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The tragedy of Indian comedy: Why we can't afford to laugh at your jokes anymore

Poulomi Ghosh
Poulomi GhoshOct 05, 2018 | 17:25

The tragedy of Indian comedy: Why we can't afford to laugh at your jokes anymore

But now, there is the bigger issue.

The recent episode of comedian Utsav Chakraborty being accused of sexually harassing girls, including minors allegedly, has opened a can of worms.

This is not the first time that the fraternity of the stand-up comedians in India is in news for the wrong reason. Just a year ago, Arunabh Kumar stepped down as the CEO of The Viral Fever, after an anonymous blog post accused him of harassing a woman employee. He was arrested and was released on conditional bail as well.

After a writer-comedian exposed Utsav on twitter, several such accounts started pouring in, leading us to the inevitable question: What’s wrong with our stand-up comedians? Why is the inside of our comedy scenario so tragic?

arunabh-inside_100518043957.jpgThe over-entitled industry is suffering from a number of maladies. (Photo: Twitter)

At one point of time, people stopped laughing at the slapstick jokes cracked by Raju Srivastava or Johnny Lever on television.

On various social media platforms, which were still quite new back then, there were a number of young people dishing out fresh and intelligent content. There were no boring husband-wife jokes, or random body-shaming, sexism to make “insensible” people laugh. They didn’t even shy away from being political. They didn’t even dither while roasting Bollywood celebrities. In fact, such roasts brought them much fame. On the top of all this, we got a number of women comedians, who abhorred the idea of being called ‘women comedians’.

So, everything was hunky-dory — progressive, inclusive.

But what was brewing under this “woke” façade was beyond imagination.

For example, Arunabh Kumar apparently used to touch the complainant inappropriately during shoots, fall on her at parties pretending to be drunk etc. And his company initially denied all those charges. Even they had denied the existence of any such employee at all.

Utsav was part of the comedy startup, AIB.  But for the past few years, he has been working with them as a freelancer. According to the tweets, he used to send explicit photographs to women, unsolicited. His behaviour was apparently reported to “two of the most influential men in comedy in India”, but as nothing happened, social media became the ideal platform to expose the ugly truths of this budding entertainment sector.

But, this latest exposure has been really problematic and disturbing.

Utsav has apologised for whatever he has done in long Twitter threads, which he deleted a day later. In those tweets he offered a context of why he sent explicit photos to women. He narrated that those were not his photos; he simply downloaded those photos and was quite sporting about sexting, assuming that the other party was equally willing. He also explained his medical condition to the world, without saying ‘sorry’, even for a single time. A night of introspection or fear must have brought upon an epiphany; Utsav said sorry.

AIB, the company which worked with him even after receiving complaints against him, condemned whatever happened. It repented its decisions and deleted all videos featuring Utsav.

But now, there is the bigger issue.

Twitter is flooded with complaints against a number of popular faces of Indian comedy; some of them are part of the AIB, and some are independent comedians. Already a #MeToo moment in a comparatively new industry, driven by startups? Who will lead the movement, if every insider is accused of either harassing or being silently putting up with harassment?

Not surprisingly, each of them who are being accused on Twitter has sharp comments on everything — from Donald Trump to demonetisation — with millions of followers on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook.

Is hypocrisy the secret of success in comedy?

Has the instant popularity been too much for these startups? Does the huge number of followers make the"stars" feel over-entitled that they would get away with everything?

The comedy scene in India is crying inside. It needs help.

Last updated: October 07, 2018 | 19:16
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