Published: 22nd January 2020
The Azeem Banatwalla interview: Is there anyone that this comedian hasn't offended through his jokes?
Comedian Azeem Banatwalla has been offending people with his jokes for over 8 years now. And there's nothing he wouldn't joke about, he confesses
Stand-up comedian Azeem Banatwalla has a joke for everyone. He also has a joke about everyone and everything. In fact, there's almost nothing in this world that this comedian doesn't find funny. So, naturally, he has offended a lot of people in his eight and a half-year-long comedy career. "I'm an equal opportunity offender," Azeem laughs. He tells us that during his show that evening, he will be cracking jokes on almost everything from Greta Thunberg to #MeToo and the left and right-wingers of the country. An hour later, we found ourselves laughing at them, sitting at The Cuckoo Club, Kochi. "These days, I see a lot of people who take it upon themselves to be 'social justice warriors of the internet' and they get upset about everything. But you can't be upset about everything," says Azeem, adding, "I talk about things that I feel strongly about and I want to talk about. I have jokes on the left-wing and the right-wing."
Politics was never alien to Azeem's brand of comedy. He tells us that he used to joke about politics and politicians even during the start of his comedy career. "That (politics) was one of the easiest topics to write about because throughout the year, politicians and governments do a lot of stupid things," he laughs. In 2014, Azeem and the members of his comedy collective East India Comedy wrote the Rahul Gandhi song, mocking the Congress party. A few years down the line, they wrote the Modi song about the Prime Minister and demonetisation. He says, "I keep pointing out that we're not specifically against the BJP. Similar dissent comes against anyone who abuses power. For instance, when the Congress was in power, there was a certain degree of corruption and scams. We used to talk about that too. Now with the BJP, certain things have become communal."
Azeem showed up at an anti-NRC-CAA protest in Mumbai recently. He says that he was 80 per cent there because he cares for the cause and 20 per cent for the attention on Instagram
That being said, Azeem also observes how the internet has changed the way in which people perceive and react to comedy. "The internet skews your understanding of things. People think something said on Twitter is a reimplementation of everything in the world," he notes and adds, "A lot of them think that Twitter is the real world. They get upset over things said on Twitter. However, in the real world, people seem to be more chilled out." Unsurprisingly, trolls never miss an opportunity to take a dig at Azeem. "Sometimes, you wake up and the first thing you see is a troll comment and instantly, you're in a bad mood," says Azeem, "Sometimes I troll them back or engage with them for the heck of it - depending on my mood. But a lot of the time, I genuinely see myself getting worked up over it. At those times, I remember that it's just an anonymous account that wants to ruin my day. Then, I just calm down and let it go."
And then there are times when trolls turn into threats. But from the looks of it, it seems like Azeem isn't that scared. Wonder why? "I feel that I'm much further down the hit list. Once they get rid of Kunal Kamra and Varun Grover, they'll come for me," he says, laughing. At the same time, he believes that there is enough space for freedom of speech in India. Case in point, a political comedian like him. "The fact that political comedians can exist and do shows and have their videos on YouTube prove that we have enough freedom of speech in this country," he signs off.