Comedy knows no caste: Nation and caste in English political stand-up comedy on the Internet in India

Date

2021-08-18

Authors

Ganguly, Shreyashi

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Abstract

Scholarship on humour in the Indian context has hardly looked at how performative humour or comedy intersects with the different axes of social stratification to impact caste groups perched at a disadvantageous position. And although English stand-up comedy in the country is gradually being recognized as an important facet of contemporary popular culture, efforts to see how this genre of performative humour aids and abets caste discrimination is still largely missing in the academic discourse. This study is an attempt to address this knowledge gap. By considering English political stand-up comedy as a subgenre of the wider performative art form, it aims to determine how comedians use political humour to critique the dominant understanding of the nation that the Indian State is trying to peddle to its citizens, and more importantly, if caste forms an analytical tool that informs their critique. This study uses a qualitative discourse analysis methodology to study precisely how caste finds representation in the comedians’ critique of the nation. It selects six political stand-up comedians and examines all of their stand-up comedy clips available for viewing on YouTube. By using a range of theoretical concepts, this research attempts to recognize the important connection between caste and political humour in India. It finds that English political stand-up comedy in India is anti-ritualistic as well as hegemonic. Comedians raise difficult, politically charged topics, normalize the critique of important political developments through humour and in doing this, negotiate the boundaries of free speech. They promote new understandings about the nation that is in stark contrast to the dominant ideology. But at the same time, the domain of English political stand-up comedy is not representative of caste questions. Comedians hardly ever talk about caste, and even when they do, it is mostly a passing remark or a hurried reference. Caste is also not represented in the comedians’ identities since most of them hail from upper caste backgrounds. English political stand-up comedy, then, in spite of its democratizing potential, reflects and reproduces the caste bias inherent in the broader national public sphere. These research findings prompt a discussion on caste in popular culture and institute political humour as a legitimate entry point into the sociological analysis of Indian society.

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Keywords

India, Internet, caste, nation, humour, English political stand-up comedy

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