Is !@$% in or out?

Is !@$% in or out?

Kannada standup comedy, and the Nage Habba tradition that predates it, are wary of profanity.

While English standup is marked by a generous use of profanity, Kannada humorists stay away from it.

Richard Louis, Kannada standup comic and a regular invitee at Nage Habba (‘laughter festival’) events, has a theory.

“It is all in the language,” he says, adding that Kannada standup comedy has always been about creating an inclusive space for everyone.

“So we try and keep away from language or words that may be offensive to anyone,” he says.

Other humorists — they are not really called standups in Kannada — share his view.

When Sudha Baragur entered the comedy business, she thought her career would be short. Now, 16 years on, she thinks she owes it to a diverse audience.

“Our performances are usually in halls filled with 1,000 to 1,500 people. They don’t belong to one age group, and I made a pledge when I entered comedy to be sensitive to how people are reacting to it,” she says.

Sudha does not want any jokes to offend her audience.

Gangavati Pranesh, superstar among Kannada comedy speakers, has been performing for 30 years.

“You have to tailor your performance based on the audience. Since we have such a wide range, we strive to keep the performance respectful,” he says.

Comedians like Baragur, Pranesh and Richard Louis have defined for themselves what is appealing.

Richard Louis says this comes from the kind of history that comedy has had in Karnataka.

“Comedy is not exclusively about making people laugh, it is also about making observations that teach social values,” he says, adding that writers like Beechi and Kailasam used humour this way.

On the other hand, humorists like Yashwant Sardeshpande, who wrote the popular play ‘All the Best,’ says jokes enjoyed with friends are not the ones you enjoy with family.

“It is about liberty. I think it depends on who your audience is,” he says.

He believes tone and dialect come in handy: “If you want to insult someone, you can just say ‘Nimma appanage namaskara’ and make it funny through inflexion.”

Kannada standup comedy explores various themes, and isn’t as though Kannada comedians stay away from adult themes, he says.

Sanjay Manaktala, English standup, observes, “Kannada comedians are naughty. But you if you make a direct reference, it is a bit on the nose for the audience. It is like they do garbha around the joke.”

New-age Kannada comedians like Pavan Venugopal, part of a collective called LOLbagh, says Kannada speakers have a deep emotional connection to the language.

“So it is difficult for them to digest standup comedy that has adult themes and profanity. The same people laugh at such comedy in Hindi and English.

In my opinion, it will take some for the audience to get there,” he says.

Venugopal says standup is a new genre in comedy, and even though we have had a rich tradition in humour, Kannada standup is just now acquiring the diversity that the genre allows.

“There is observational humour and satire, and we have been witnessing only a few forms. We will get to see more in the future,” he says.

Venugopal believes a comedian should bring to the stage his personality in real life.

“I don’t use expletives even when I am angry, so my comedy excludes that. There is nothing wrong with the use of adult themes and profanity, it should just be a part of your daily life and not alien to who you are on stage,” he says.

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