Insult Comedy: An Example of Privilege?
Insult comedy is a subgenre of comedy that directs offensive jokes at the performer’s audience or sometimes other performers. Often called a ‘roast’, the subject of the act is affronted with slurs about their sexuality, religion, weight, skin colour and sometimes, their work.
The concept of roast is not a recent creation. The Friars’ Club of New York held roasts every year, as early as 1950. The Comedy Central network has aired roasts since 2002.
Recently, AIB (All India Bakchod), an Indian comic group that thrives through a YouTube channel hosted a gala attended by popular Bollywood actors and actresses that had couches and carpets, the complete ensemble. The event was a roast of actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranbir Singh and was hosted by filmmaker Karan Johar.
In an almost one hour event, rape jokes were thrown around, the co-founder of AIB Tanmay Bhatt who was on the panel was battered with jokes about his weight and there were innumerable digs taken at Karan Johar about his apparent homosexual tendencies; all with consent of course.
The video of the roast was uploaded on YouTube on 28 January. The episode garnered huge popularity and equal amount of criticism. People who came to their defense were protecting the freedom of speech and the critics were called close-minded Leftists and feminazis. FIRs were filed against 14 persons, including Karan Johar and actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranbir Singh. A number of Christian groups also lodged complaints against the use of jokes on Catholics.
The AIB team removed the video from their YouTube channel a couple of days later, though it is still available on other channels for people to see.
Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. Freedom of speech cannot be used as an excuse to make sexist, racist, homoantagonistic and ableist jokes, even if they are made with prior consent. Rape jokes are never funny in a country where rape occurs every two hours. It perpetuates rape culture. It teaches that we are allowed to laugh at the expense of one person’s tragedy.
If we can pat ourselves on our backs for finding these jokes funny, it is because we’ve never been a victim. It indicates our privilege as thin, heterosexual able-bodied people. Political correctness is important and not impossible. Standup comedian George Carlin has a lot of content (but not all) that is clever and politically correct. Comedy can be performed without belittling and ostracizing minority groups.
The co-founder of AIB, by his own admission said that the point of roasts is to be offensive. This is true, because the basic premise of insult comedy is offensive jokes. If that’s correct, and if insult comedy requires people to ‘lighten-up’ and be apathetic, it cannot be feminist in nature.