If an adult joke was a taboo for comedians in the past, the red flags of the present are politics and religion.
Cyrus Broacha, comedian, anchor, podcaster and columnist, and fellow comedian and author Anuvab Pal discussed the then and now of humour at a session of Day Three of Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet (Kalam), held in association with the Victoria Memorial Hall and The Telegraph.
They were in conversation with Sandip Roy, novelist and journalist.
Titled Haanste Tader Mana, the formal theme of the session was “laughter and humour as a survival kit in pandemic times”.
The moderator brought up a stand-up comedy session by Broacha and Pal, the final session of Day Three.
“When I was watching, I was thinking about the irony. You were cracking these jokes about Parsis and how they butcher Hindi. Somebody was making a joke about people butchering Hindi to a room full of Bengalis who are all laughing along,” said Roy.
“But that is called empathy,” Broacha cut him short.
“I thought it would be the right audience. We could butcher it together. Hindi is a 150-year-old language. There is no question. If you look at all the languages available in India, Tamil, Bengali etc. Where the hell is Hindi? Hindi is like an 8-year-old in an adult film competition. But anyway...
I love it, and will speak it as fluently as I can,” Roy said.
Excerpts from the session
Roy asked about “red flags” for comedians in India right now.
Pal said he was told something very recently, which he thought “summed up where comedy was in India right now”.
“The organisers said I can talk about anything as long as I don’t say anything specific,” said Pal.
For Broacha, the change in humour was a little strange.
“Initially, they kept telling us not to get into adult jokes, sex jokes, bad language. That nobody cares about now. It is only politics and religion you can’t talk about,” he said.
Comedian in jail
Pal said comedians get a call from TV channels when a fellow comedian goes to jail or becomes a chief minister.
“When Munawar Faruqui is arrested and you get a call from a TV show, what happens?” asked Roy.
Broacha, best known for shows like Bakra and The Week That Wasn’t, answered as a “student of law”.
“Technically, he should not have been arrested by Madhya Pradesh police because the case was filed in Maharashtra. The whole thing did not make sense,” he said.
The “elephant in the room,” Broacha said, was that Faruqui was fed “vegetarian food” in jail, for which he “lost five kilos”.
“Technically, he was arrested without doing anything. He just came for the show and he was arrested. So, that is more like, arrested for being alive,” he added.
Online vs live audience
The hardest thing for a comedian during lockdown was to make shows on Zoom, said Pal.
Pal said he had seen “incredibly odd things”. At the start of an 8pm Zoom show, he saw a person on the screen eating a full meal. When Pal wished him good evening, he said: “Shuru ho jao (get going)”.
He also saw couples fighting and wanted to “just leave”.
Broacha’s daughter would set up everything for him because he was “technically challenged”.
Good thing about live audiences is a certain kind of madness. “In north India, if you make a joke about Punjabis and someone stands up, he stands up to shoot you. In Kolkata, if people stand up, it is to make a speech. These incredible live moments don’t happen on Zoom,” Broacha said.
“My opinion of the audience is that they are good fun, 99 per cent of the time. So, I just can’t understand why and who they vote for. It makes no sense, because otherwise, they are people you can relate to,” he said.