Aditi Mittal, Ashutosh Dabke on performing adult comedy in the time of censorship - Firstpost
Firstpost

Aditi Mittal, Ashutosh Dabke on performing adult comedy in the time of censorship


You might be able to censor out references to sex and sexuality on television or in films — even in plays. But what about stand-up comedy?

Popular stand-up comedians Ashutosh Dabke and Aditi Mittal are well-placed to answer that question.

Their acts, and audiences, are very different: Aditi performs her routine in English, Ashutosh in Marathi. And yet, they’ve both displayed a penchant for taking on the “taboo” and “adult” in their acts and presenting it in the most hilarious way possible.

Aditi talks about sex and sexuality from a female perspective while Ashutosh, in his show Wet Wicket, takes on marriage and sex.

Firstpost spoke with both Aditi and Ashutosh to gain an insight into how they navigated such sensitive terrain.

Excerpts from the interview with Aditi Mittal:

aditi mittal

As a stand-up comic, do you face any censorship given the nature of your act?

There are layers of censorship, one is that which is implemented by the outside and ones that we experience internally, as artists. It's a constant battle between the outside, as well as the inside as you struggle with what you would want to say and how you will want to say it, as opposed to what people will allow you and won’t allow you to say.

My first comedy show is called Things They Would Not Let Me Say and it’s not because someone is actively stopping me from talking about things but (because) we all have that internal censor that we've built, based on our external lives. It's equally precarious to censor yourself internally as well as externally.

Do you experience the weight of censorship more because you are a woman?

Obviously, being a woman is not a layer of my existence that I can ignore. Even if you try to, the world is not going to let you forget it. I remember I once said something really random about a sports bra ad and people responded by saying “How dare you! What is this toilet humour! How can ladies do toilet humour?”

I was like — are you serious, do you think ladies don’t go to the toilet and all?

But coming back to censorship, on the outside I would like to sound really over dramatic and say I get arrested on a daily basis but it’s not the case. It's also an ongoing swing between what you want to say and how the audience ends ups construing it. As a stand-up comedian it’s a thin line between saying what you want to say, and in a way people will be willing to hear it. That’s where our craft lies.

Do you think there is a need for censorship?

If the question is ‘Do we need censorship?’ then the answer is, ‘ OF COURSE we need censorship’. The art of comedy (as I said) lies in navigating what cannot be said and saying it in a way that people hear it out and (obviously) laugh. As a comedian, that’s your job . There are no absolutes though. It’s not as if there should be 100 percent censorship or there should not be any. As our governments change, so will the concept of censorship. I think it’s a constant process of letting the pendulum swing between absolute censorship and no censorship.

I do a character called ‘Dr Mrs Lutchuke’, a misguided but good-intentioned old lady doctor, who I sort of invented to do jokes on sex. The foil of a character gives you immunity.

People are surprised when a female comic talks about sex as opposed to a male comic. If you watch Comedy Nights with Kapil, it’s rife with sexism, ageism and misogyny. Yet Bollywood stars are lining up to promote it. So it’s also really the question of where the censors are implemented too.

Do you think doing extremely explicit sexual content is less shocking if you do it in a regional language?

Well there will be Indian stand-up comics who will tell you ‘ke angrezi mein f**k bolo toh cool lagta hai’. It also depends on what you are saying. There’s a way to use sex as a crutch or as a tool. One way is to use crass humour and there is the other end of the spectrum where you can make extremely witty observations about sex. It’s such a universal topic, everyone can relate to it. So then it’s up to you as a comedian to decide where you use it as a crutch and where you use it as a tool.

I do a character called ‘Dr Mrs Lutchuke’, a misguided but good-intentioned old lady doctor, who I sort of invented to do jokes on sex. The foil of a character gives you immunity.

Excerpts from the interview with Ashutosh Dabke:

ashutosh dabke 825

Do you think censorship in India is a problem for artists?

Censorship in India for an individual artist, is a funny phenomenon. Firstly we have to understand, there are two entities in censoring — one is a Censor Board, and the other is society. It is mandatory to obtain a censor certificate from the board — at the same time one has to get acceptance from society as well. And that is a bigger problem in our country. I sometimes think I have a very thin line to tread between trying to censor myself before I say something controversial on my show.

Do you think stand-up comics face the same problem of censorship as other artists, performers?

I have seen so many stand-up comedians performing in various places, venues and cities. And after listening to them I wonder whether any Censor Board exists in this country? I think for us, as live performers, we need more approval from the audiences who come to watch our acts.

What sort of material does your show Wet Wicket deal with?

My show deals with the nuances of married life. I talk about everyday things, like maybe underwear and a couple’s sex life. My show is not very conventional: it is in Marathi, and it is more situational comedy. I allow my audience to ask me questions and they respond with their own funny stories.

Why do you think the adult comedy routine works in Marathi?

I think story telling is an art. It doesn’t matter (in) what language; any linguistic community has its own flair. A few things which are specific to that particular linguistic community won’t be of much interest to others. That’s the advantage of doing a regional or Marathi language stand-up routine.

There are two entities in censoring — one is a Censor Board, and the other is society. It is mandatory to obtain a censor certificate from the board — at the same time one has to get acceptance from society as well.

For instance, if I want to poke fun at a young, modern Maharashtrian woman wearing a nauwari sari, a north Indian will not understand what that is. Like that, there are so many things which are connected with a particular linguistic community. It’s fun doing it in Marathi. And I can say after over 25 shows that I have presented, Maharashtrians are no longer conservative; in fact they love this show.

Has anyone in your audience ever been uncomfortable with your routine? Or tried to stop you because the comedy is too explicit?

No one yet. In fact there was a Censor Board member present at one of my recent shows. She enjoyed it, and although I speak a lot outside the script, she was okay with it. I try to make sure that my jokes don’t cross over from adult comedy to offensive sexism. Also the humor is relatable, so the audience also laughs along.

Would you consider performing Wet Wicket in English?

I surely want to do Wet Wicket in English. The reason is, the kind of maturity I expect from the audience is achievable easily in English.

First Published On : Aug 6, 2016 11:28 IST

Comment using Disqus

Show Comments