Take a random sample of the jokes doing the round on your average Whatsapp group: We have Sadar jokes, also we have Mallu jokes, Gujju jokes, Bong jokes and various regional jokes that poke fun at accents, regional peculiarities and eating habits and so on. We also have jokes that make fun of women, (also some that poke fun at men it has to be admitted, albeit far fewer in number) and jokes that make fun of relationships, particularly marriage.
As a rule I divide jokes into funny and non-funny (or clever and lame if you prefer); not into offensive and inoffensive. I feel that jokes a just a bit of lighthearted fun and that we all have to learn to laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves to seriously. In particularly I think that we Indians need to lighten up and not be so thin-skinned; to stop taking offence at every little thing. So I am rarely affronted by jokes, and am slow to think of jokes as offensive as long as they are clever, original and intelligent.
Some jokes are just silly
I am a fan of Kapil Sharma – I really enjoy his show and think the guy is really very funny. But some of his homour is rather less than funny. Now take this episode below for instance– it consists of a married man mooning over a very beautiful woman who is not his wife, while belittling his own wife – repeatedly. Also there is a little bit about a Parsi fellow that takes the usual pot shots at the Parsi accent and so on.
Not while the Parsi bit of the episode could have been funny, it wasn’t because the accent was not genuine and the gags were just not clever. Had it been clever enough, I would have been very amused. But it wasn’t and I wasn’t either.
And as for idea of a man lusting after a woman not his own wife while denigrating his own devoted spouse – how is this funny! This is a recurring theme in Comedy Nights with Kapil and I find it not funny, but cringe worthy. I cannot help feeling that this sort of thing sends out the message that it’s perfectly fine for married men to go making sheep’s eyes at other women, while undermining their own wives; that not only is it OK, it is also somehow cool.
So these are silly jokes that are perhaps inadvertently offensive – they are not trying to be offensive. But every now and again one comes across jokes that really are offensive – not clever, not funny, employing neither irony nor satire – just offensive. These are the ‘jokes’ that are so distasteful that one wonders at their origin; about the person they emanated from.
Some jokes are actually offensive
Take this example below for instance:
What do you tell a woman with two black eyes?
Nothing, you already told her twice.
Does anyone think this is funny? Can any decent, reasonable person think that violence towards women can in any circumstances be funny? These are jokes against women – but a plethora of other joke are aimed at other groups: people of certain races, from certain countries, some religions, or a of a different sexual orientation…. The list is seemingly endless.
What makes a joke offensive?
So when does a joke stop being funny and when does it start becoming offensive? Now each one’s tolerance for humour, and the context within which something becomes funny or offensive can vary very widely. Like I said I don’t take offence easily – but even I draw the line at disparaging jokes. That line is crossed when a ‘joke’ is disparaging, when it is born out of a desire to insult and denigrate rather than to simply make a astute and funny observation.
One could well argue, let’s all lighten up; it’s just a joke after all. But it isn’t that simple. It is a question of hostility. Many of these so called jokes emanate from hostility and from prejudice. For instance anti women jokes often emanate from misogynists – they are actually thinly veiled taunts and insults.
The fact is that offensive humour inures people to some very real problems in society. Research has shown that sexist humor and racist jokes tend to excuse and even normalise prejudices and hostility towards certain groups. This type of humour sends out the message that discrimination is OK – its funny. Such humour tells people it is OK to have certain negative attitudes and even to verbalise them, so long as the expression is in the form of a purported joke.
Now coming back to Kapil Sharma, I am willing to overlook a lot because the guy is genuinely funny. Also he tries in his own way, to draw attention to and comments against social ills such as our entrenched preference for the male child from time to time. Now if only he’d utilise some of this talent to draw attention to provoke thought more often than disparaging his wife… well one can hope.
By Reena Daruwalla
Video and Images Courtesy – Colors – Comedy Nights with Kapil Official Channel