By pushing the envelope further in comedy, they are doing us a favor, and we need to stand by them

The age of Tanmay and what we can learn from the west The ability to laugh at ourselvesFile photo: Facebook/Tanmay Bhat
Blog Blog Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - 10:14

It fills one with despondency to even recount what is unfolding in front of our eyes with regards to l’áffaire Tanmay Bhat. Comedian Tanmay Bhat of All India Bakchod fame creates this awesome Snapchat video mocking Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar, and fans (or fanatics?) and Bollywood goes bat shit crazy. The sanctimony of near-failures like Celina Jaitley and Ritiesh Deshmukh calling Tanmay out for this is so frustrating that you want to punch them on their face, because of all places, the criticism emerged from within the creative industry. And then you realize they are not worth it.

What is even more frustrating, however, is our inability to laugh at ourselves. We are reverential towards our leaders and stars, and we take ourselves just too seriously.

As Tanmay’s ‘roasting’ was finding its way through social media over the weekend, I was couched in front of a TV scouring through American comedian Rich Hall’s documentaries on Youtube.

In his well-researched, insightful and yet uproariously funny documentaries on Texas and California, Rich Hall takes apart the myth-making of American pop culture, one by one with surgical precision. And all along the way, he destroys some of the most revered personalities of American history, without any apology and pulling no punches. As he traces the oil-laden history of Texas, he brings out the racism and delusional ego of Texans. He mocks California’s Silicon Valley and its robber-barons of the past – including Stanford - calling them what they were, brilliant conmen. He rips through the ‘heroism’ of Americans, busting the myths constructed to keep them up on a pedestal.

As I was looking through Hall’s videos, I stumbled upon an episode of BBC’s ‘Have I got news for you’, featuring Hall. And the show – aired on BBC sometime in 2001 – starts like this, “Good evening and a particularly warm welcome to the new chairman of BBC Gavin Davis who denies he is one of Tony’s cronies despite the fact that he has given thousands of pounds to new labour, his wife runs Gordon Brown’s private office…. and we look to our next slot on BBC Choice next week.”

A show, aired on the BBC, starts with welcoming BBC’s new top boss by mocking his denial of controversial political connections, and people laugh their way through it - that’s free speech. It does not end here. The amount of derision, mockery and insult which the Queen and her family face on TV is something to admire and learn from.

In US politics too, it is their leaders’ ability to laugh at themselves which sets them apart at the world stage, and there is no better illustration of that than the yearly White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where the President of the United States, the most powerful man on the stage, mocks himself and laughs at the jokes made at his expense by some of the most ruthless comedians in the country, all while sharing a meal with them. Watch how Bush junior takes his own case during the event in 2008.

Even in the ongoing presidential race in the US, the pitiless criticism and mockery of politicians happens with the politicians participating in it themselves. Watch Donald Trump sit through several minutes of Jimmy Fallon mocking him, and participating in his own roast.

Despite our hypocritical sanctimony and inability to see ourselves for what we really are, it is commendable that Tanmay and gang are trying to take forward the work of Shekhar Suman and Cyrus Broacha in reducing our revered figures to rubble. I don’t really like all of AIB’s work – their attempt at a Jon Stewart/John Oliver on Hotstar is rather embarrassing – but by pushing the envelope further in comedy roasts, they are doing us a favor, and we need to stand by them.

And before you leave, here is a message to a few among us