Will nobody think of the comedians? In recent years, Indian comedians have been getting caught up in lots of crusades: the fight for free speech, the fight for our right to protest. But who is fighting for comedian rights? You know, like the right to not have to perform at a venue where the loos are awash with suspect fluids and the light-bulbs don’t work. Or like the right to perform a joke without worrying about getting beaten up on stage. Wait, that second one leads down a dark path, so maybe let’s just stick to stuff like the shady washrooms.
For India’s 77th Independence Day, I’ve taken it upon myself—as a professional comedian—to write up a comedy bill of rights. Read on to find out just what ‘freedoms’ made the list.
FREEDOM FROM TROLLING
Yes, please! Comedians are quite capable of wallowing in the cesspool of their own insecurities. We don’t need any additional help. And we’ve already thought of every basic tossed-off critique or insult you choose to leave on their comments page: it’s a part of this thing that we so euphemistically call the “artistic process.” If you still insist on trolling, at least keep it funny and original, so that we can get some fresh material out of it.
FREEDOM FROM BRINGING PLUS ONES TO OPEN MICS
Let’s be honest, comedians are not typically the sort of people who have a lot of friends. It’s our social anxiety—and the use of humour as a defence mechanism—that leads so many of us onto the open-mic stage in the first place. The friends we do have, they tend to evaporate once you’ve dragged them to one-too-many open-mics to see you perform (often, once is enough). Are we supposed to bring our moms as plus ones now? Say no to ‘bringer’ open-mics.
FREEDOM FROM BEING ASKED TO PERFORM AT HOUSE PARTIES
Just… don’t. Comedians are humans too. Often, very socially anxious humans. Please don’t treat them as your special toys that you show off to your other friends at a house party. Your house is not a stage. If you are paying for the service, fair enough. Otherwise, just let us get our party on in peace. Chances are, we’ll still spend the whole night making jokes to hide our awkwardness anyway.
FREEDOM FROM DOING GIGS FOR “EXPOSURE”
This is pretty simple. Less exposure, more paid gigs, please. With that money, comedians can figure out for themselves how far they want to be exposed. Don’t just pay the famous guys. Pay that guy who travels from a different city on a shady af bus, but still gets there on time, and cries after he tanks because he can’t afford a beer to drown his sorrows in. Pay for that guy’s beer.
FREEDOM FROM HECKLERS WHO BRING THEIR OWN JOKES
Not every comedian will get annoyed by hecklers, and we’ve seen some of them do a great job handling these situations. But it does break the flow of the performer, and there are only two ways to go about it from there—either they take the heckler down which bums out the heckler; or the heckler brings the room down which bums out everybody else. So just don’t do it all right? It’s a comedy gig not a free-for-all audition.
FREEDOM FROM CONDESCENDING DIVERSITY HIRES
Yeah, it does not look that smooth. People can tell. Every time you hire that one woman on a nine-man lineup, people can tell. It’s no fun feeling like a fluff hiring throughout the show. We appreciate the job, don’t try to take that away. What we don’t appreciate is the treatment later. And the testosterone overload in the green room. Or the AQI level. Fine, maybe that last one’s not on you.
FREEDOM FROM UNSOLICITED CAREER ADVICE
The comedy scene likes to shower you with advice almost as much as Donald Trump allegedly likes to be showered with… well, you can look that up. Newbies are especially prone to be advice-bombed. Most of that advice is good, and will help you improve your craft. Some of it, though, will bring you down for no good reason. If you can’t tell one from the other, then that ends up affecting your work. Can we get a little freedom from counter-productive reactions and patronising non-advice, please? Just buy the newbie a beer after their set, and remind them that the most important part of the job is to just get back on that stage, day after day.
FREEDOM FROM THE ALGORITHM
We know what the word means, but does anyone know what an algorithm really does? How it works? They’re such black boxes that even the engineers at Google or Meta struggle to explain how their algorithms work. And yet, you’ve got millions of musicians, comedians, influencers all over the world dancing to the tunes of the almighty algorithms. Can we just not? It’s reached the point that comedians are inventing new superstitions to try and please the algo-deity. Someone out there really needs to hear our prayers.
FREEDOM FROM CROSSED ARMS AUDIENCES
This is a free country, you should be able to do whatever you want with your arms at a comedy show. I get that. But if we go by comedy science (that’s totally a real thing), then you should know that the arms-crossed position physically restricts you from loosening up and having more fun. So just unfold those arms, maybe put them on the arm-rest or something? It’s for your own good. Don’t like it? Talk to the science guys.
FREEDOM FROM THE EASILY OFFENDED
We make a joke. They get offended. Makes us wonder, couldn’t we be better friends? Okay, enough poetry. The fact is that every time someone in the audience grabs their pitchforks over a little joke we made, it gets really scary, and it becomes really difficult to keep the career train running. How many times can comedians remind you that these are just jokes? Not enough times, apparently. We’ve already offended our parents and everybody we know by our very existence. The last thing we need is for the audience to come at us, too. Sure, sometimes a comedian genuinely does step over the line. But is it too much to ask for the benefit of the doubt before the FIRs come flying in? Comedy is an inexact science. No need to make it a mine-field as well.