Like most things that decide to righteously tell people what is wrong with pop culture, comedy group All India Bakchod can sometimes seem like a parody of itself. Their recent spoof of an iPhone advertisement changed "Air Pods" to "White Tatti Pods" seemed a long way from the Super Mario spoof that managed to subvert video game conventions and actually use jokes to make a point.
Now Tanmay Bhat, one of the troupe's comedians, has another target: fat jokes. Bhat is frequently made fun of because of his size, as a look at comments on his Facebook page will attest. In his latest post, Tanmay Bhat, has made an Amazon-sponsored appeal for people to stop making fat jokes about him. "Sometimes, it can be exhausting to be at the centre of all the hate," he says.
This is, of course, ironic and hard to take seriously, because much of Bhat's humour comes from making fun of people's physical appearances. One of the videos that he got the most prominence for this year was a takedown of Lata Mangeshkar for being "old and wrinkly". And his five-minute segment in the banned AIB Roast video made fun of the appearances of actor Ayesha Takia and his fellow member Ashish Shakya. The less said about the forays into making fun of people's looks on the AIB podcast, the better.
Of course, Bhat might not be entirely serious, since like many recent AIB videos, this is an advertisement disguised as an earnest plea. The video ends with a hashtag that ties it to Amazon's upcoming festival season shopping promos. But even if Bhat's no-fat-jokes appeal is hard to take seriously, it's worthwhile examining the currency of body-shaming in humour.
There have been other comedians who have ventured into this territory (without necessarily being inspired by e-commerce). On an episode of American television sitcom Louie, actress Sarah Baker starred as a "fat girl" who in a long monologue broke down her frustrations about the way she was perceived.
You're not fat." I mean, come on, buddy. It just sucks. It really really sucks. You have no idea. And the worst part is, I'm not even supposed to do this. Tell anyone how bad it sucks, because it's too much for people. I mean, you, you can talk into the microphone and say you can't get a date, you're overweight. It's adorable. But if I say it, they call the suicide hotline on me.
I mean, can I just say it? I'm fat. It sucks to be a fat girl. Can people just let me say it? It sucks. It really sucks. And I'm going to go ahead and say it. It's your fault. Look, I really like you, you're truly a good guy, I think. I'm so sorry. I'm picking you. On behalf of all the fat girls, I'm making you represent all the guys. Why do you hate us so much?
That monologue was discussed at length on the internet, with not everyone convinced that Louis CK – who often speaks about being frustrated by his own weight in his comedy – genuinely engaged with the issue, or was simply playing into a tired trope on his show (or both).
There are also other takes on the subject. Comedian Rebel Wilson who revels in making jokes about her size, has often faced flak for making them. Her take is, "As long as I look like this, I’m going to make fat jokes. All comedians have to use their physicality, so I use my size."
There's nothing new about body-shaming in popular culture, of course, and while there have been attempts to simply be more representative in media – like Miss Moti or Kirtika Trehan's satire – jokes about physical appearances have always been a common part of the comedic universe, which has resisted attempts to declare any certain kind of humour out of bounds.
Meanwhile, weight stigma, the bias against those who are overweight or obese, remains a far-too real thing. Bulimia.com found that more than half of scripts in a survey of over a 1000 movies from the last century included weight references.
"Regardless of gender, weight, and body image, one thing is clear: The big screen simply serves to magnify the weighty conversations that occur in everyday life. It may be a common reality, and indeed we draw humor from it regularly, but it’s fundamentally tragic – not comical – that anyone would feel compelled to joke about their weight to dodge public scrutiny and derision," the study concludes. Our small screens appear to be no different.