When and where does comedy draw the line? I often ask myself this question a million times, since I laugh at the most inappropriate jokes (and yes, I am going to hell for it!). While every joke has the potential to offend someone, if we took comedians seriously they would surely be out of jobs. However, the more pressing question is: Are comedians allowed to blatantly ignore social responsibility under the guise of their profession?
Last night, I watched one of my favorite stand up comedians perform with his band at the NH7 Weekender in Pune; Vir Das & Alien Chutney. In the introduction to his song “All The Happy People Please Fuck Off”, Das says…
“You know those happy folks who are married? And the ones who use condoms? Please fuck off”.
Now, is there any peculiar reason we should be promoting the disuse of condoms? I mean it is not a hidden fact that HIV/AIDS is a rampant disease in India and around the world. According to UN AIDS, 21 million people in India are living with HIV. And even if you leave aside the statistics, of more concern is that we live in a country where people use excuses ranging from religion to culture to fun to living dangerously and many a times simple ignorance or complacency when it comes to not practicing safe sex.
All of this begs the question – what kick does a well-informed man like Mr. Das get out of dissing those who choose to act responsibly? Those who use a condom?
While those who defend his freedom of speech may also argue that this was a “contained” crowd as opposed to a national platform (television, film, etc.); the fact of the matter is that this is irresponsible humor.
Freedom of speech would be saying, “I do not use a condom”.
Irresponsible humor is telling others not to use a condom.
Such irresponsible humor could tomorrow lead to someone facing the consequences of pregnancy scares, STDs, VDs and HIV. When you have a fan following of many impressionable minds, it is all the more critical to understand that (your) words can have consequences.
Earlier this year after an epic 175 runs by Chris Gayle at an IPL match, the following joke was making the rounds on the internet by a t-shirt company: “When one man rapes another man he’s gay, but when one man rapes 11 men, he’s GAYle.” Queer groups and supporters approached the company about such irresponsible humor and they immediately reacted by issuing a public apology – a very rare gesture coming from the comedy industry considering that even today, many out there find “rape” to be an ideal topic for standup gigs.
So if you are reading this Mr. Das…No. I do not expect an apology. I am a fan, and will continue to remain one. However, it would be nice to see a little more of sensibility and sensitivity in your work. As a Queer woman, I take pride in the hard work that a lot of my friends are doing at Humsafar Trust and other such organizations in creating HIV/AIDS awareness across social strata and stressing the importance of practicing safe sex. And then in the blink of an eye, an intelligent man as you just dismissed their careers worth of work in front of thousands!
Remember… words have consequences!