We’re truth tellers: Indian comedians on political comedy

Kanan Gill (Photo: Wikipedia)

By Arundhuti Banerjee

Mumbai– As the new age audience is polarised on the reception of observational and political comedy in India, which often results in backlash, trolls and complaints, some of India’s popular comedians say the negative response doesn’t scare them to adulterate their voice.

Comedian Kanan Gill told IANS here: “We are definitely a soft target. So yes, backlash makes us conscious. We are ready to take criticism on our jokes, but not FIRs and life threats. But that does not stop us to say what we want to say.”

Agreeing with him, standup comedian Kaneez Surka said: “We comedians are the truth tellers, showing life the way it is, is a part of our job. Whether it is sarcasm, finding a lighter note on a serious issue, everything is coming from reality.

“Unfortunately, the (political) climate is so tense and polarised that any truth teller is in trouble — whether it is a comedian, celebrity, journalist… Whichever side you take, the opposite party will put your life in danger.”

She says she tried it on social media.

“People called me all kinds of things. It is not only with me, but most of my fellow comedians. We get trolled, humiliated and at times complaints are lodged against us. But you know what? No one can stop us to say what we want to say,” she added.

So what are the riskier topics that comedians find the audience might respond to differently?

Sumukhi Suresh said: “I think predicting the response of an audience is riskier than writing a joke! So instead of finding the risk factor in a joke, just put it out there. It will find its like-minded audience.”

Surka explained: “There is a difference between punching up and punching down. One is punching up when making fun of privileged people and punching down is when making a joke about a minor community who cannot defend themselves. We have learnt not to make fun of them, and so we stay away from punching down.”

Gill rather suggests finding a creative solution to a joke that is potentially risky.

“If you know that it is a political satire that involves potential risk, make it subtle and layer it in a way that the core of the message doesn’t get lost in the layer, but get away with the risk factor. That is how you find a creative solution to it,” he said.

Comedian Naveen Richard stressed on the need to have confidence to do a political satire.

“Take that genre if only you find your voice there. Otherwise, it would be pretentious. There are various topic to make fun of.”

These comedians are coming together along with Tanmay Bhat, Kenny Sebastian, Sapan Verma and Biswa Kalyan Rath to mentor and judge Amazon Prime Original comedy reality show “Comicstaan”, which begins on July 13.

Many budding comedians are participating across the country on the digital show.

Asked about the potential of the new talents of the show, Richard said: “They are finding their voice much faster than us and we did not have much competition among us. Newcomers are pretty cut-throat.”

Surka added: “When we started, there was a process of trial and error because whether it is us, and the audience, we were trying to figure out what works and does not work for us. In the beginning, we were trying to imitate the West a lot, and it took us time to Indianise content and find our voice as comics.

“Newcomers are faster to find their voice, and they have a reference point.”

Gill pointed out how when they started, it was not about making money and establishing themselves as “the best comedians”.

“We were not as ambitious as these kids are. For us, going on stage and performing was important. Now that things are more structured commercially, newcomers are more focused to make it professionally.”

What is their suggestion for upcoming talent from keeping away from facing backlash in the world of comedy?

“I think when you are not so popular yet, not in the public eye, just say what you want to say. Do not hold it back fearing the backlash. If you establish your voice that way, you are doing it right. At the end of the day, I repeat, comedians are the truth tellers, nothing should fear you,” affirmed Kaneez. (IANS)


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