It’s been a rough weekend for the Indian comedy community. Comedian Agrima Joshua was attacked by an online mob—encouraged by politicians and even local news channels—for a year-old joke. Harassment followed, a comedy venue in Mumbai was vandalised, a call for her arrest became a viral hashtag, and rape and death threats came swiftly after. Joshua immediately took down her video (at 2 million+ views) from YouTube, and issued both a written and a video apology addressed to those whose sentiments had been hurt.
This is the latest in a row of targeted attacks against women in Indian comedy and the creator community over the last few months, including but unfortunately not restricted to Supriya Joshi and Kusha Kapila.
For a community that doesn’t speak up often enough for fear of coming under anyone’s radar for exactly these reasons, this weekend was different. There was anger, outrage, tears, and a coming together of not only comedians across generations but also the media and members of the film fraternity who lent their support to amplify the cause and demand action from relevant authorities.
Here are some comedians who went public with their reactions.
Vir Das | #SabkoSorryOkBye
The one in which Vir Das humbly apologises for his jokes. All the jokes he’s ever done, all the jokes he hasn’t made yet. Do this first thing in the morning, every single morning, he advises his peers.
Azeem Banatwalla | Why Comedians Apologise
The one in which Azeem Banatwalla patiently explains why comedians apologise. “Every time people in this country are offended by a joke, it’s not a ‘due process’ situation…” he begins, explaining that the threats are very real, and also puts their families under huge amounts of stress. And so, he says matter of factly, “we’ll cut our losses, we’ll eat sh*t, and we’ll try and come back again.”
Gaurav Kapoor | ‘Great Time To Do Comedy’
Gaurav Kapoor swapped out his scheduled show promotion for the day for this expression of grief, frustration and helplessness at the situation, echoing the sentiments of a large part of the community who shared it widely on their own timelines. Reacting to rape threats that were lauded in their respective comments sections, he breaks down halfway through a rage-filled rant to ask, “Khulle mein rape threat…? Kya karein? Comedy karein ya na karein? Nikal jaatein hai na chhod ke.”
TW: Foul language
Abish Mathew | Calling for Vigilantes
“All of us can be united in empathy,” Abish Mathew appeals to his followers in his call for ‘vigilantes’, urging fans to “go to every artist’s page/DMs/social media and stamp them with as many positive messages as possible […] to overwhelm the amount of negativity […] because it takes a huge psychological toll.” And to amplify messages like these so that these voices can be louder than anyone’s agenda.
Nishant Suri | Factually Correct Joke
Nishant Suri has identified the problem—what is the need for comedians to always go after sensitive topics, he asks, before listing everyone his colleagues have managed to offend in the past: DJs, air hostesses, doctors, motorbike enthusiasts. In this video, he presents his solution.
Aka, the one in which Nishant Suri cracks a factually correct haathi-cheenti joke, and we have to hold back from filing an official complaint on behalf of ants everywhere, dead or alive.
Daniel Fernandes | Rape Threats Are Not Okay
Daniel Fernandes resurfaced a video of his comedy bit on rape threats from March 2017, “which is sadly still relevant today”. He covers freedom of expression, reminds his audience that threatening a woman with rape is a crime, and that “for communication to be effective, ideas have to come from the same place.”
Sahil Shah | We Are In This Together
Sahil Shah was going to release a new video, but stopped short because “I want to support the people who are going through trouble right now and (2) I don’t know who will get offended,” he says. “My video is on chappals, CHAPPALS, but I’m still afraid that there’s going to be some moron sitting in his car going Jai Hind doston…”. His message concludes with an appeal to fans/audience to actively show their support.