Kunal Kamra is trending (again) on Twitter. And no, it isn’t political. You’d think that in a week that also has uneasy coronavirus updates, an escalating migrant crisis, incoming locust swarms, Bengal’s cyclone, Lockdown #673, political tensions, earthquakes in Delhi, monkeys running off with Covid-test samples in Meerut, and Bejan Daruwalla’s passing, we might be running low on processing power? Wrong. This week, the internet’s attention stretched itself thin to also track an ongoing war between TikTok and YouTube stars (believe it). And then Kamra threw his hat into the ring. A day later, Kusha Kapila followed suit, and her response is now on almost every timeline on Instagram. But we’ll come back to this in a minute.
Hua Kya? A Quick Recap
Members of both the YouTube and TikTok communities in India are in a very public diss battle. YouTubers have been railing against TikTokers, calling their content “cringe”. TikTokers are accusing YouTubers of being classist, and copying their material on their own channels. TL;DR—they each think the other sucks. But things escalated and got ugly quick.
Probably because everyone’s calling their diss videos a “roast”, but missing a crucial point—a traditional roast is always executed with everyone’s consent involved, in a space that feels safe because everyone knows what’s coming, and trust has been established that there is no intent to actually harm another. Here, we just have…well, a lot of trash talking.
A few weeks ago, YouTuber Elvish Yadav put out a video “roasting” the TikTok community. Among those who got “roasted” were other creators from Tik Tok star Amir Siddiqui’s gang (Team Nawab). So Siddiqui put out a counter, taking down the YouTube community. Several YouTubers responded (Lakshay Chaudhury, Triggered Insaan), but the one that tore through the internet was YouTuber Carry Minati’s video, called YouTube vs TikTok: The End, hoping to end what, turns out, was only the beginning.
He hit a million likes in two hours and 27 million views with 6.2 million likes in 24 hours. His channel also landed 1.5 million new subscribers. These numbers are important because these were new records for an Indian creator on YouTube. Meanwhile, TikTok’s rating on the PlayStore nosedived from 4.8 to 1.2 in a matter of days thanks to mass downvoting by Minati loyalists. Despite the video’s wild popularity (allegedly at a final 70 million views), CarryMinati received severe backlash for classist and homophobic remarks through the course of his diatribe, and YouTube pulled the video down for violating community guidelines. Both Elvish and CarryMinati’s videos remain unavailable online at the time of publishing.
Fans haven’t been able to look up from their screens in about 21 days.
Ok, So Then?
So then Kunal Kamra kept waiting for members of the standup community to respond. No one said a word about it. “Ab yeh bhi mujhe hi karna padega?!” Kamra sighed in exasperation on a call with DeadAnt.
Two days later, the #KunalKamraRoast was shuffling through the top three trending topics on Twitter.
“The idea of roasting originates from insult comedy, and I wish that somebody from a place of authority, who knows the art form, would have engaged with this and replied in their own way. I would love to hear what others have to say about this,” he says.
Kamra’s video called out CarryMinati’s problematic piece for cyber bullying, for making fun of those poorer than him, and for referring to Siddiqui repeatedly as “beti” and “mithai”. He used the same roast format to get his point across, simultaneously schooling Carry (and others, including YouTuber Lakshay Chaudhury whose video lashed out at “mazdoors and mochis” on TikTok and how they’re ruining the creator pool with their very existence) on how a roast actually works. “Roast karne ke liye joke writing aani chahiye, jor se ‘bhosadika’ bolna roast karna nahin hota, nahin toh India ke har traffic jam pe YouTube ka FanFest ho raha hota.”
He also answers the question everyone is debating with one of his own. “The most liked video on Indian YouTube had to be about TikTok—who do you think is winning?”
“It is way beneath my dignity to engage with this nonsense, but no one else was doing it,” Kamra told DeadAnt, explaining why he thought it was important to respond in the first place. “If you cannot see a communal undertone in the roast that CarryMinati did, the communal undertones in the things people supporting him are saying, then you are just blind. He himself is too dumb to realise it.”
Or just too young? CarryMinati himself is 20 years old, the others are also of a similar age. They’re bound to mess up, and then (hopefully) learn from it? “If he’s old enough to have 20 million subscribers, he’s old enough for the rest of it too,” Kamra counters, referring to the influence YouTubers now wield over equally young captive audiences and the responsibility that comes with that.
Kamra’s video has since received more dislikes than likes (an anomaly), which means CarryMinati’s army is on the job. But of course this has only amused Kamra.
“My job here is clearly done,” he says. “I said what I have to. Now you’ll never hear me talking about CarryMinati or indulging with this YouTube community cesspool again.”
A few weeks ago, YouTuber Lakshay Chaudhary and Elvish Yadav had also put out videos saying women aren’t funny, accusing female creators of “pseudo-feminism” and using the “woman card” to get ahead—but that’s really putting it politely. They took vicious aim at several women from the standup comedy scene as well as at YouTube creators, including Kusha Kapila, who put out her response yesterday.
She took a completely different route from Kamra to get her point across, calling the exercise an UnRoast, in which she decided to go through every one of the accusations thrown her way patiently, acknowledging and apologising for a couple of instances where she herself may have promoted misandry without meaning to. Where the rest of us would’ve popped a blood vessel or 50, Kapila laid her smackdown with unnerving cool.
Why did she even bother? “There are kids watching it!” she exclaims. “They’re actually kids who are transitioning from what they’ve known their whole lives, to (un)learning. Ten years ago, we all laughed at jokes based in fat-shaming or sexuality-shaming, right? We’re all guilty. And when you take this road where you’re roasting them and you assume a higher authority, saying I’m better than them, then that’s not something I felt I was even qualified to do.”
What she tried to do through her video was take the time to help them understand things “the way others have helped me in the past to understand.”
“I spoke to Elvish before putting out the video, to tell him I’m putting this out, I have not said anything against you. And we talked about how we don’t even think fans are abusing us particularly. Both him and I appealed to people “please do not abuse the creator”, but they did it anyway. So then how would me making a video attacking them about attacking me make sense? What is the point of me being the adult in this equation?”
The response to Kapila’s approach was fascinating. There are over 10,000 comments on her video thanking her for helping them understand things better. Like Kamra, Kapila also feels like she was able to accomplish what she was trying to do. “There was a comment by this guy who said ‘I came here to dislike this video but main like karke jaa raha hoon because you made some good points’.” And that was the idea! I really think discourse and conversation can bring change.”
What about responses from the YouTubers in question themselves? “Elvish and I spoke; Lakshay I will not speak to, but apparently in some of his subsequent videos, he’s spoken about how he’s going to try and change as a creator and take responsibility for what he puts out.” The response has made her more hopeful. “I’m totally going to make more of this—it’s always going to be an UnRoast, because a roast is consensual. (And when it’s consensual, it’s so much more fun! I got roasted just last night on a show. It’s when there’s no consent or context that the ship sinks.)”
“I really liked and appreciated Kusha’s video,” says Kamra. “She’s trying to explain her point-of-view; it is articulate and is trying to engage with the other side further than I am. In my case, I don’t want to engage with the other side. I want to outrage, and let them all go beserk in the comments section. But I appreciate how Kusha’s also trying to sort out her differences with The Other. She’s very calm and articulate—I don’t have those skills only!”