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Different Folks, Different Jokes

06/04/2015 8:13 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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MUMBAI, MAHARASHTRA - AUGUST 13: Audiences react to stand-up comedians performing an act called Aisi-Taisi Democracy at the Canvas Laugh Club at The Palladium Mall in Lower Parel, Mumbai, India on August 13, 2014 (Photo by Karen Dias/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

My son was laughing at a video where people on the beach get showered with bird poop after some teens fed laxative-laced chips to unsuspecting sea gulls.

"What's funny?" I asked. "Think of the dehydrated birds!"

"C'mon. It's only a prank. Don't take it seriously."

Going by Karan Johar's advice -- "Not your cup of tea, don't drink it" -- I stopped watching. But a comment on the video stayed with me: "Brilliant. I'm going to try this."

I felt like a preachy mother who doesn't know how to laugh. Because "funny" videos showing a toddler flying off the swing and falling with a thud also appall me. Does age have something to do with humour? As Aamir Khan said, "I am not a 14-year-old that I will be impressed at cuss words."

Whether it was Bollywood or Twitter, the jokes at the AIB Knockout confused many and divided many more. As it happens, when a controversy hatches, some opinionated voices on the internet begin to shout so loudly that they refuse to listen to reasoned disagreement. Consequently, the rational voices, afraid of being lynched on social media, emerge after some sanity is restored. Funny, but the opposite happens in real life where religious moral minders are the first to flex their muscles.

"Was I supporting the roast only to protect the freedom of speech? Did I really enjoy the show?"

So Aamir is a hypocrite when he objects to the roast and Ranbir is "cool" because he was all for it. Twinkle is even better when she wrote in a column that she is more offended by Arnab Goswami than the AIB roast. Good. But what if Ranbir was pandering to his young fans? Would Ranbir approve if his family was the butt of jokes? What if Aamir was simply taking a stand on behalf of his friend Salman? Would Twinkle's column be hailed if Mrs. Funnybones had blasted the roast? This not to say that they are liars. But how many of us are truly honest when we take a public stand?

On the personal front, confusion reigned supreme.

Was I supporting the roast only to protect the freedom of speech? Did I really enjoy the show?

Would English-speaking activists approve if Hindi-speaking artists were roasting Bhojpuri film stars in a similar crude fashion?

But again, why can't adults watch the show like an adult film? Maybe because popular trends are a mirror of society. Wouldn't I feel squeamish if my son were to use the same language and narrate offensive jokes?

The truth perhaps lies somewhere in the grey crevices. Or perhaps, there is no absolute truth at all. Different cultures, ages and mindsets have different references when it comes to humour. Humour is subjective. What is funny for one is silly for another. Whatever we make of this new trend in offensive, crude, stand-up comedy, the thin line dividing abuse and humour is likely to land us on a slippery slope.

"[L]et's not judge people for having different funny bones. Let's be more tolerant in understanding that any alternate view comes from a different culture, a different mindset, a different approach, a different reference, a different vantage point and a different upbringing."

"Offense is never given, it's taken. If you are offended walk away," is the gist of what AIB supporters say. Well said. But how many of us are mature enough to walk away when we are the butt of a cuss-laden joke? So we come back to the clichéd "Freedom of Expression". Should there be a limit? If yes, who decides the limit? Self, State or Society? I don't know the answer but what I do know is that we will continue to debate the limits of "freedom of expression" for the next several years. As for me, freedom of expression comes with some sense of responsibility. I cannot listen to loud music at midnight and expect my neighbours to walk away.

So at the cost of sounding sugary sweet like Sooraj Barjatya, let's not judge people for having different funny bones. Let's be more tolerant in understanding that any alternate view comes from a different culture, a different mindset, a different approach, a different reference, a different vantage point and a different upbringing. Why is it so difficult to agree to disagree without judging people or calling names? After all, different folks, different jokes.

This post originally appeared on Freebird

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