ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Contemporary Comedy Is Serious Business

Contemporary American comedians and satirists perform important, multifarious roles in fractious times that engender a cathartic space while speaking truth to power.

The emphatic comedic turn in global popular entertainment has embraced a plethora of mediums and platforms, channelling diverse comedic expressions ranging from physical comedy, burlesque, farce to dark comedy, observational and situational comedy, and wit. As a protean art form and creative industry, contemporary Hindi cinema has been responsive to dynamic pop cultural trends, including the craze for comedy in all its “glocal” (global–local) iterations. The trend of mid-budget comedic films reveals imprints of transnational and transmedia influences of onscreen stand-up comedy, showcasing both international and home-grown talents, widely available on over-the-top (OTT) platforms, cable television channels, and live performances and tours held at comedy clubs. The phenomenal popularity and successes of Kapil Sharma’s oeuvre of network television comedy and the bawdy humour of Bharti Singh, the global recognition of Vir Das via his four Netflix specials, and ironically, even the notoriety of now-controversial stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui have demonstrated burgeoning “glocalised” markets for, and the commercial viability of, a broad spectrum of comedic formats and types.

The younger, urban, tech-savvy demographic in India form a sizeable fan base for American stand-up comedy. The stand-up comic’s traditional antecedents can be traced to farce, wit, and slapstick, the latter being one of the most popular forms of comedy today, enjoying a long and lively history dating back to Greek Theatre of Aristophanes and Hellenistic comedy, and to the figure of the 16th-century Shakespearean clown/fool/jester who hid his wit under the guise of folly. However, British music hall comedy and variety performers and American vaudeville acts are widely accepted as the most immediate antecedents of the contemporary stand-up comedian. The vaudeville, a theatrical genre of variety entertainment popular for nearly 50 years from the 1880s to the 1930s, was, according to David Monod in Vaudeville and the Making of Modern Entertainment, 1890–1925 (2020), United States’ first “modern mass entertainment” and “the first leisure industry designed to relax and rejuvenate tired people.” Long after its decline, its influence held sway over newer forms of mass media, the radio and television, through artistes who were initially trained in vaudevillian performance style.

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Updated On : 23rd Oct, 2022
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