Almost all cars parked on a residential street in Tilak Nagar in west Delhi wear yellow smiley stickers with the words “Jolly Uncle”. The residents here are not members of a local laughter club. They paste the smiley stickers on their vehicles in deference to their neighbour, Jatinder Pal Singh Jolly, 59, a popular jokes writer, who uses smileys as his logo and “Jolly Uncle” as his pen name.
Jolly is one of the city’s most famous jokes writers, who has been regaling people with his short and snappy funny lines for almost two decades. Jolly’s fan following is not limited to Delhi; he gets fan mail, about 100 emails a day, from as far as the US, UK and Canada. “Many families in these countries write to me saying that they start each day by consuming my daily dose of jokes online. Just a few days ago, a family in Canada wrote to me saying that it is a ritual with them to crack my jokes at the dinner table so that everyone goes to bed with smiling faces. I am as popular in Patna as in Pennsylvania,” says Jolly, sitting in the living room of his house in east Tilak Nagar, where he lives with his family.
Jatinder Pal Singh was not always a “jolly” fellow. In 1994, Jolly, who otherwise runs a cargo clearing business from Naraina, was diagnosed with DVT (Deep Vain Thrombosis) that led to several heart attacks and left him bedridden for months. “Doctors told me that it had no cure. I was devastated. And my relatives who visited me during the illness would only talk depressing things, adding to my woes. But one day, to get over those distressing conversations, I started cracking jokes with them so that they could not help but laugh while they were with me,” says Jolly, who was born in Meerut.
Soon, evoking laughter became Jolly’s passion and he started writing jokes for local Hindi newspapers, many of them published from west Delhi, such as Daudti Dilli, Apni Dilli , Meri Dilli, Dilli Alert, Dilli Health, and portals such as the Hindian Express. Jolly is quite proud of his achievements as a jokes writer and shows us a file containing several letters of appreciation: from MPs, ministers, models, cricketers and famous Hindi writers and poets. “When I started writing jokes, I had no idea that I would become so famous. I hardly make any money out of it, but appreciation by my fans keeps inspiring me,” says Jolly, who is a fan of Charlie Chaplin.
Jolly, who writes only in Hindi, says he has written jokes for more than 100 newspapers across the country. He came to be called “Jolly Uncle” after a west Delhi newspaper published his jokes under the name by mistake. “That is how I became ‘Jolly Uncle’ a decade ago. Now, even my relatives have forgotten my real name. While I enjoy the nickname, a lot of elderly people get embarrassed when they have to call me Jolly Uncle,” says Jolly, peppering our conversation with the choicest of jokes to make sure there is not a single dull moment while we are with him.
Jolly wakes up at 5am everyday to write for his Facebook page and other portals and publications. And how much time does it take to come up with his laughter-inducing lines? “Sometimes just a few minutes, and sometimes an hour. People prefer short, snappy jokes. My jokes are, at the most, of three-four lines,” says Jolly. And does he laugh at his own jokes while he writes them? “No, because I have to think hard about the subject. Writing jokes is a serious business, tougher than other forms of writing,” he says, his face deadpan.
Jolly often gets requests from his fans to write on certain people and subjects. “A lot of people want me to write jokes on some politicians and filmstars. In fact, one of my jokes on Mallika Sherawat is quite a hit these days,” says Jolly, who generally uses Veeru and Basanti, two popular characters from blockbuster Sholay, in most of his jokes. His Sherawat joke, he says, goes like this: Once Mallika Sherawat was stopped by a beggar who asked for money saying: Behenji kuch dete jaiye. A beaming Sherawat instantly handed him a R500 note. Aghast, a friend who was with Sherawat asked her, “Why did you give him so much?” Sherawat replied, “You wouldn’t understand, no one ever called me Behenji before.”
Jolly says he never faces writer’s block. Humour is all around, one just has to have eyes and ears to spot it. He shares a recent real life incident, when he said to his dobhi, “Ulti Karke press karna (turn the shirt before ironing it).” When I returned to inquire after a few hours why the shirt had not been ironed, he said he was waiting to do “ulti (vomit) first”, laughs Jolly.
His jokes , he says, are “clean” and reflect the social realities of the times.
“When I started writing jokes in the mid-90s, I mostly wrote about teachers, doctors and patients. These days my jokes deal with corruption, inflation, elections, etc.”
Jolly, an author of three jokes books and two humour-based motivational books — Anmol Khushian and Haste, Haste Jeena Seekho — has also written humour-based stories against drunk driving for the website Navchetna, a civil society initiative in partnership with Delhi police. “My humour-based stories convey strong social messages in a light-hearted manner. I believe that no medicines work like laughter. I still suffer from an incurable deadly disease, but I do not fear death anymore. And it’s no joke,” says Jolly, laughing.