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What are the limitations of humour?

It’s funny that while writing the posts that I have published so far, the above question has always bugged me. In fact, more often than not, mid-way through every article, I often pause to check whether I took it too far with the funny stuff.

I mean, would you blame me for thinking like that? Especially when I live in a country where ‘people’ lodge police complaints against ‘people’ for cracking a joke as mundane as “Three Hindus walk into a bar…”

Did you notice that I said three Hindus walk into a bar and not Muslims, or Sikhs, or Parsis? Well, that’s how carefully you need to word humour in India. Honestly, a whole lot of accomplished folks have spoken about this issue over the past decade, and they’ve been jailed, threatened, beaten up, and ridiculed. So, guess I’m on the right track here!

Wait, did I hear that right? Do people get ridiculed for speaking out in favour of comic freedom? How ironic.

Limit A

Humour is a tricky business, you see? The fundamental issue is that our ability to process humour largely depends on our cultural and literary upbringing. Someone who has grown up in an extreme environment as a child may find it ‘physically’ impossible to take a balanced view of a fact. For instance, a person who never ‘heard’ of eating beef will find it extremely difficult to even joke about it, or rather appreciate jokes around it!

But the limits of humour are not solely defined by culture and religion. There are several imaginary lines drawn in the sand when it comes to experiencing this art. Yes, it is an art because no algorithm has managed to convert this into a science, and thank god for that!

I was confident that given one more term, Twitter’s natural language processing would have managed to crack the secret to humour using Trump’s account alone! But guess that ship sailed with his shot at presidency!

The limitations of religion need no further explanation. Which is why, that is a topic that I won’t pander to, any more than I already have. I can practically see the orange and green bandanas in front of my eyes at this point!

Limit B

Another subtle limit that most people generally overlook is the frame of reference. For a rich guy to make fun of somebody for their poverty shows poor taste. Likewise, body shaming someone who suffers from a medical problem can be considered downright inconsiderate. But turn the tables around, and you’ll notice that making fun of rich folks for being rich is not usually frowned upon. Making fun of a race based on a well-established communal trait is also okay!

It’s hard to wrap your head around these arbitrary rules, but I think I’ve figured it out. Humour becomes offensive if it manipulates facts that highlight a distinct disadvantage for the intended target. For instance, the popular sitcom Big Bang Theory went quite far with their imitations of and jokes on Stephen Hawking. But one might argue that the humour was only borderline offensive thanks to Hawking’s support to the show, as well as the fact that his medical condition was hardly anyone’s concern when you think of the vast contributions that Hawking made to the field of science.

And with that line of reasoning, I presume that I can safely make fun of thin people, rich people, people smarter than me, people slightly dumber than me, and my ‘own’ religion (in measured quantities of course).

Side-note: This is probably why it’s best to be an average guy in life if you intend to make a career out of humour. So many avenues open up to you just because you lie at the fringe of several communities!

Either that, or be like Fave Chapelle, and don’t give a duck! A couple of alphabets may have gotten interchanged there. I am sure you can figure it out.

Limit C

That stupid joke there brings me to the third limit of humour – quality. Let me run a very standard disclaimer before I go any further and mention that all kinds of humour have quality, based on the perception of the audience. What I meant is that humour is limited by the degree of quality that you want to go after, which, in turn, is defined by the audience that you plan to amuse.

For instance, if you go to a village and crack jokes on quantum physics, you may not get many laughs! Oh, who am I kidding here, they’ll probably pelt you with tomatoes or cow dung ( – – cough – – That was not a reference to any stereotype! ). On the other hand, if you crack toilet humour in front of an audience that enjoys Wodehouse… you pretty much run the same risk! Well, instead of cow dung, there you may get pelted with cherry tomatoes and lumps of feta to match the ambience!

And that highlights the sort of humour I enjoy writing. A kind that is almost subliminal, like the subtle dig at high society snobs in the previous paragraph.Did you not get that? Well, as I said, it’s an art!

Limit D

To stretch the quality goop a bit further, and to break it down to its grassroots, I’d also say that a large part of it stems from the need for appropriate language. Some jokes are just read better in the tongues native to their origins! For example, there is no way that I can pull off a P.L.Deshpande classic in English, any more than I can pull off a ‘yo mama’ joke in Hindi!

If I’m unabashedly honest, I can’t pull a yo mama joke even if it stretched a finger in front of me and promised to blow a raspberry.

And since this blog is predominantly in English, with only trace quantities of Hinglish, which is a recent travesty, aided and abetted by the rampant use of Whatsapp, this blog has its limits too! I know it is hard to believe that when you read this article, peppered with subtle quips and jokes every fifty words or so, but that’s the thing!

Either you instantly recognize those jokes and laugh your heart out, or you completely gloss over the first three jokes and toss this article in the trash. Whichever it is, I cannot control it!

Just as they say that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, well, humour is in the twisted little neural receptors of the reader!

Of course, I HAD to crack a final one before the sign-off. It’s a compulsive habit not unlike the post-credit scenes that have become the staple highlight of every MCU movie. The only difference, in this case, is that the joke was pre-credits. No, wait… the credit to the author is right at the top of this post. So, technically… and I mean ‘technically’, the whole post is a post-credits joke!

To sum it up

However you perceive my writing and its humour, I sincerely hope, for one thing, every time that I write a fresh post. I hope that despite its limitations, my sense of humour does make someone out there smile. Because, if that isn’t happening, then I have been grossly mistagging a bunch of articles on Google for depressed people to stumble upon!

And on THAT note, let’s wrap this up, and call it a Happy Diwali!

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