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The pursuit of mediocrity

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Author of "Twisted Threads", a satirical book on power, politics, and pollution set in the post-2014 era about connected machines and disconnected ideologies.

A typical day would start with waking up groggily trying to remember what happened the previous night, ambling down the bedroom towards the window, swooshing back the heavy curtains, and getting shocked by the brightness of the late morning Sun. “$^@%!” After that, opening the refrigerator aimlessly and finding it almost empty. “&%#@!” A moment later, switching on the TV and browsing the shows one after the other. “#&^%@&^%#$!”

If this is not how a typical day starts, then I would be curious to know what would explain the sheer level of mediocrity that one finds in stand-up comedies nowadays, at least from the ones who are thrust upon us as if they were the veritable experts and this is some high art. I am sure that out there, somewhere in this world instead of a parallel one, are stand-up comedians who are provocative, irreverent, rebellious, boisterous, but also, the reason for writing this article, somewhat intelligent and actually funny. Do you know anyone like that?

We know about their staid arguments on freedom of expression, and how it is also the freedom to offend, but that justification carries as much conviction as a statement from the Chinese media on Tibet. After all, when considering the freedom to grovel an apology, and the freedom to avoid a disjointed head, the remaining choice is not exactly rocket science. We know about their platitudinous claims that their art is showing a mirror to the oppressing majority, a mirror to the ruling government, because if not them, then who? If only politicians, journalists, activists, directors, actors, authors, poets, musicians, singers, painters, economists, and assorted artists joined them to show the mirror, they would not have to stand up all by themselves.

What exactly do their sponsors and promoters, who want to convince us on every digital platform that these are the very best, find in them to spend a portion of the billion that they have set aside? Do the promoters look at their audition tapes to find out whether their saffron allergy is superficial or spasmodic, and then decide whether they would be promoted on a local newspaper or on Netflix? Why, with all that can be talked about in this whole wide world, does the comedy, if that is what they want to call it, revolve around, for example, bovine micturition? I am not here to talk about equivalences, such as why ridicule bovine micturition but not divine parturition, for equivalences never work in an asymmetric world. Ironically, the more the asymmetry, the greater the equivalence – so the moment you are tempted to use an equivalence, stop yourself and ask what asymmetry is being hidden from you. Equivalence only leads to distortion of already dubious moral high grounds, such as secularism.

Are there not topics that can be lampooned and satirized without the need to invoke the Constitution? How bad is your comedy that you have to invoke the Constitution anyway? Could we not have one on the sad life of a rice bag as it changes hands; or a hebdomadal series on the final thoughts of goats as they bleed, I mean, bleat slowly; or the meaningless lyrics in songs written by dubious atheists; or the secret loves, or lives, of directors whose sons love to show around places to foreigners; or the travails of stand-up comedians in a land where they can be made to disappear like a blob of butter in a Surti omelet, if the idea is to make the comedy a tad darker?

A part of the blame also lies with the trigger-happy audience that guffaws and applauds at every mite of mediocrity. It is possible that half of them are drunk on more and more rounds, and the other half is drunk on dubious moral high grounds, such as secularism. However, it is just more likely that we have a fairly low threshold for accepting what we get instead of demanding something much better. I once attended an informal stand-up act where the opening line of the comedian was asking how many of us were from Bangalore, and when he found out that about half of us were, proceeded to talk about traffic jams. I was glad that I had not paid any money myself to listen to someone from Bangalore talk about traffic jams. I mean, what is Twitter for? If, instead of Bangalore, had we said Chennai, I am sure he would have talked about the auto drivers and danced in a lungi. I must say that this was still funny compared to what passes off as comedy from the more well-known characters who pop up everywhere nowadays like pimples on a hormonal teenager. I have rarely seen such levels of creativity except with politicians, journalists, activists, directors, actors, authors, poets, musicians, singers, painters, economists, and assorted artists who work hard in showing the mirror to the oppressing majority, to the ruling government.


The pursuit of such mediocrity, both by the torchbearers of this high art, whatever the meaning of high that we want to take, and those who support them, is baffling, to say the least. The mediocrity is only exacerbated by the single-minded hatred to anything saffron which, until now, they were able to wear like a crown on their bloated heads, strutting around the stage like a half-drunk pigeon that is paid to think that it is a peacock. Crowns, however, make for bad armors.

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Author of "Twisted Threads", a satirical book on power, politics, and pollution set in the post-2014 era about connected machines and disconnected ideologies.

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