Are stand-up comics piping down?

Are stand-up comics piping down?

Many in the humour business say they are wary of trolls and lurking censorship

Comedian Kunal Kamra and cartoonist Rachita Taneja are among those facing contempt of court proceedings.

With comedian Kunal Kamra and cartoonist Rachita Taneja facing contempt of court proceedings, and many of their colleagues being trolled savagely, some in the humour business are reevaluating their creative choices.

Kjeld Sreshth, a professional stand-up for six years, worries a lot about censorship.

“And I worry a lot more about how what I say would be perceived. I still say whatever I need to, if it is something I personally believe in, but I lose a lot more sleep over it these days,” he says. 

Much depends on how people consume comedy, he observes. “People are always trying to figure out the political and moral leaning of comedians who are just trying to be funny,” he says.

Stand-up comedians should be wary of people who come after them with questions. “If you are educated and want to be opinionated, why are you listening to comedians?” he wonders.

He says there is a need for people to become better audiences.

“There is something sadistic if you are okay with watching other people being made fun of, but get offended when you feel the joke is on you,” he says.

His message: learn to take a joke.

‘Not open-minded’

Somanath Padhy, who has been a part of the comedy circuit for five years, says his live audiences are open-minded, but the same can’t be said of online audiences.

“Whenever I upload something on YouTube, I cut out any references to ideas or topics that would offend someone,” he says. Many who watch the videos may not be familiar with the concept of standup, and hence, get agitated. “This type of censorship, too, stunts the growth of a comic,” he says.

Part of the job

Cartoonist Satish Acharya says that the boundaries he draws for himself are not meant to curb his creative freedom.

He avoids two sensitive topics: caste and religion. “I just don’t want my cartoons leading to riots and killings. Cartoons do offend people,” he says. 

As an editorial cartoonist, he says, he has to raise questions not just about governance but also about social hypocrisies. “Cartooning is a visual language to raise these questions. Politicians conduct social experiments on our society for their own gains. So it’s natural that cartoons comment on them,” he says. 

It would be abhorrent, he says, to see a government put a fence around cartoonists. “I consider myself a responsible citizen and know how to draw responsibly,” he says. Fear should not be the basis of the creative decisions a humorist takes, he asserts. “That will end creativity,” he says. Contempt of court cases against comedians could have a chilling effect, he observes.

No politics at all

Shankar Chugani, who gained popularity after a stint in Comicstaan, avoids talking about politics altogether.

“I have never been much of a reader, and there are regrets about that. I don’t shy away from talking about anything I want to but I just don’t want to talk about things I don’t know,” he says. 

He rarely uses profane language in his daily life, so it doesn’t feature in his acts. His jokes are about growing up in a middle-class family, or dates and relationships.

“These are things I am familiar with, and even if I am applying my imagination, I know enough to control it,” he explains. 

He says his job is to make people laugh and not provide social commentary. He prefers performing to smaller crowds in Bengaluru, and working on improving his jokes and “becoming a better comedian”.