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World Laughter Day: How do comedians deal with trolls who don’t get the jokes?

Since all issues big and small are comedy fodder, the people quick to take offence are always after comedians. The top names in the business share their resistance strategies.

bollywood Updated: May 06, 2017 16:54 IST
Etti Bali
Clockwise from bottom left: Comedians Mallika Dua, Rohan Joshi, Cyrus Broacha, and Sorabh Pant.
Clockwise from bottom left: Comedians Mallika Dua, Rohan Joshi, Cyrus Broacha, and Sorabh Pant.

The first Sunday of every May is observed as World Laughter Day. Now, comedians make most of us go ROFL, but they get a lot of trolling, too. How do the people who crack jokes deal with the angry hordes on social media who just didn’t get the joke?

Just to jog your memory, Hindustan Times had observed April 26 as Anti-Trolling Day. Raising their voice against Internet bullies, here’s what some of the country’s top comedians have to say.

Douse the fire as fast as possible: Cyrus Broacha

“The same people you talk to in school or college or office become very opinionated on Facebook,” says comedian and television anchor Cyrus Broacha. (Aalok Soni / Hindustan Times)

Comedian and television anchor Cyrus Broacha says that the trolling culture is scary for two reasons. “One, the person has so much time, and two, he has so much anger,” says Cyrus. “Now everybody has Facebook and Twitter, where unnecessary comments are pushed forward. The same people you talk to in school or college or office become very opinionated on Facebook. They talk down and become hostile. Their avatar changes when they go near the computer or the phone.”

His advice for dealing with trolls is not to attack them back. “You should apologise immediately and say that they are completely correct. Douse the fire as fast as possible. It has worked with my wife. I have survived so many years by saying sorry,” quips Cyrus.

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I get very angry, and give it back to them: Mallika Dua

“The problem is that we are incapable of having a conversation or a dialogue without yelling,” says comedian Mallika Dua. (Aalok Soni / Hindustan Times)

Comedian Mallika Dua, whose Make-Up Didi videos on social media have a huge fan following, says, “The problem is that we are incapable of having a conversation or a dialogue without yelling — either directly or online. The troll’s first instinct is to be abusive, and just be aggressive.” Trolling, she feels, is “a form of Internet terrorism”. And Mallika deals with it by being “very intolerant” towards trolls.

She says, “I don’t encounter so many trolls, but when I do, I get very angry. There are days when I don’t react, but sometimes I really give it to them.” Social media platforms, she adds, don’t do anything to monitor trolls. “If you try to report them, nothing happens. So you either just ignore it and keep your peace of mind, or you say something.”

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These aren’t even trolls; they’re just abusers: Rohan Joshi

“If somebody threatens you with violence, you should have a very low tolerance for that,” says comic and actor Rohan Joshi. (Instagram/mojorojo)

Comic and actor Rohan Joshi, of the comedy group AIB, says that trolls create only nuisance value. “I don’t think we’ve lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. I think that [trolls are] just a very vocal, fundamentalist minority and they dominate the narrative,” says Joshi. “And it’s always some political or religious group. They’re very good at creating nuisance.”

On how trolling has taken on a completely new meaning with changing times, Rohan says, “Trolling meant taking really sharp and smart jibes. It meant getting under somebody’s skin using satire or humour. I don’t think that these people [nowadays] are trolls; they are abusers.”

His advice on handling trolls: “Block and report. If you’re not comfortable with the way somebody speaks to you, you have every right to remove them from your platform. If somebody threatens you with violence, you should have a very low tolerance for that.” But what about free speech? “I’m a free speech absolutist. You can say whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean that I have to listen to you,” replies Rohan.

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Normal human beings are six times more vitriolic online: Sorabh Pant

“It’s usually that one moron who doesn’t understand what’s happening,” says stand-up comedian Sorabh Pant.

Stand-up comedian and author of the novel Under Delhi, Sorabh Pant, also feels that most Indians do have a sense of humour, and that “it’s just a small minority that doesn’t”. He recalls an incident at a stand-up gig he was doing in Chandigarh, where he took jibes at everyone in the audience, but no one took offence, except for one guy who walked in towards the end. “I said something as basic as ‘Does he think he has walked into Rock Garden?’ and with that, he threatened to beat me up!” says Pant. “It’s usually that one moron who doesn’t understand what’s happening.”

In his view, in drawing room conversations, people of different ideologies and beliefs will crack jokes and no one would mind, but something happens when they are online. “Normal human beings are at least six times more vitriolic online. I was doing a show once where a guy told me he had trolled me online. So I called him up on stage and had a nice chat about it.”

Pant feels that even though engagement is important for performing artists, he has no qualms about blocking and reporting who people who are vitriolic. Those who send out threats to women should be publicly humiliated, he adds the comedian. “I once put up a screenshot of a threat posted by a troll and wrote: ‘My fans are really cute.’ The next morning, I had 15 missed calls from the guy who had posted it, and he wanted me to take it down,” he says.

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Don’t give trolls the attention that they want: Neeti Palta

“We’re becoming more sensitive and instead of progressing, we’re becoming regressive,” says comedian Neeti Palta.

Comedian Neeti Palta says that she tweaks her jokes depending on the place so that they connect better, but not for fear of trolls. “That’s all the more reason to not change your joke. It’s like telling them the threat works. We’re becoming more sensitive and instead of progressing, we’re becoming regressive,” she says.

“Initially, I used to get shocked at the amount of hate and meanness. Duniya kya sochegi sochti toh main comedian hi nahi hoti (If I cared about what the world thinks, I wouldn’t have been a comedian),” says Palta.

Her advice for dealing with trolls is to ignore them. “They are doing it for attention; don’t give them what they want. They’re sad, pathetic creatures who are waiting for their two minutes of fame. Block and report immediately,” she says.

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Don’t let anything — good or bad — get to you: Ssumier Pasricha

“Aap apna kaam karo aur chup ho jaao. Stop reading what people are writing,” says actor and comedian Ssumier S Pasricha. (Facebook/Ssumier S Pasricha)

Actor and comedian Ssumier S Pasricha, who plays the character of Pammi Aunty in popular short videos published on social media, says, “If you’re eating almonds, aur agar ek kadwa aa bhi gaya, toh I really don’t care. Most people don’t like to hear [about] reality because they take it personally. I try my best to not offend people.”

Trolls should be avoided, he feels. “Aap apna kaam karo aur chup ho jaao. Stop reading what people are writing. Don’t let anything — good or bad — get to you,” says Pasricha.

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The fun is in finding ways to get around censorship: Rajneesh Kapoor

“The government is just testing how far the comics can be pushed,” says stand-up comedian Rajneesh Kapoor. (Facebook/Rajneesh Kapoor)

Stand-up comedian Rajneesh Kapoor, says, “Things are going to get tougher. This is the golden period. We will look back and remember 2017 [as the year] when we could joke about so many things. But then, the fun is in finding ways to get around censorship. The government is just testing how far the comics can be pushed.”