A few thoughts on the NLU Delhi comedius interruptus Incident.

Okay.

a) I apologize for the appalling headline. I was just trying to illustrate that humor is not for everyone.

b) This is going to be a short post, because those International Dispute Resolution readings are not going to do themselves.

c) Frankly, I know everyone wants to throw in their two cents about this incident, and you are entitled to roll your eyes at one more such effort. But as I have said before, my blog my rules.

Now, what is this about? Abish Matthew, an Indian comedian, went to N.L.U Delhi (a law school) to perform a stand up act. He made certain jokes about Malayali men beating their wives, the appearance of a female politician and women’s ability to drive (or so the news says).  Now some students were offended by his humor, and walked out of the venue. Subsequently, they returned holding a placard that said ‘Get out, sexist pig’ and showed their middle finger to the comedian. They continued to heckle the comedian till he decided to cut his act shot. After this the irate audience turned on the women, pushing them and commenting on their clothes. Now I was not there (and this is second hand news from newspapers), so if I have got any of the details wrong, please correct me.

Well there are really three things I want to say:

1)Is Sexist humor okay? 

Personally, I don’t like that brand of humor at all. I think that it is lazy. Why would a comedian want to hide behind stale stereotypes to evoke laughter? I know a lot of great comedians who don’t have to do that (such as John Oliver and Jon Stewart). Secondly, one must remember that behind sexism, lies a sea of historical discrimination and sometimes violence. Look at domestic violence. Having seen it happen to neighbors and on the street (and having tried to intervene) and spoken to survivors of violence, I don’t find it an appropriate subject. This is especially because, if I were a comedian, I would think about what would happen to a victim of domestic violence, if she were sitting in that audience.

However, I am not a comedian, nor am I very funny (though I have my moments). I cannot imagine what is going through his head, but  Mr Matthew is young, and is developing his art (or his ‘voice’ as the hip people say). He must be trying to come up with stuff to keep things edgy and have some element of shock value in his act. Comedians often do that. Sometimes, they use their humor to throw light on a subject that bothers them (like child sexual abuse, a war, corruption). I am willing to believe that this might be what Mr Matthew was trying to do.

Now, it is up to him to ask himself whether not making fun of domestic violence takes something away from his jokes? Does he have an obligation to respect the sensibilities of victims who might be in the audience? And, whether his humor will be prone to misinterpretation. That is for him to figure out, because if comedy is art then you cannot expect an artist to be dishonest with it. He must display what he feels is the most authentic expression of his world view.

2) Was the protest wrong?

Well, in my opinion, no. Just as Mr Matthew has the freedom to decide the best comedic expression of his world view, the students who protested have a right to express their anger and outrage at the humor. That is the way democratic life is supposed to be. The girls did not vandalize the venue. They did not resort to violence. They did not take support of the coercive mechanism of the state. All they did was hold a placard, and show the middle finger. Frankly, showing the middle finger and using the f-word, is the sort of stuff A.I.B (which Mr Matthew is allied with?) has been very gung-ho about protecting. Though a lot of their humor is political satire, it is also fully of hip thrusts and ball licking gestures. (*graphic image alert* :\) So yeah, if we love freedom of expression, then we should support both freedoms. Now if Mr Matthew wanted to make a point, he could have powered through the act. The girls could have gone on holding their placard and heckling. You don’t like that? Well suppressing those voices, leads to the vandals and the vigilantes being born.

It should also be remembered that freedom of expression is not freedom from all consequences. It is merely freedom from violence and coercive mechanisms of the state. But people who don’t agree with you are free to heckle you or hold placards.  I think I much prefer their brand of protest to the lawsuits of a certain Dinanath Batra, the F.I.Rs lodged against the A.I.B roast, as well as the vandalizing that various political parties do.

3) A small word to the girls who protested. (who may never read this)

I don’t know you. And I don’t know what your law school is like. But I know what a college experience is like and the crushing weight of conformism on all of us. If I was in that auditorium, I probably would just have walked out, and written about what offended me. Your method of protest is not something I have a natural affinity to. You chose what one might call a more ‘militant’ protest. But you did something. You stood up for your convictions, when you knew that there would be a backlash from your peers.

You cared enough about something, to stand up to an auditorium full of irate people.

For that. Thank you. 🙂

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