This post is Twitter centric. So if you’re not on it, you can shut this page down right about now. I often used to have conversations with fellow comedians about comedians getting more “hate” on Twitter. I’d usually laugh it off, but over time I’ve come to see what they were getting at. As members of the Indian Twitter community, I believe comics should be as much, if not more accustomed to snide remarks, attempts at trolling and “hate” – but what I find fascinating is how this transition has happened over time.
The hate I’m talking about is not with regards to the jokes one makes and them being offensive. I’m talking about an increasing number of voices talking about how “These comedians are totally unfunny”, ”All comedians do is pimp their shows”, “I’m so much funnier than all of them” etc.
First off, the very notion of being a comic in Twitter is somewhat problematic. For one, everyone thinks of themselves as comedians. This I believe is a manifestation of real life, where most people have atleast one funny guy within their social group and/or have been told that they’re hilarious. Also, most people like to think they’re funny, and most people like to think they’re better than other people. So combining the two has obvious implications.
Second, people don’t seem to realize the difference between tweeting jokes and being a comedian. There are some people who are extremely funny on Twitter, but that doesn’t make them comedians simply because they’re not doing it day in and day out on stage, making a living out of doing just that. One might be great at tweeting jokes, but that doesn’t make them a comedian. And someone might be a great comedian, but that doesn’t mean their tweets will be mind-blowingly funny.
And here is where I feel the difference between the Indian and, say, Western Twittersphere. Most Indian comedians now were (very recently) just guys making funny tweets without their lives depending on them. The current crop of comedians (again, not people who tweet funny things) within the country all emerged from the same bunch a lot of people have been following since the time they were non-entities on Twitter. I for example would personally not have gotten into stand-up if it wasn’t for the triad of Russell Peters’ Youtube videos making more Indians want to try it, enough public spaces willing to experiment with the form and networks like Twitter enabling the entire exercise to happen and provide a ready audience through people’s followers.
And because an individual’s original and present identities often get blurred on the medium, I feel there is always a conflict between the comedian and the audience.
The act of calling oneself a comedian – in itself a highly political statement – creates lines between the comedian and the audience which did not and do not exist when one remains a handle that tweets funny things. And yes, there is a difference between being funny on Twitter and being funny, but making that transition i.e. of calling oneself a comedian on a medium that has seen you as the handle that tweets funny things leads to an instant change in the relationship with that audience. Even more so when it comes to plugging one’s shows or experimenting with mediums like podcasts – where one too many suddenly becomes an annoyance for the very audience that should ideally be pushing for that art to grow. Every stand-up, improv, variety show being plugged on Twitter is a part of history being created. It might be annoying, but it is crucial.
At this point, I also want to point out the dichotomy of being a comedian in the Twitter space wherein as much as there is hate, one usually also becomes a highly followed persona. Thus, as much as people don’t seem to like comedians, there is still an expectation of making them laugh (for free) as part of their assumed profiles. Live shows in general remain sold out, and with content like All India Bakchod, which is now the most heard podcast in India, there is even an added expectation of being subversive. And more and more of the same people who tweet funny things, if courageous enough, want to try giving stand-up a shot because everyone seems to be doing it.
These last two years alone, Mumbai has gone from 2 public shows a month to over 16 (excluding The Comedy Store – which would mean a minimum of 20 more) besides corporate events. Open mic nights are on the rise. The internet is alive with experimentation. Young people are finally being able to take the plunge and make a career out of comedy if they’re good enough. The art is finally becoming increasingly acceptable in the mainstream and it is perhaps the only place left where you can say what you want and how you want it. And all of this has been made possible by the same bunch that started out tweeting funny things on Twitter and decided to become Twitter unfunny. Or as they say on Twitter – comedians.
Should one really be bothered then about the “hate” as a social group? Does addressing this existing thought process on Twitter legitimize it even further? Perhaps it does. But if the comedic space in India is going to continue to grow at the pace it has recently, public spaces like Twitter will also be re-negotiated in terms of how individuals attach and respond to labels such as “comedian” (or photographer, or social media analyst) I for one, can’t wait.
Come and watch my show.