(All names in the article are fictionalized. Only the winner will be named accurately. This is in order to respect privacy)
During this time of a nationwide clampdown on free speech, suspension of religious dignity and the suspension of human rights—the role of the artist becomes exceedingly important. The artist is defiant. Can look the system in the eye and tell it how flawed it is. How the people in-fact deserve much better that a half-baked, viscous, frothing love song to communalism. The figure of the stand-up comedian has played an integral role in effort. Stand Up Comic Kunal Kamara is at the helm of this resistance. Recently, on an IndiGo flight, he has called out our favourite RepublicTV host Arnab Goswami, for the insensitivity with which he treated to death of Rohit Vemula. He was a dalit student at the Hyderabad University who took his live after the way he had been scorned and mistreated by peers and teachers alike. This example is not to say that every comedian must emulate him. Just that this is the power that Stand-Up has. The very act of going on that stage and speaking freely could be a triumph.
During Breeze, the Club WULA organized SNU’s annual Stand-Up competition Bhasad. It was something I was personally looking forward to going to. However, the show started a full forty minutes late. Everyone was fidgeting with their phones and throwing looks of mild irritation. However, I decided that it may not have been the organizers fault entirely since the judge had showed up late. So when the event finally started, I decided to give it a real chance. There was one performance—the fifth one from the open—that I liked enormously. There was resounding applause as he took the stage so I already supposed he was a favorite. He was a short, bespectacled comic with a winning sense of humor. He spoke about being mistaken for a waiter at a wedding, the trials of his parents with winning style. His delivery on biker joke was particularly good and he wondered if they spoke in the same tone in which they rode their vehicles. I did not stay for the rest of the performance owing to prior commitments. However, I was overwhelmed by the highly gendered nature of the humor. All the stand-up comics I watched were male. One went so far as to suggest the women had built-in vocal chords to sing Antakshari. Never mind that top western music icons like Sam Smith, Hozier, Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran. Another comic suggested that the mysterious, “annoying” noise in the car was his mother and that she be thrown out of the car. Both of these instances showed copious quantities of what one can only describe as entitlement.
Whilst the rest of the performances I watched were not particularly inspiring, there was one rather serious bungle. The host of the show was having of audience interaction. Lets for the sake of ease call him Sumit. It was very brave of Sumit to try audience interaction which is always daunting. Here, he asked one member of the audience, “Did you write the SNU entrance?” to which the answer was yes. He goes on to ask this same audience member; “did you get in?” the answer remained yes also. After this, he asked him, “Are you a Dalit?” I froze in my seat. I could not believe he just said that and wondered if he even knew the weight of the word he used. The oppression it carried? I was dazed. There is nothing more to be said about this. I left shortly after this.
All in all, it is great that SNU has created a space for stand-up comedy. It allows for expression, the flow of creative energy and laughter. Kudos to the members of WULA for organizing an event like this and being committed to the spirit of comedy. However, one hopes that humor could also be used with more sensitivity and variety than the same run of the mill gendered jokes. This will allow for a more constructive use of such a platform. This is not to say that stand-up must not offend. Of course it must, it must extravagantly offend and shock the senses. However, it would be far more constructive of a comedian knew what he or she was writing their jokes about and why.
Introspection always helps.