This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Nissim Mannathukkaren. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Comedy Nights With Kapil: It’s No Laughing Matter

More from Nissim Mannathukkaren

By Nissim Mannathukkaren

I am proud that, like Mark Twain, I have been able to use humour to lessen people’s hatred.” — African-American comedian Richard Pryor

If we are to go by TRP ratings, it would seem that the nation has not laughed as hard as it has in the last two years, since “Comedy Nights With Kapil” — India’s highest-rated non-fiction television show, hosted by Kapil Sharma, India’s “funniest man” — first aired. One of Mr. Sharma’s main strengths, hailing from a non-elite and non-English-speaking background, is apparently that he “speaks the language of the nation“. This language, which has captured the imagination of everyone, ordinary television audiences and celebrities alike, is precisely what is problematic: it is a language so regressive that it reflects and perpetuates all kinds of discriminations, from caste and class to sex and race.

kapil sharma

Mr. Sharma’s rise in just a couple of years has been nothing but stratospheric: from a mere television face, he has become one of the two or three most admired personalities as well as top marketable commodities in India. There is hardly any celebrity in the country who has not appeared or has not wanted to appear on his show.

Underbelly Of Pop Culture

But behind the excellent comic timing and razor-sharp repartee of Mr. Sharma lies the ugly face of Indian popular culture. A show that was supposed to be a “family show”, with substantial appeal to children and the youth, thrives instead on blatant misogyny. The many female characters played by men form the base of the show. This is not done with any intention to break gender norms, but to provide laughs through mocking and exaggerated portrayals of femininity. White women, as elsewhere in Bollywood, are the “items” that are constantly used, despite having no relationship to the narrative. In one episode, former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar is ushered onto the stage by white dancers, purportedly because there were no cheerleaders during his cricketing days!

The references to gori ladkiyaan (white women) are unabashed in their objectification. Of course, even the other women (including the character of Mr. Sharma’s wife), are seen merely as a sum of their physical appearances, praised or damned on that basis. Therefore, it is not surprising that obesity and other supposed negative features of physical beauty (also of men) become the pegs to hang some of the major set pieces of the show. And it is a stark irony that every programme ends with the call: auraton ki izzat karein (respect women)!

From celebrating beauty and white complexion, it is only a logical step to show egregious racism or casteism, with references to people as Zambia ke bhikari (beggars from Zambia) and Afriki bhaloo (African bear). Sri Lankans also become the butt of jokes because they are “obviously” inferior to us. While the looks of actors Rajpal Yadav and Rajkumar Yadav (now Rajkummar Rao) are made fun of, the royal background of a Saif Ali Khan is fawned upon. South India, too, becomes one of the exotic nether regions in the show. Thus Mr. Sharma asks Hema Malini in one episode whether her husband is able to understand “South Indian” (I guess he meant Tamil).

What is interesting is that despite the show being set in a lower middle class household, the reaffirmation of class hierarchies is strong. There is constant disparaging of domestic help and lower classes: Do takke ka naukar (worthless servant) is an echoing refrain. The domestic help is asked to know his/her place. Needless to say, all this is done humorously.

Reproducing Stereotypes

There is pervasive consensus that laughter and humour are always innocent and benign — Mr. Sharma asks the audience to just keep everything aside and laugh uninhibitedly. This is unfortunately not correct as the Charlie Hebdo shootings tragically demonstrated. As author Paul Michael Johnson aptly puts it, “the racial and socio-economic privilege of the dominant majority is often coterminous with the privilege of laughing“. This is clearly demonstrated in the laughing at and not laughing with all those who are not considered equal to the dominant voice in ‘Comedy Nights’.

Of course, this does not mean that there is a deliberate attempt to laugh at those who are supposedly inferior. It is, however, how dominant consciousness works, almost unconsciously reproducing stereotypes. That is why we have even the sections of people who are objects of the laughter, such as women and working classes, reproduce these hierarchies by participating in their own denigration through humour.

Scholar John Morreall, author of ‘Taking Laughter Seriously’, has argued that for centuries, Western thinking — ancient Greek philosophers, Christianity, early modern theorists — greatly looked down upon laughter. As Plato, one of the prominent critics of laughter, noted, “when one abandons himself to violent laughter, his condition provokes a violent reaction“. According to Mr. Morreall, the reason for this negative evaluation of humour was that it involved laughing at others; that it was motivated by malice, mockery, derision and feelings of superiority. Thus, such humour was morally repugnant.

As we all know, this is not the only reason we laugh; we can also take delight in raucous humour that is not directed at mocking inferiors. There are equally great philosophical traditions that affirm this and the necessity of humour as the basis of human social existence. The problem is that humour in much of Indian mass media is about laughing at others.

This does not mean that shows like ‘Comedy Nights’ do not contain elements that are not scornful, or that they do not subvert some dominant norms. They do, especially with characters like the grandmother, a sexualised figure with an alcohol problem. But overwhelmingly, Mr. Sharma and the show, termed as a “milestone for Indian comedy on television“, are purveyors of a comedy that debases others. It is worrying to see a prominent woman Bollywood actor mocking gays and transgenders on ‘Comedy Nights’, especially when the larger popular culture is suffused with the values of dominant castes, class and gender. As the AIB roast showed, even as a few social conservatisms with regard to sex are challenged, the more dangerous forms of misogyny, racism, and casteism are affirmed popularly.

More critically, the popularity of shows like that of Mr. Sharma’s is soaring at a time when the space for satire and humour that can challenge dominant thought is decreasing, and the “ban culture” is spreading its tentacles. Whether it is Mr. Sharma or AIB, the one form of humour that has been a potent weapon in every society of the world — laughing at the political ruling class — is completely absent; politics is taboo. When the social realm acquiesces so easily to the political establishment, the forces of violent majoritarianism run amok.

Where in Indian popular culture is a figure like Richard Pryor, who used humour to speak the unspeakable, and to show America its ugly face of racism and the colossal inequities built on it? And for how much longer will we celebrate the “plebeian” humour of a Kapil Sharma and refuse to look into the mirror to see the ugliness of our own society?

Nissim Mannathukkaren is with Dalhousie University, Canada. E-mail:

Note: This article was originally published here on The Hindu.

You must be to comment.
  1. Abhismita Sen

    CNWK has always been a piece of misogynist shit, sad that it took people, two years to realize and pen it down

More from Nissim Mannathukkaren

Similar Posts

By Arun Kr Jaiswal

By Kritika Nautiyal

By Jeet

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below