Last week, John Abraham walked out of Comedy Nights Bachao Taaza (CNBT) after he felt slighted by the jokes cracked by comedian-actor Krushna Abhishek. The makers of the show call the format of the show “a roast”. Over the last couple of years, several controversies have cropped up because different groups of people have been “offended” by comedy on TV, either on religious or other grounds.
Anchor-actor Rochelle Rao and comedian Kiku Sharda’s portrayal of nurses, for instance, on The Kapil Sharma Show (TKSS) offended nurses, who didn’t appreciate them being stereotyped. The AIB roast in 2015 also created an uproar, with several people registering police complaints as they disapproved of the abusive language and religious comments, and found the show vulgar. The AIB team ultimately offered an unconditional apology.
Such a persistent pattern of reactions raises the question — have we grown oversensitive? Or, has comedy on Indian television taken a wrong turn?
Humour vs Insult
Actor Kavita Kaushik stormed out of the finale of the dance reality TV show Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa last year after she became the target of some jokes. “A talented comedian knows the difference between teasing and insulting. Someone who doesn’t know their craft very well could resort to insulting or hurting somebody. Kapil (Sharma) teases people, but he doesn’t insult them. And he teases people in a way that they like,” she says.
Actor Nia Sharma, who is part of CNBT, acknowledges that John walking out of their show was an “unfortunate incident and none of us liked it”. However, she also adds that Indians don’t take humour lightly. Apparently, when actors appear on comedy shows, there are many restrictions and the teams are asked not to crack jokes on certain subjects. Nia admits that even she gets “offended by lines targeted” at her during the show. She says, “I get defensive. It’s hard to digest.”
Drawing the line
Kiku, who was arrested for imitating Gurmeet Ram Rahim in a one-off TV act, had apologised for hurting the sentiments of Rahim’s followers. He adds that the incident didn’t stop him from cracking jokes. He says, “We are a diverse nation, so invariably, there will be people who will get angry about an issue. One shouldn’t take it personally.”
Kiku asserts that he doesn’t resort to jokes that hit someone below the belt or have double meanings. “Sometimes, actors and writers go the double- meaning route as it is easier,” he says.
Popular actor-host Manish Paul, whose comic timing on TV shows has been lauded, says that comedy should be done tastefully. He says, “There’s a thin line that has to be maintained. I think people should also ease up a bit; no one cracks a joke only to ridicule anyone. I have never resorted to ‘insult comedy’, and I feel that entertainment doesn’t mean demeaning someone.” He further adds, “I have always created humour that has never offended anyone.”
Do Indians lack a sense of humour?
Kavita Kaushik admits that Indians do get offended very easily. She says, “People get offended with what other people are doing or with something that doesn’t concern them. We get offended by what somebody else is wearing or saying, which should not be the case.”
But actor Tannishtha Chatterjee, whose skin colour was the butt of jokes on a comedy show, feels that when prejudices become the basis of your jokes, that can be considered as bullying. She adds, “When we say we have lost our sense of humour, we have lost the sense of what humour is. When you are offending someone, it cannot have a prejudiced agenda.”