Raju Shrivastava is to stand-up comedy what Virat Kohli is to cricket. Single-handed, Raju raised the standards of stand-up comedy in our country to an art form.
Today he is not happy with what’s being done to the hoary art. “Stand-up comedy is all about getting hits on YouTube. In the mad scamper for hits, young boys and girls in the stand-up business are crossing limits. Any and everything is a brunt of a so-called joke. But you can’t disrespect any national leader or anyone’s religion. I always say, practice your own religion but respect all religions.”
Raju is dismayed to see today’s stand-up comedian bringing politics and religion on stage. “If you insult any respected figure some people may laugh to be polite. But they will never invite you home. My testing ground is the family audience. Whenever I prepare a joke for my stage performances I always have the family in mind: would any member of the family feel offended by my joke. If his answer is yes, I immediately drop it.”
Raju who has been a comic virtuoso for 20 years feels comedy must change with the times, though not at the cost of good taste. “You can’t cross the laxman rekha of decency. Of course, I’m aware times have changed. Earlier subjects like the menstrual cycle were taboo. Now they’re openly discussed. Nonetheless, stand-comedians should not forget where they come from. We are Indians, so please don’t imitate American stand-up comedians.”
Has Raju’s brand of comedy ever got him into trouble? “Once, only once. And I am not the least embarrassed about it. I had taken a series of potshots at Kasab. After that, I started getting death threats from Dubai. I had the police guarding me for three months. Finally, I asked them to leave assuring them I can look after myself. Death threats for jokes are nothing new. But there is a difference between joking about Kasab and a national leader. The audiences’ sensitivities cannot be overlooked.”