A Dearth of Mirth in Public Life

By suppressing humour, we are missing many opportunities for leveraging it in storytelling.

Indians do know how to laugh. Comedies – regardless of their quality – do well at the box office. We definitely relish a good joke, traded across the lunch table or within the soundproof confines of our living rooms.

But while humour is a great levelling agent in communication – it makes topics relatable, people respond to it better and remember it longer – its usage in politics, business or pop culture is weak, at best.

This is not entirely a laughing matter. By suppressing humour, we are missing many opportunities for leveraging it in storytelling. For example, political cartoonists are adept at highlighting the quirks of people and personalities. In the right hands, cinematic satire can be incisive and telling. And in the world of corporate communication, humour can be a refreshing and highly effective tool.

Unfortunately, these storytellers and communicators are perpetually wary of offending and triggering a backlash of one kind or the other. Consequently, our national funny bone lies fossilised by layers of over-sensitivity and outrage.

In this issue, our writers discuss the societal consequences of holding back on humour in traditional media and communication. One contributor looks at what prompts people to take previously restricted comic material and freely share it on social networks. Finally, in Alterpoint, we discover how humour can shield us from the pain and annoyances of daily living.

Former US president, Ronald Reagan, never lost a chance to lighten a seemingly grim situation. He is said to have once remarked: “I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself”. The genius of his style lay in the fact that it made even political adversaries smile and amenable to his ideas.

Jokes and humour clearly work where jibes and threats don’t.