What is the right joke to make in India?

Mahima Kukreja
Dec 3, 2018 · 3 min read

A lot of people have a failed understanding of why some jokes are okay to make and why some aren’t. Is it convenience or is it something else, more logical. Let me help you.

In comedy, always punch-up. Never punch down. See where the power lies. We can make jokes about the powerful because after the joke, they still get to keep their power, livelihood and reputation. On the other hand, making jokes about marginalised groups — of their perceived “wrongful existence in society” only helps perpetuate hate and bigotry. They have enough of that already.

Look at the equation of the joke, the narrator and the subject, and see where the power resides. Making fun of an upper-caste rich man — sure. It’s not going to do harm them. Making fun of rape or rape victims — don’t do it. You strip power away from the survivor by making her survival a joke and also trivialising her trauma. Don’t hit those who have already taken enough hits.

Even within the marginalised LGBTQ+ community, let’s say a queer person decided to make fun of themselves or other fellow queer persons. Can they? Yes. They are in a unique position to. This is their lived experience. Always check who’s the narrator of the story. Is it okay for a cis, heterosexual person to make fun of gay men or transwomen? Hell no. You hold more power over them within the structural societal hierarchy, and this may have a terrible consequence for them.

See, when they tell the joke, they're reclaiming their power — their narrative, telling it how they want to tell. You, on the other hand, are “othering” them.

So, can a comic in India make harmless jokes about Hinduism? Yes. Hindus are the biggest and most powerful majority in India. They’re at the top of the pyramid. The jokes don’t strip them of power in any way. Tomorrow, their lives will go on as it is.

Is it okay for a comic to call Muslims terrorists in India as a joke? Maybe if they’re Muslim themselves. And owning their narrative. But I’m gonna say no otherwise. You see you reinforce the belief that leads to their ostracisation in society — leads to violence. We feed that fire of hate. It’s all about power and agency.

It’s not impossible to get this. Check for power. Check who the narrator is. So yes, I’m not a hypocrite for calling out a man who made fun of someone for being fat. Personal derogatory digs that take power away from her. You think she hasn’t been the butt of that joke all her life? This only further dehumanises her. Reducing her to being just another interchangeable fat person. It’s not the same when a comic makes fun of a majority and powerful collective. Please get the difference.

A comic should not have to go to jail for making harmless jokes or get bodily threatened. I will always stand up for their freedom of speech and expression. My only hope is that they always punch up.

Update: For a good comic, no topic is off limits. Once they know how to make the joke while not taking power away from the powerless, it’s all a laugh. Just think of what makes you feel good at the end of the day. If you feel it was the right joke to make, make it. Be kind. Be smart. Don’t go for the low-hanging fruit. Do better, both as a person and as a comic. And that goes for me too.

Mahima Kukreja

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i write about everything. mainly as a coping mechanism to living.