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What makes South Asians laugh? Suhel Seth has the answer

Asked whether humour is universal, Seth was in his element: “Humour is not geography specific but community specific. In India, we laugh when a Merc has a flat tyre and you are in a Nano. We are generally happy people but the 9 pm TV just pisses us off,” he said in his characteristic style.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2016 Updated: Jan 24, 2016 20:33 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
Left to right: Sidin Vadukut, Meera Syal, Ashok Ferrey and Suhel Seth during a session on What Makes South Asians Laugh at Jaipur.
Left to right: Sidin Vadukut, Meera Syal, Ashok Ferrey and Suhel Seth during a session on What Makes South Asians Laugh at Jaipur.(HT Photo)

The front lawn of the Diggi Palace, the venue of the Jaipur Literature Festival, is perennially crowded during the event. People come in early and usually hang on to their seats for the day because this is the ‘centre court’ of the festival. But it is almost bursting at the seams for the late-afternoon session provocatively entitled: ‘What makes South Asians laugh?’ On stage was journalist-author Sidin Vadukut, “all round wise man” Suhel Seth and actor-writer Meera Syal. The session was moderated by Sri Lankan writer-illustrator Ashok Ferry.

Asked whether humour is universal, Seth was in his element: “Humour is not geography specific but community specific. In India, we laugh when a Merc has a flat tyre and you are in a Nano. We are generally happy people but the 9 pm TV just pisses us off,” he said in his characteristic style.

Read: Indians ‘oversensitive’ on certain issues, says Kajol at JLF

“Indians generally have three senses of humour: Where they come from, national sense of humour, and international sense of humour, which helps them appreciate people like Donald Trump,” said Vadukut. Syal said that comedy is universal and every family has got a The Kumar’s at No 42 in their families and so people could connect easily to the British-Asian TV serial.

Answering Ferry’s question on whether humour is time-barred, Seth said that it is barred only for people who have lost their relevance. “People still enjoy Wodehouse, don’t they?” he countered. “There is a serious lack of public humour because we don’t produce people such as Shankar and RK Laxman …we don’t have sparkling wit because we have instant TV. Politicians also don’t take kindly to humour anymore.”

Read: Freedom of expression is the biggest joke in the world, says Karan Johar at JLF

On the new popular trend of stand-up comedians, Seth was scathing: “They rehash the same stuff. “We have replaced intelligent humour with slapstick humour. This is a reflection of our stuffy education system”.

Syal, however, felt that there are plenty of good comedy scripts around but there is no investment in developing this genre of films/theatre. “But Internet is changing the scenario”.

Then there is also the pressure of being politically correct. “People are afraid that if they laugh at my joke or share them, they are endorsing them. This fear is the outcome of our politics and the media”, said Vadukut, author of The Dork trilogy.

Referring to the recent controversy of a non-bailable warrant against MS Dhoni in connection with a case of allegedly hurting religious sentiments by posing as Lord Vishnu on the cover of a magazine, Seth said: “This is what we have come to…people are afraid because they don’t know who will take umbrage to what.”

For more JLF 2016 stories click here.