“Woman: Arre, I am only taking your body temperature. I am only checking it, this does not mean that you have Corona virus. Don’t worry, there is nothing to fear.

Boy: You are holding this gun to my chest and then saying that there is nothing to fear about. Okay tell me what is your name?

Woman: Your temperature is fine, so you don’t have to worry, you can go now. And yes, my name is social distance, so you Bihari, maintain distance from me!

Boy: Listen madamji, I have been talking to you with respect so far and you have been insulting me, calling me ‘bihari’ again and again. Look, we Biharis are very friendly people, we don’t say anything to people like you. If we start responding to such things then your respect will be ruined in front of everyone here. But let’s leave it; you will also remember that you met a Romeo on the roadside.”

This is an excerpt from one of the comedy sets in Bhojpuri dialect. It is prepared by one of the community radio (CR) stations as part of the process ‘Metamorphosis’. It was also part of a 10-episode radio series called, Saara Aasman Humara, which explored migration and discrimination issues faced by workers from Bihar in the cities they move to for work.

A screenshot from the Online Stand-up Comedy show.

In over a decade of CR’s existence in India, comedy or satire and radio broadcasting seem to be on two different corners of the spectrum. Amidst the weight of ‘issues’ and awareness programming on CR; the lightness, fun and comedy seem to have lost out from the tone in programming. It was during the Covid pandemic of 2020 that we asked the CR producers to pause and find their funny bone as they viewed the world around them with a critical and satirical eye.

What is the role of satire? Is it merely a means of entertainment? Or does it also function as a disruptor? Satire is highly entwined with the socio-political context of the surrounding geography. It requires a creative engagement with the subject matter where one can challenge and push the boundaries of the status quo. All in the name of humour. CR is intended to be built through dialogue with the local community ecosystem, including but not limited to local governance models, culture, practices, habits, and beliefs. Hence, the scope for an interrogation of the local, through comedy to subvert is ripe.

Introducing comedy to CR stations in this context was relevant as it encouraged them to find a critical approach to address the gaps and highlight the loopholes in the system, which came to the fore during the lockdown. Several participants took time to depart from the standardised program patterns of engaging in functional educational and awareness programs that lacked a sense of context and criticality. Programmes centred merely on the usage of masks or social distancing. While this is important, it is not the only consequence of the pandemic. Such standardised programme production limits the potential of a CR by curbing several other realities at play, thereby detaching the creator from the content. “If I can describe the experience of performing in the online stand-up comedy show in one word, we had FUN! (maza aa gaya). I never thought that I would ever do comedy. It felt liberating to perform. It was a very different experience. It also helped me to explore diverse perspectives of an issue.” This observation made by one of the participants aptly described what many of the others felt.

One of the participants presenting her comedy set.

It is also from this point that the comedy workshop took shape. We laid emphasis on bringing in the content creators’ own perspective while engaging critically with community habits, practices, and ecosystem. This is where any practice in comedy begins – in one’s own perspective. Participants were encouraged to share their personal experiences, anecdotes, and critiques through the course of the sessions to get them comfortable with exercising that muscle. They were then encouraged to bring in the element of humour to encourage creativity and the idea of play within their own storytelling.

The participants were asked to share instances in media and public culture to accentuate their narratives with humour. This included inverting power structures within society, use of specific phrases, language and dialects, proverbs, stress on certain details, relatability, using punch lines and building and releasing tension. A guest speaker, Neha Thombre, author of the viral Youtube comedy channel Nehagiri also shared her own experiences and learnings in comedy to inspire and help the participants find their own path in creating comedic critical content. This was then applied to their own program series based on community habits.

Neha Thombre stand-up comic.

The workshop culminated in an online comedy showcase where the participants performed their prepared pieces in front of a live audience for the first time. The showcase displayed a new tone for CR programming using humour to critically engage with community habits present in the participants’ locations. This included interrogating questions around labour, marriage, stereotypes around communities, superstitions, and real-life experiences of government interventions during Covid. All in a variety of languages and cutting across geographical contexts. One of the participants shared, “I performed at the online Stand-Up Comedy show. I had no confidence in me to pull this off, but it felt so good after performing. I am a serious person by nature in life, but after the show I got the confidence that I can also do comedy. Now I am excited to make this episode for the program series.”

Another participant in the comedy show.

Comedy is a great fit for CR: a space which is open for critical and diverse perspectives, especially during uncertain, conflicting times. A medium to hold a mirror to the community and society to question flaws within it in accessible ways. Working with comedy pushed the participants to create socially aware and critical content that was built around their own specific context. Furthermore, it provided a new way to bring lightness to a usually heavy and dreary mediascape by allowing the participant to be playful and have fun. This in turn, allows for more accessible content which engages listeners. The potential of CR lies in its ability to tap into hyper local contexts based on the knowledge and experiences of the local reporters. A critical creative outlook in content creation which challenges the status quo is what allows CR to truly fulfil its potential. A few laughs along the way can only make things better.

Here is the link to the Online Stand-up Comedy show with CR stations.

To know more about the network, Metamorphosis.


These sessions were conducted by Nihal Passanha and Mukti Sadhana and were part of a s of the process, Metamorphosis, supported by IPDC-UNESCO, 2020 and mentored by Maraa, a media and arts collective.


By Anushi Agrawal, Maraa