Comedian and All India Bakchod co-founder Rohan Joshi has a new stand-up special out on Amazon Prime Video on January 10, called Wake and Bake. The title is a reference to smoking marijuana or “getting baked”. Joshi explained, “It’s a relaxed, chill show. The special is not going to be a profound, life-changing experience. It’s about just relaxing and enjoying. It’s about my perspective, being in my thirties, on things like marriage, education, sex, privilege, and, of course, marijuana legalisation.”

Joshi performed the special between February and October in 2019 across at least a hundred venues in the country. He has extracted an hour of material from a set that is nearly 75 minutes long for the web show.

Rohan Joshi performing Wake and Bake (2020).

Joshi’s “chill” comedy special comes at a very un-chill time in India, which is witnessing unceasing demonstrations against the rollout of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the planned National Register of Citizens by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. The brutal attacks on students protesting against the government’s policies across universities such as Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University have even provoked a number of Bollywood celebrities to lend their support to the opposition.

Does Joshi’s special speak to the times? Is an entertainer obliged to speak to the times at all?

“I am confident that my special does speak to the times,” Joshi said. “Without giving anything away, it does talk about our social fabric, but instead of wagging my finger at anyone, I’d say my special is introspective. While it is chill, it also addresses the times and our responsibilities.”

It’s the prerogative of comedians to be political or not, he added. “In the last couple of years, we’ve had issue-driven hard-hitting specials like Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, but we also had Anthony Jeselnik’s Thoughts and Prayers, where he consciously just chooses to offend,” Joshi said. “Like any other scene, for example films, you want some to talk about issues, and some which you can enjoy leaving your brains at home. There’s a place for both.”

Man, Machine, and Everything in Between by Rohan Joshi (2017).

While Joshi actively criticises the government through his Instagram and Facebook accounts, his online politics do not necessarily extend to the content of Wake and Bake. How does that work?

“There are no two identities here,” Joshi explained. “If you watch the show in full, no one will say that the Rohan Joshi on stage is any different from who he is online. The same guy, the same voice, but different subjects maybe. But well, some people follow me for my views, some for my comedy. I am okay with my special working for some and alienating some.”

Wake and Bake comes at a time when a section of entertainers, including such figures as Jerry Seinfield and Chris Rock, have complained that political correctness has ruined comedy. In 2019, Dave Chappelle tore into “cancel culture” in his standup special Sticks and Stones. The Hangover director Todd Phillips, who switched to dramatic territory with Joker in 2019, told Variety that one cannot be “funny nowadays with this woke culture”, which is why comedy doesn’t work at the box office anymore.

According to Joshi, such complaints are mostly the privilege of the privileged. “Todd Phillips is a successful white man,” Joshi said. “I am sorry your life is 10% harder now and you do not have the same stereotypes to fall back upon for your success. What’s happening is that historically and culturally disenfranchised groups are saying, don’t make jokes on our expense. And you need to listen to them, evolve and adapt. Whining about PC culture comes from the same mentality which says the white man is endangered, Hindu khatre mein hain.”

In India, stand-up comedy has lost its newness and uniqueness, which makes people more critical of the form. “In Indian stand-up, the Bombay crowd is the most critical because here, at any given point, 20 comedians are putting up a show metres from your house,” Joshi observed. “At places where stand-up shows are rare, the audience is not that critical. This also pushes comedians to work hard. The audience asks, I have seen 10 angles to this topic already, what new thing are you bringing?”

AIB's Chintu Ka Birthday (2019).

Even as Joshi pursues individual projects, he continues to be associated with All India Bakchod despite its problems. AIB came in the crosshairs of MeToo as the movement took root in India in 2018. Regular collaborator Utsav Chakraborty and AIB co-founder Gursimran Khamba were accused of sexual harassment. The other co-founder, Tanmay Bhat, was accused of ignoring the complaints against Chakraborty.

Bhat lost his position as the company’s CEO, and Khamba too is no longer a member, leaving Joshi and Ashish Shakya in charge of operations.

After the limited release of AIB’s debut feature film production Chintu Ka Birthday in 2019, the group’s delayed web series Gormint (previously titled Ministry) will be out soon, Joshi confirmed. Manav Kaul has replaced Irrfan in the lead. The group announced in May that they wouldn’t be putting out any YouTube videos, but they are focusing on producing more long form fiction.

“Beyond a point, you need to put one foot in front of another and move forward,” Joshi said. “We took adequate organisational steps to fix the issue. We took proportionate action against anyone accused of harassment. AIB is not those one or two people but a team of 30 people. If someone wants to stay aggrieved or upset, I respect their opinion.”

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Ashish Shakya on stand-up comedy: ‘You need to have passion and the ability to keep it alive’