Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 03/19/17 6:05 AM

Feature: The new face of humour


As the times rapidly change, the rich seam of humour we tap into is also rapidly changing. 


It`s black humour, but of course. The other good-natured, gentle ribbing really would not stand up to what we are seeing and experiencing in life these days.

It`s black humour and it is everywhere; it has crept into our everyday lives via the ubiquitous social media networks. And it`s addictive. You follow those Tweeters who pun on words and situations. You watch funny videos on Youtube for hours.

You chortle, then click a quick `like` on the daily dose of funnies in your Facebook feed.

You watch Mallika Dua do her Make-up Didi act on Snapchat with a grin on your face. The moment the Vigil Idiot (Sahil Rizwan, in real life) posts his latest bitingly witty review of a Bollywood film, you are reading it, even though it may contain spoilers that will spoil the denouement of the movie for you.

You need your daily fix of Tumblr toons, after which you are ready to face the day and all it brings.


You open up Whatsapp and there it is: four priceless Silk Board traffic jam memes that have you guffawing. Of course, you appreciate the jokes all that much more, considering you have been stuck at that very junction for the past one-hour-and-twenty-minutes.

This is humour under pressure. And this is the main point. Laughing at someone else in an uncomfortable situation, even as you yourself are stuck just at that spot, is in the words of that hoary adage, quite the best medicine.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, jokes used to be of two varieties: one, you watched or heard of something mildly devastating happening to someone, and the immediate thought that flitted across your mind was: there but for the grace of god/life/luck go I. Your laughter was imbued with relief that whatever happened to the other person did not happen to you.


The second kind involved the priceless-idiot type of humour. You watched someone make a fool of themselves and you laughed, as much in sympathy as a sense of superiority that you were too smart to fall into that trap.

Ramped-up humour

Today, though, it`s all about shared misfortune. The jokes are in your face, not in the least subtle and they basically say: magane, we are all in this together. So you might as well sit back and laugh rather than whine endlessly.

And of course, everything is grist for the comedy mill, everything is sent up, mocked mercilessly. We, the people,  to start with. Politicians across  the world. Policy decisions, that to the layperson, seems more detrimental than beneficial.

The latest pronouncements from the moral police brigade. The latest  turkey from Bollywood, Kollywood, Sandalwood, Tollywood, What-have-you-wood. Demonetisation.  The 45th President of the United States.  Standing up for the national anthem.  The latest idiotic statement from some celebrity.

Even natural disasters like floods and cyclones are not spared, though those jokes usually start well after the waters have receded or the cyclone has dropped to a gentle zephyr. If they cross the line of good taste, there is an outcry and the posts are taken down, the poster hauled over the coals, even blocked.

Demonetisation brought in a slew of memes, some rather lame, others ROFL.  There were videos of people in queues singing the Demonetisation Song…in Malayalam! Stand-up comedians had a field day with some scathing jokes on the subject du jour.

Right now, Raees spoofs featuring M S Dhoni, Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Virat Kohli are capturing eyeballs. As are the happenings in a neighbouring state; even Shakespeare has been tweaked to suit the latter cause!

Stand-up comedy is its own master and most of the acts now have taken on distinct political overtones. Those skewered run the gamut, from venal politicians, the shenanigans of filmstars, the sayings of the neighbourhood aunty, and last but not the least, the people`s ability to endure such things for an inordinate amount of time.

The language employed by this humour is free from any literary pretensions and bordering on coarse, some tipping over into downright coarse. But the point is got across swiftly and directly.

This then, is not the Mehmood or Rajendranath, or even the Javed Jaffrey type of comedy. Because these times are simply not those times.


Dissipater of dystopia

Cyrus Broacha was and continues to be a comedy staple, but AIB or the All India Bakchod gang are the arguable pioneers of this we- are –all- in- it- together kind of comedy that walks the rougher edge. Their videos and podcasts spear the system and the citizen with equal impartiality, and just about everything is milked for its fun value.

Their roasts being somewhat too pointed for a country where we still tend to sweep everything uncomfortable under the carpet, created a lot of controversy but there were enough people, and not necessarily all from Gen Y, who got that they were putting `unmentionable` stuff out there in the guise of humour, and lauded them for their courage.



There is another strand to this humour: contempt. Contempt expressed through derision and disbelief, and laced with caustic wit, is quite the great leveller. As in, you are trying to do a number on me but I`m onto you, so epic fail, bro.

What is this humour doing? It`s calling out all the lies people tell. Behind the laughter is anger at having been had. It`s calling out the bigots, religious and social. Behind the laughter is sadness and disgust at the intolerance on display.

It`s calling out the systemic rot, the deep-rooted corruption that underpins our institutions. Behind the laughter is a thin seam of hope for reform. It`s calling out foolish superstitions and taboos of our society.

Behind the laughter is the unspoken plea to understand that some rites harm us more than they help us. It`s shining a light on bizarre happenings. Behind the laughter is dismay that the age we live in is throwing up such situations.

In a post-truth world where we are fed alternative facts by the hour, we need humour to help us face our helplessness.

Think about it. We can`t keep up with our government`s policy decisions. We can`t keep up with a careening economy. We can`t keep up with the rapid advancements in technology. We can`t keep up with fashion`s spinning trends.

We can`t keep up with the world`s fast-rising barriers. We can`t keep up with the scams being exposed weekly, the games people play, we can`t keep up with our own lives sometimes. What we can do, though, is to laugh at it all.


The laughter tempers the anger, the frustration, the feelings of victimhood, the culture shock. And even as the times turn savage, the humour too, turns proportionately savage. This is humour as dissipater of dystopia.

No one, not even for a minute, is under the delusion that humour can be wielded like a stick to beat off the injustice. But it can and is being pointed as a stick to reveal the nature of the injustice.

Savage laughter

What are the hallmarks of this humour? Hard-hitting.  Irreverent. Sassy as hell. Offensive. Even vulgar. But heck, it makes you laugh.

Basically, in this Age of Anger, there is no place for subtlety or innuendo. So, caustic rules the day. Studies have shown that witty people are followed the most on social media platforms; newspapers and magazines pick up the most amusing of Tweets and feature them. The public soon recognises the Tweeters by their handles and voila! Instant fame!

Humour has always had the edge over more serious emotions. The advertising agencies jumped on this bandwagon years ago, knowing that nothing sells, nothing sticks in the memory bank, quite like something funny. Apparently, a whopping 72% who follow a particular brand on social media are likely to make a purchase.

When we laugh, we release endorphins, which are neurotransmitters in our brain. These endorphins are responsible for making us feel happy and help us keep our stress levels down.

We love to laugh. And we love to laugh at the mess we are in. A hearty laugh of the head-thrown-back variety allows us to release all the negative emotions, leaving us in a more relaxed state of mind. We`ll face all our troubles tomorrow; today, we`ll just sit back and laugh.

There is this popular misconception that Indians can only laugh at others, not at themselves. There we are a stiff, starchy lot, easy to take umbrage quickly, and definitely not ones to laugh at our own foibles.



That notion has been turned on its head by all the Youtube comedy videos; by Varun Grover, Anubav Pal and their ilk; by the slew of Alok Nath sanskari jokes, Girliyapa and the East India Comedy group; by the hilarious takes on Buzzfeed and comedy clips on FM radio; by Bangalore`s own Kanan Gill and Biswa Kalyan Rath, as well as Nograj, Danish Sait in real life; by  listicle sites like Scoopwhoop.

By The Unreal Times, by all the hashtag humour found online today and gone by tomorrow. There`s the Kapil Sharma and `Pammi Aunty` variety for those who like buffoonery masquerading as humour — and a whole lot of people do!

Humour is really having its protracted moment in the sun. It has suddenly become so easy to shoot and upload, to shoot your mouth off.

Can Indians laugh at themselves? Yes we can. And loudly, at that.


Buzzfeed comedyDeccan Heraldhumourlead featurenew face of humouronline humourstand up comedySunday HeraldYoutube comedy

Sheila Kumar • March 19, 2017

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