Published: 27th February 2018
Instagram fame Ted The Stoner talks offence, laughter and why he 'memes' what he does
Facebook deleted Jitendra Sharma’s page in 2015. Today, backed by over 350K followers on Instagram, his alter ego Ted The Stoner tells people what they often don't want to hear
Jitendra Sharma aka Ted The Stoner is a Chartered Accountant from Mumbai, who, aged 23, runs one of the most popular Indian meme pages on Instagram, with 362K followers. Inspired way before the talking, pot-smoking bear from the movie Ted hit the screens, the account takes satirical digs through seasoned memes on NaMo, annoying Indian habits and a whole lot more. In 2015, the page was taken down by Facebook for being "offensive", but Ted's back at it again.
The page, that surprisingly has a strong international fanbase, takes a generous dig at everyday Indian habits and governance with a dab of sarcasm and a pinch of humour.Ted's rule is simple — Do not follow me if you are easily offended! We caught up with Ted The Stoner and talked about his actual intentions — to spread common sense, awareness and a lot of good humour.
Excerpts from a 'memeingful' interview:
Who is Jitendra Sharma?
I was born and brought up in Mumbai and my life revolves around balance sheets and audits. I love writing in my free time and I also enjoy doing amateur sketches. We can be friends if you can share your pizza.
Why 'Ted the stoner'? Was it meant to be some sort of secret identity?
Oh no. I never really felt the need to keep the identity a secret because initially it just started as a time-killing activity and I just wanted to explore what it's like to be on the other side of the curtain.
What did you initially aim to do with the page when you started? Has it changed along the way?
It was probably 2 am when I created the page. I felt like there were very few pages that I could connect with on a humoristic level, so why not give it a try. Quality content was the initial aim, however, in 2015 the page was taken down by Facebook due to reasons unknown and then I switched to Instagram. After it got a massive boost, I thought ‘why just stick to jokes when you can actually influence people and do something bigger’. That's when the rants began and it gained momentum after getting a few celebrity followers, but yes, the purpose did change somewhere down the line.
Your page often analyses and highlights daily laxities in our country's functioning. A raging passion of yours?
I don't really find it difficult to express what is wrong with, or even appreciate our system. People like you and I just possess the knowledge of words. Like they say, words can spit venom or mend a broken soul. I do my best to use available resources for a greater good and try my best to make this world a better place. People do listen to everything you say when there is a crowd listening to you. But they will probably believe a lie even if a few thousand people nod in agreement. So, why not turn it around and let them see the truth for themselves?
Is it hard to deliver that every day to thousands of followers?
It does get difficult at times when you touch upon a sensitive topic, but all I have learnt from this is that you cannot silence your inner voice just to please a few hundred people. If you believe that you are contributing to the good in the world, do not waste a second thinking about the backlash you will receive. It's all background noise.
You are very critical of the government. Your thoughts on dissent and free speech, especially after your page was taken down?
I have always been critical of what I have felt is wrong, whether the problem was us as people or the government, in more than a few cases. I feel that we all have a role to play in the functioning of a modern society and we cannot simply be bystanders when we clearly possess the knowledge and education. Free speech is something I never really had a problem with, well, at least until the page was deleted. I shall continue to present my views/opinions and be unapologetic, while I shall always do my best to keep an open-minded discussion. But hey, no complains, no regrets.
Haters gonna hate: Receiving threats, allegations and offensive rebuttals have
now become a way of life for Jitendra
Taking offense is our country's daily bread. For someone who dwells on offending conservatives through 'unsanskaari’ memes, how much does it take for you to not burst a vein?
I did get riled up back in 2011 when people did not agree with or got offended by my posts. Gradually, it became amusing. A year or two later, I found myself completely unaffected by what's happening on the internet. I only deliver my opinions and views. I don't think about the responses. I did enjoy offending conservatives a few years ago, but that is more of a byproduct now. I do my best to do justice to my bio, which claims to be changing mindsets. I honestly try my level best to educate people on the bitter truth rather than comfort them with a sweet lie.
Some of the craziest responses or threats you've received?
Every response is crazy. Threats are usually funny because they usually come from 16 to 20-year-old teenagers. There was this guy who set up around ten profiles asking me for my address so that he could fight me. I finally gave him the CBI headquarters address in Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC). Haven't heard from him since.
Humour and memes — what do you make of them?
Happiness comes in various forms. For some, it can be food or dogs or the people around them. I guess humour and memes are just another form of happiness. Everybody on this planet needs to have a good sense of humour. I mean, if we don't keep ourselves happy, who will? Memes are often used to target individuals personally. It is pathetic to actually bully someone you have no business with. These are mostly done by 15 to 18-year-old, self-proclaimed trolls with their own gag pages.
Meme boy: Ted aka Jitendra makes it clear that his page is not for those easily offended
Do you think you have loyal fans? What sort of a crowd do you cater to?
I know this sounds unbelievable, but I can safely put the hater: fan ratio to 1:1000. For every one hate message or comment, there are a thousand messages appreciating what I do. There are people who have always been supportive. I cannot really be bothered about haters because they're people I don't know. So in a way, I will never even know that I'm hated because I'm unaware of their existence. This is my wonderful logic. And I usually try my best to cater to a mixed audience and not a particular part of the crowd.
Support stream: Ted's followers, numbering around 380K followers, range from college students to young adults
Your views on the country's habit of deeming humour and satire a taboo, especially with regard to politics and religion?
I don't think I speak anything that is unique or different. I just speak what's on everyone's mind. A lot of us are just waiting to support someone who can pen down what they think. Mainstream media, politics and religion are a few topics which are always talked about in a hushed tone. We cannot shy away from these topics or silence ourselves because I believe that if we are capable enough to bring a change, create awareness or even rattle a few feathers, it becomes our moral responsibility to do so.
What do you draw inspiration from?
The biggest inspiration I draw would be from the people who have been ardently following me all these years. The consistent love and appreciation and above all, the satisfaction of seeing random strangers smile is the best feeling ever. Be it appreciation from someone serving our Indian Army, a kid going through a break-up, someone going through chemotherapy, every message I receive in support is beautiful in its own unique way. I do get extra happy when someone from the armed forces or someone suffering a terminal disease tells me that my page helps them smile. It is one of the greatest joys one can experience.
In your Instagram bio, you mention changing mindsets. What is your plan?
I feel like my line in the bio is validated whenever someone messages me saying they felt differently about a particular topic but that they've changed after reading a rant on my page. At the end of the day, even if one person drops their conservative mindset, it's a victory for me. One step at a time I guess.
A little love: Ted's posts aren't all meme's and "offence" but also reaches out to fans with some extra love
Some of your memes could be considered offensive to certain groups and individuals. Are you sensitive to these factors while working?
(Laughs) Since this isn't really my work, I've honestly never given it much thought. I don't have a customer care department (for now). People can get offended by literally anything. I just post what I feel is right. I have my inner moral checks when I post. But I haven't changed my mind or refrained from posting something just because it would offend a section of people. I just make sure that I never personally hurt any individual with my posts.
Some comedians/ people you draw inspiration from?
I appreciate the work of George Carlin, Louis C K and a few more. My mother is also a source of inspiration. Even if she's had a rough day, she always has this magical spark in her eyes and that positivity is contagious. I guess that is one trait I've picked up from her and I feel really lucky.
Where do you see the country heading to in terms of freedom and privacy?
I'm pretty optimistic about our country's future because this is our time to do things, to bring change and be a part of it. We aren't spectators anymore. All these conservative party workers will vanish one fine day and we will actually be looking at educated and decent human beings in the Parliament. I
believe in a better India. However, with recent advancements, I personally feel that privacy will be violated. On the other hand, I'm pretty optimistic about freedom of speech and I believe that things will go uphill from here.