Religion, fun side up

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In our country, religion is something that unites as well as divides people from time to time. Most often people fight over religious differences, but four stand-up comedians from different religious backgrounds decided to show the lighter side of their religious beliefs.
A comedy show, ‘Comedy In Diversity — Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isaai, sab ne mil kar hansi udaai’, was recently presented by four comic artistes — Nishant Tanwar (Joke Singh), Zakir Khan, Maheep Singh and Abish Mathew, in the capital to mark India’s 67th Independence Day anniversary.
Speaking about the concept of the show, Nishant Tanwar, founder of Joke, Joker, Jokest Comedy Company, mentions, “This show is about four stand-up comedians from different religions coming together on one stage to perform and make fun of everyone irrespective of their religion. We also indulge in riots but this one is called the laugh riot. There are things in every religion that irritate people. In my case, I would do certain things just to make my parents happy, even if I don’t believe in most of it. However, nobody talks about it. Basically, I just go on stage and talk about my life. I talk about stereotypes, myths and more such stuff that I see in my family.”
“The right way to do it was — hear it from the horse’s mouth. All of us talk about our own religion and faith. Things would be different if one of us jokes about the other’s religion. A very large part of the audience will have issues just because the person pointing out funny things about ‘A’ religion follows ‘B’ religion and we don’t do that,” he adds.
Stand-up comedian Maheep Singh mentions that ‘Comedy In Diversity’ is a show where comic artistes crack jokes about themselves, society and stereotypes in general associated with different religions. He says, “I think it was the diversity of our backgrounds that brought all of us together. All four of us represent different cultures/sections of our society that are absolutely in contrast to each other. So Nishant came up with this idea to bring this diversity to stage for the first time. As a comic artiste I am bound to look at the funnier side of things by design. Be it religion, social issues, politics etc. Normal people just bottle up the frustrations and comics just turn them into jokes and anecdotes. But beneath all those jokes, there is truth that touches people.”
Maheep adds, “Empathy is the most important thing in comedy. If people empathise with you, you can always make them laugh at the barest of truths. Of course we do not want to offend anybody’s religious sentiments. We are there to make people laugh after all. So we have to design jokes in a way that they do not offend anybody. But that does not stop us from making jokes on anything. Sarcasm and clever writing makes all the difference between a joke and an argument.”
The basic idea behind this act was to highlight that even though different people follow different religions, the basic upbringing in a middle-class household remains the same, reveals comedian Zakir Khan. “All four of us have different styles and we stick to it, but the common thread that unites us is comedy. At the end of the show we even have a common song. Besides Abish, who is a fabulous singer, none of us can sing to save our lives. But this song that all of us wrote together is the show-stopper. As a Muslim comedian, I poke fun at the Muslim population and other subjects that are sensitive per se. However, I am an observational humourist and I maintain a balance, so no one gets offended.”
Whereas comedian Abish Mathew, who believes in being a ‘grounded artiste’, mentions that his show was a learning experience for him. He says, “When we were writing the script of the show, we sat and talked about our own religions in detail. It was a great learning experience for all of us because there are so many things that we were unaware of about each other’s beliefs. Though there are sensitive issues, I make very generic jokes about these subjects to dispel the myths.”

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