Every audience is different — some like intelligence, some like filth, and some like intelligent filth. Humour is extremely subjective, and what one person finds funny, the other may find offensive, and vice versa. Unfortunately, our audiences often don’t realise that offence has to do with intent, and a comedian’s intention is almost always to entertain and not to offend. The problem in India is that stand-up comedy is taken too seriously.
Each comedian draws their own line based on their personal values, point of view and attitude towards the audience. I have a lot of respect for my audience and, while I have no problem teasing and embarrassing them in jest, I’m careful not to be hurtful. In my experience, though, most audiences are ready for anything. Once they understand that your intentions are to entertain, they will allow you to play with them. You just have to know how to get them to give you the permission to take them down the path you want to.
The danger comes when you put content from a live show on the internet because it is easy for that to be taken out of context. At a live show, your audience (who like your kind of humour) show up. And you get everyone in the room on the same page before you crack the jokes that will be accepted and enjoyed by the people in the room. However, when that is put on the internet, it is watched by people other than your core audience who do not have a sense of the atmosphere and context in which the jokes were cracked. So, the performance and intent can easily be misinterpreted.
As comedians, I don’t think we should have to think twice about expressing our views. But we have been forced to think about where to express our views. My thumb rule is that if I’m performing at a corporate or personal event, it is my duty, as a professional, to respect the boundaries of your environment. However, if you have come to my show, you’ve come to my environment to see what I do, I’ll do what I feel like. If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to leave and never watch me again. I also don’t change my point of view just because my audience sees things differently. I need my audience to relate to where I’m coming from and not necessarily agree with it.
Audiences and their opinions change every day and, as comedians, we need to stay true to our own voices. So, for me, no topic is off limits and, more often than not, the only way to know where the line is, is to cross it. The beauty of it is that each time that line is crossed, it goes just a little bit further. So, as a comedian, I consider it my responsibility to dance on the line — two steps forward, one step back. Then repeat.
The boundaries that we comedians are slow to cross, however, are those that exist within our own minds, that is, talking about things that make us uncomfortable. That is what I enjoy doing with my shows. Looking inwards and delving deep into chapters of my own life has allowed me to make my audience emotionally connect with me in a way that I’ve never witnessed before.
They personally identify with that kind of a narrative and while all of them laugh, some of them cry and a few even walk out looking at their own lives with fresh eyes.
Papa CJ was among the top 10 finalists for Last Comic Standing in 2008 and is gearing up for a multi-city India tour with his show called Papa CJ: Naked in January 2016.
Watch Last Comic Standing, season 7 on FX and FX HD from Monday to Friday at 8 pm