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The Death of a Joke

Here's a tale I find quite amusing: a few years ago, I read a joke about a dog. The dog goes to a store and purchases some goods. The shopkeeper is quite amazed to see this, and he follows the dog to see where it goes. The dog takes the goods and gets on a bus. It goes into the suburbs and walks up to a house. Dropping the bag, the dog starts throwing itself at the door of the house. A man opens the door and starts yelling at the dog. The shopkeeper rushes in and stops the man, asking him why he is yelling at such an intelligent animal. The man responds, "That's the third time this week he's forgotten his keys!" Now, while this may be quite funny in itself, this isn't the whole story. The bit I found really amusing was that a few weeks ago, I received this joke in a text on WhatsApp (that's right, folks, even we teenagers aren't spared the torment of chain WhatsApp messages.). At the end of the joke, one of the many geniuses who mass-produce these messages had said:

"People will not be satisfied with you no matter what you do."

This was followed up by some advice about how we should strive to "make the most out of our lives nonetheless" or something similarly inspirational and tacky. Now, maybe I'm taking this the wrong way, but I can't help but think that there's something wrong with people who are able to turn a joke into a sermon. It seems to be like that with a lot of us Indians nowadays. We're quite incapable of taking a joke.

Case in point: Tanmay Bhat's recent tiff with what appears to be the whole Indian Twitter community over a video he posted making fun of Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar. My first problem is, let's face it, Sachin's got nothing on Kohli. NOTHING! No, not really. I'm not enough of a cricket fan to be able to make that judgement. What I'm saying, though, is that Tanmay Bhat is a comedian. Maybe we should - and this is just a suggestion, OK? - take his opinions with a grain of salt? After all, if it's political correctness you want, you should probably be hanging out in, say, Narendra Modi's backyard, not a comedian's Twitter page. 

Another example: Gursimran Khamba's jokes at some college somewhere whose name escapes me. He made a crack about there being no pretty girls in the college, and out came the protesters with their slogans. Again, maybe I'm being too accepting of things here, but I think perhaps comedians ought to be allowed to go through their stand-up routines without having to worry about things like this. It is, after all, a joke. What I'd like to know, though, is if the protesters were angry about being called ugly or about not having any pretty girls.

Example number three comes from one of my favourite movies of all time, 3 Idiots. I've been a huge fan of it since its release back in 2010 and have watched it (one of my few proud boasts) over a hundred times. 3 Idiots made fun of everything we Indians consider holy, from the cow to poverty. The reason it comes up is that in the beginning of the movie, there was a scene in which all the freshmen are being ragged by their seniors. Aamir Khan then makes an entrance, escapes being ragged and electrocutes the head bully's private parts - all in the span of around a quarter of an hour. There was talk of having the scene cut from movie on account of it promoted bullying. Do note that this scene did not glorify bullying. In fact, the bully was put quite resoundingly in his place. Nonetheless, a lot of people were up in arms against this movie. What I'm saying is that I don't think 3 Idiots would be acceptable in 2016. It was alright back in 2010, but now, I really doubt it'd be acceptable. A movie which makes fun of poverty and shows people with their pants down? Most certainly not! Ban it! It's against Indian culture! Imagine what would happen! Panic in the streets!

I don't know if we're culturally unfunny or just oversensitive or what, but if comedians need to ask someone equivalent in tolerance of the humorous (and possibly in IQ level) to Pahlaj Nihalani before going on stage, I think it's a pretty sad state of affairs.


  1. Interesting perspective Ritvik. For the most part I agree with you that jokes should be recognized and treated as such, but (you knew there was a but coming there - didn't you) I have a caveat. It must be recognized that Jokes are a gateway to normalization of the abnormal. So we ought to draw lines on some topics - where once, there may not have been any. For e.g. It was quite common to joke (esp when your dad and I were kids) about homosexuals. Now there is a broader recognition that it causes them a lot of pain and harm and we draw lines where there were none. Same can be said of many other topics (rape and racially tinged jokes come to mind) are clearly verboten. I agree with the spirit of your post but attach a word of caution that we must recognize the boundary lines emerging on jokes that target any group (oppressor or oppressed). Keep writing.

    1. I guess you're right, there are jokes that are clearly meant to be offensive, but I think that if you want to be treated equally, you should be willing to be made fun of equally. But I agree, hurtful jokes aren't acceptable at all.


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