Comedians have laced their humour with social commentary since time immemorial and issues such as race, politics and freedom of expression are often explored in stand-up comedy today.
As part of prominent Indian comedy collective All India Bakchod (AIB), Rohan Joshi and his fellow comedians Tanmay Bhat, Gursimran Khamba and Ashish Shakya constantly take digs at everything, from the antics of Bollywood actors to Indian politicians, through sketches and parodies on their YouTube page – which has almost three million subscribers – as well as with viral memes on their Facebook page, which boasts almost four million likes.
For instance, The AIB Knockout, a comic roast of actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh hosted by film-maker Karan Johar in 2015, went viral with more than four million views in less than four days.
There was a police report filed by conservative groups against All India Bakchod for allegedly using obscene and abusive language.
But Joshi, 34, feels that everyone – not just comedians – has the responsibility to be part of bigger dialogues on serious issues.
“Sure, a comedian can talk to 200 to 300 people at any one time, but it’s just as important for you at the dinner table to stand up for somebody’s rights and change the minds of the six people sitting there. You don’t know what effect that could have,” he says over the telephone to The Straits Times from Mumbai.
BOOK IT/ LOL STARS FEATURING ROHAN JOSHI
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Yet, he is cautious about expectations of comedians.
“I’m also wary of this responsibility being placed on us as comedians. My priority is still to make people laugh,” he says.
“I’ve been given a stage and a microphone, not a pulpit, and I have to respect that.”
He will be returning to Singapore for a solo stand-up comedy show next month where he hopes to test out new material.
” It’s all material that’s going to be part of a larger tour or an upcoming stand-up special, hopefully. I’m excited to be back,” he says.
1 The attention spans of audiences are so short these days. Do you feel the need to resort to tools such as audio-visual elements like American comedian Hasan Minhaj did in his stand-up comedy special on Netflix?
This show that I’m bringing to Singapore has no media. I enjoy watching comedians use it, but I don’t think it’s a necessary addition.
I completely respect artists who use every medium at their disposal to get a joke across because one of the biggest rules of comedy and writing, in general, is “show, don’t tell”.
Our culture, in general, is becoming way more visual, but I think the nuance here is that: Is it a gimmick or is it organic?
What Minhaj and Bo Burnham, who uses music, are doing is adding emotion and colour to the story they’re trying to tell, which is cool.
2 Speaking of streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, getting a stand-up special seems to be de rigueur. Is that a priority for you?
Yes and no. It’s something that I would like to do in the short term, in the next 12 to 18 months.
But in terms of reach, that’s not a big priority because I’m very fortunate to already have the All India Bakchod network and our subscribers from around the world on YouTube and likes on our Facebook page.
Right now, it’s more fun to create content, whether it is sketches or videos or shows.
3 You have played several shows in Singapore over the years. What do you make of the audience in Singapore compared with those in India?
I haven’t found a qualitative difference; they laugh just as hard.
But sometimes, I have to be careful with the references I make because certain Indian references tend to go very deep or are very specific nuances of everyday Indian life. Then I have to rework that information to contextualise it for the audience.
4 All India Bakchod has gotten into trouble with the Indian authorities before over controversial material. How far are you going to take it in Singapore?
I have no interest in going to prison on international soil (laughs). But I’ve found that Singapore audiences are quite open-minded and accepting of viewpoints.
I’m not going to hold back, but at the same time, I’m not going to be needlessly provocative.
5 How different is it being on stage with the boys from All India Bakchod and doing your solo stand-up show?
When we’re on stage together, you have the security of having another person. I’m not saying you fake it, but it gives you a little more licence to fail.
You know that if you drop the ball, there are three other people to pick it up and work the audience.
When you’re on stage alone, it’s all you and that security blanket is taken away.
It’s terrifying, but it’s also exhilarating because it reminds you why you got on stage in the first place.
6 When can we expect new material from All India Bakchod?
We continue to release content on our social channels all the time, but longer form content is going to start debuting in the middle of this year.
There should be more announcements soon.
7 You had your film debut in Bollywood film Baar Baar Dekho in 2016 alongside Sidharth Malhotra and Katrina Kaif. Are movies something you are keen to explore more in future?
Honestly, it’s not a priority. If there was a fun part, I’d be happy to do it. But it’s not something I’ll actively pursue, especially because I have an extremely full and busy schedule already.
The first metric I have is: “Is this legitimately worth my time?”
And second is: “Am I going to have fun doing this?”
These metrics have served me very well so far so I’m going to keep using them.
8 How would you like to be remembered?
That is a question for people way better than me. But if I can be remembered as someone who can make your day a little better, I’ll take it.