“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to death my right to get offended. How dare you? Baahar mil.” – Desi Voltaire
Let’s just all take a deep breath. They’re just jokes. Unfunny, crass or whatever you want to call them, they’re still just jokes. The AIB Knockout video has been taken down. While we’d love to claim that it’s because so many people watched it that it broke YouTube, the truth’s a little sadder.
First things first; no one person or force forced us to take this video down. This is not something that’s happened because of a 3 am phonecall or a morcha at our front door or a gunman on a grassy knoll. Under the circumstances, this is us being pragmatic. Allow us to explain.
People who’ve been following our work will know that we’ve always tried to experiment with content be it on Youtube or a live comedy show, with the sole intent of making people laugh and/or think. AIB Knockout was another such attempt to try something new and bring the roast format to a country where celebrities aren’t often known to laugh at themselves. To our pleasant surprise, we managed to bring together consenting adults who were willing to be made fun of by other consenting adults in a crowd full of (wait for it) consenting adults. And if we’re honest, it was a phenomenally entertaining evening. Were the jokes repetitive? Crass? It didn’t matter because they happened in the spirit of irony and good humour. It was just liberating to be able to say those things, things that people have thought in one form or another privately for years. A lot of the laughter that night came from that spirit (there’s your answer, people who wondered why everyone was laughing at terrible jokes).
The video came with a clear disclaimer with several age and content warnings. No one was forced to watch it, we didn’t buy airtime on every single TV channel on Earth to broadcast it. YouTube videos do not magically auto-play in front of you. And yet the videos got over 8 million views. Far more importantly, on the video page, the people who liked them outnumbered the people who disliked them by ten times to one. Yes, ten times.
The format was the same as any international roast i.e. insult comedy, delivered in the form of one-liners designed to be as rude as possible. It is performed with the understanding that none of the material is to be taken seriously—none of the performers actually mean the “offensive” things they say to each other on the night. We clarify this simply to provide context.
With the Knockout, in our own juvenile, idiotic way, we wanted to push the envelope of comedy in this country. But then the envelope pushed back. Things got to a point where people who have supported us, people who work hard to make what we do come to life, were put in a position where things could get deeply unpleasant for them. And that’s a problem. We can live with abuse, hate, anger, fury, rage, ignorance, bigotry and perhaps even bullying. But we don’t want anybody to get hurt because of us. And we do mean anybody.
We hope it’s clear by now that we never write with the aim of hurting people. That’s not our goal and we daresay that no comedian ever does that. We don’t go to work and say, “Hmm, let’s offend XYZ people from XYZ community today.” If we really wanted to piss off people and hurt them, we’d be selling credit cards over the phone.
Our job is to raid the newspapers, pop culture and life for observations and analogies and it’s okay if you think we’re juvenile or unfunny. We respect arguments that are critical, and as for the arguments we don’t, we respect your right to make them without impediment. It is a courtesy we wish worked both ways.
Over the last few days, we’ve found ourselves subject to more scrutiny, judgment and opinion than we’re worth. This Knockout shouldn’t matter. In a secure culture it wouldn’t matter.
We’re lucky to have support pouring in from all quarters. First up, from our fans, just the greatest people in the world, who have nothing but good cheer and encouragement and positive thoughts. We were pleasantly surprised that people in power who we have made fun of in the past, including people from both the so-called right wing and left-wing, went out of their way to convey support to us. It was fantastic to know that they stand for free speech as much as us. Friends in the media have told us to stay our course, pledging their support for our right to say anything, no matter how ridiculous. Thank you to anyone who has stated in the last few days that we have the right to say what we want, not as comedians but more importantly as citizens of this country.
There’s a larger cultural conversation going on here, where we’re at the very edges of what it’s okay to say. And it’s a conversation we need to have now because the world we live in is entirely too complicated to be run by silences. We still stand by our belief in the right to absolute freedom of expression for us and for anyone who has anything to say about anything at all. We hope to be part of an environment that supports that sort of expression without fear of persecution, intimidation and most importantly, annoyance. As always, in our own AIB way we’ll continue to strive towards creating that very environment.
In the meantime, we’d like to say thank you to our fans and everyone else who is standing by us. You guys make the struggle worth it. To everyone railing against us and against the stars that were present, to everyone who’s decided we’re destroying the fabric of our culture, to everyone who’s called us seditious pornographers while plotting the downfall of Indian Values And Civilization As We Know It, we would like to reiterate that we are just a bunch of comedians who work, and have always worked, without any malicious intent whatsoever.
We encourage any and all conversation on the subject of freedom of expression, for our own silly selves, and for people better, smarter and more courageous than us. For hundreds and thousands of artists, commentators and any and all citizens that do not have the privilege of social platforms and reach that we do.
We are also cooperating with the authorities and hope to resume normal service soon. We’d like some sort of cheerful resolution to this so we can focus on more important national issues, like the upcoming Cricket World Cup.
P.S. Best of luck Virat Kohli. Sorry for the jokes. We heart emoticon you.
P.P.S. It’s a good thing nobody’s downloaded the file and put it on a torrent website or anything.