On January 24, 2018 at 4 pm a Facebook post by Kunal Kamra (a fellow stand-up comedian) left plenty of his followers with their mouths wide open, not with a hearty laugh but more out of shock. His post was a message to the community of comedians about a situation that had transpired between him and his landlord who asked him to vacate. Kunal Kamra made certain comedic statements on the political situation in India. He has been doing that for a while now. I have shared the stage with Kunal and have seen the magic he creates in the room with his take on Indian politics. He has the crowd in raptures with his jokes because not only is he funny but to a large extent that what he says, is true. But his house owner was not among his fans and he was asked to vacate. Several of his followers and standup comedians have opened up their hearts and homes to him and have offered any kind of assistance to him in this situation.
Comedy vs Commentary
Kunal Kamra’s video and tweets on politics have closed a few doors on him including that of his own home. His landlady has asked him to shift as she felt the pressure of hosting someone who has a comedic take on political happenings in India. Here is the question that is begging to be answered - what did he say that is so offensive? After all comedy should not have boundaries and yet it evoked a reaction to this magnitude! From my perspective, the answer to that question is not about WHAT he said. But it’s about “who” he was joking about.
Things Are Different Here
It amazes me that in India today, we break out into riots and set buses ablaze with children on it because a certain section of society has a strong objection to the release of a movie, Padmaavat. Social unrests are being carried out specifically about the role a character that existed nearly 900 year ago and that too in a play. Our government could not stop these riots which impact the whole nation’s morale and credibility. However a standup comedian who is simply trying to make people laugh gets flak for simply making people “laugh”.
As a stand-up comedian and as a humor enthusiast, I completely respect the fact that comedy is subjective and cannot be contained with invisible lines. That is, nothing is off limits. Asking someone to vacate his home, does not resonate with my sense and sensibilities. We have to liberate ourselves from being so sensitive! In the west, we are used to seeing comedians roast celebrities, including President Donald Trump. Memes, tweets, snapchats and video bytes about their issues with the President are released with absolute freedom and with one simple clarity - “Hey it’s just jokes”. Specials from legends in the business like Dave Chapel and Kat Williams are present on Netlfix where they talk about President Trump. It’s basic freedom of expression to bring a perspective on any issue or person that people talk and discuss or idolise, celebrate and are passionate about. The art of humor and comedy requires creativity, which thrives on freedom.
I thought that with the passage of time we would evolve and be more accepting of comedy no matter what the topic. But apparently in India, we have to maintain an unsaid rule book about ‘Who we can make jokes on’. It’s time we stand up for a standup comedian like Kunal Kamra and let people know that such actions will slay creativity. In effect, it’s the inability to differentiate between a malicious statement and a joke. At the end of the day, Kunal is a comedian and not a politician. He is not an authority on political issues and his words should not be taken literally; they simply should be absorbed as entertainment. If you didn't really like it, you always have the option of not laughing at it.
I am quite excited about joining Kunal for a show on the 31st of January in Mumbai. However the pressing issue on hand is, in a country like India and with the past issues with Tanmay Bhatt (the AIB member who was trolled and nearly arrested over a snapchat video), comedians need to align their thoughts and ask themselves - is the Indian audience is ready to take on comedy with a pinch of salt? For the new comedians, while my heart and soul yearns that you spur out creative content, be mindful of the reactions of the recent episodes with regards to comedy. One can only hope that the audience focuses on the intent of a comedian which is to put a smile on their face.