui said that the comedians should perform in English since the ‘goons’ who supposedly Faruqui don’t understand that language. He also suggested that comedians should increase their ticket price since the goons aren’t rich and hence wouldn’t be able to pay for the tickets. This brings out the blatant elitism along with shameless Anglophilia that is inherent in the Indian stand-up comedy scene. They believe that their ‘jokes’ are well suited for only an English speaking audience, which is completely removed from the indigenous culture. They also believe that the poor or lower middle class population are not their audience. This is such crass elitism that it screams hypocrisy of these comedians who are supposedly speaking truth to the ruling power!
This brings us to another claim frequently made by these Indian stand up comedians who have taken themselves so seriously that they assert that they are speaking truth to the ruling power as should be done in a democracy. This is such a ridiculous claim! There were indeed characters in history who guided the King on important issues and criticized him on his decisions, using humor as a tool. In Indian history, an example would be Tenali Raman who was in the court of Krishnadeva Raya. But he was no comedian or a jester. He was a very learned man and one of the king’s ministers. And though there are stories in the West of jesters in courts, they were mainly entertainers. Only a very few and that too on very rare occasions, did they ever dare to criticize the King or his policies. Many of their so called courageous stories are based on fictional characters created by writers like Shakespeare. And these jokers in India, who have no qualification whatsoever nor any life experience other than coming from urban middle class families and getting educated in English medium schools, chest beat about telling the truth to the power! Let us see how many of them will go to non-Hindutva party ruling states and make fun of the ruling power there. Let them go to Kerala, or West Bengal and try their shenanigans there.
There was a female stand up comedian in Mumbai who recently apologized and thanked the ruling party there in flowering words after she was roughed up by some goons for her offensive comedy. It is quite clear that they have no intention to be fair or to actually do what they claim is their duty, regardless of who is ruling. Their aim is to criticize and offend only the majority, in addition to identifying with woke liberals; both ideas that they have shamelessly copied from their western counterparts.
Now it begs the question about whether there was any form of comedy in India before this American import arrived. Yes there were. And they still exist. Two of those which I know of are the Kavisammelans in Hindi, and Pattimandram (Debate) & Nagaichuvai Mandram (humor talk) in Tamil. All these events are quite popular in their respective languages. I’m sure that there are many such forms of humor in each language and in each state of Bharat. Many a times, the performers in these programs, do take a dig at the ruling power. But there are some crucial differences between these desi forms of comedy and the stand-up style. Firstly, the most crucial difference is that the objective of the desi forms is not to offend anyone. It is to make people laugh. Have a good time. They don’t assume that they are clowns who have been given the divine responsibility to show the mirror to the power. They might talk on social and political issues. But there is no attempt to be a demagogue, pontificating on issues, unlike these stand-up copycats. Secondly the desi forms have a message. While being funny, they always uphold moral values which is an anathema to the modern stand up comedy. And thirdly, the performers in the desi forms are highly qualified. They are either specialists in their language, many times they happen to be professors or teachers, or they are professionals in other areas, who have spent considerable years in learning and studying literary works in their mother tongue and in other languages. This is in stark contrast to the stand up comedians, who have no life experience and no relation to the ethos and culture of this land.
Humor is an essential part of any society and especially in our culture. We as a society and the inheritors of the oldest civilization of the World have to decide what could be considered humor and what is not. We certainly cannot approve of ideas that are completely opposed to us, not just in form but in its inherent nature, though they could be considered as creative art forms. We cannot sit quietly when people desecrate and slander our Gods, heroes, saints and our civilization, in the name of comedy. It is not much different from what the invading barbarians did to this land and still continue to do. Regardless of what the people of this nation choose to believe, it is a fact that we are in a civilizational war at present, not just with other religions, but also with other non- religious forces and philosophies. This comedy-art, imported from the West, is a potent weapon in the enemy’s armory and hence it needs to be opposed in its current form. A lot of our urban youth are attracted to it because of its claims and because of the superficial freedoms that it supposedly provides. Their brain washing and consequently the breakdown of their relationship with our culture is a heavy price that we simply cannot afford to pay. Therefore all attempts should be made to change the current trend in the Indian stand-up comedy world. Alternatively, Desi forms of comedy and humor should also be encouraged and supported.
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