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Beyond laughs: Standup comic Karthik Kumar on his journey with uncomfortable truth

All comedy doesn’t have to be educational, but all comedy need not be frivolous either, says the standup comedian from Chennai. His latest show Aansplaining is an unapologetic takedown of patriarchy, with a good dose of self-deprecating humour and facepalm moments.

Beyond laughs: Standup comic Karthik Kumar on his journey with uncomfortable truth

Friday December 23, 2022 , 5 min Read

Standup comedian Karthik Kumar’s latest comedy show, Aansplaining, is both funny and discomforting. Even as the audience is in splits, the import of what’s just been said is quietly sinking in their minds.

Aansplaining—an ironic play on the popular term ‘mansplaining’ (aan is ‘man’ in Tamil)—is an unapologetic takedown of the ecosystem called 'patriarchy', with a good dose of self-deprecating humour and facepalm moments.

On stage, Karthik, dressed in a floral shirt and a scrunchie around his hand, works like a deft sculptor—slowly chiselling away at the foundation of reality—one uneasy truth at a time, one clever joke at a time. And at times there are no jokes.

Raucous laughter is often followed by deathly silent moments, after a ‘truth bomb’ has been skillfully dropped. Moments when the women turn to the men sitting next to them for a quick glance, moments when the men stir in their seats awkwardly.

These are the moments that Karthik thrives on. “The discomfort is what I relish,” admits the comic. “I put you in areas of laughter, comfort, or warmth in order to bring out discomforting thoughts periodically in the show.”

YS Life caught up with Karthik, after his recent performance in Chennai, for a candid chat on Aansplaining and more. 

Karthik Kumar

A dress code request for the audience was to wear an item of clothing or an accessory that is conventionally not considered part of the gender that they identify with. Keeping with this spirit, Karthik Kumar was dressed in a floral shirt with a scrunchie around his hand.

Unravelling of manhood

Karthik calls Aansplaining, which is largely in English interspersed with Tamil references and punchlines, an “unravelling of manhood from a gender perspective and acknowledging the expense at which the concept of man has been created in society.”

“For without unravelling it, you will never understand equality of gender,” says the co-founder of Evam, a performing arts organisation based in Chennai.

Engaging with the truth, especially around subjects as complex as patriarchy and gender identities, is not an easy task. The whole exercise runs the risk of either pontificating or talking down. Karthik does neither. He is also not confrontational.

Instead, he draws from his experiences, makes fun of himself, laughs with the audience, and also pauses to think along with them. All in the hope of opening up a conversation between men and women to negotiate privilege.

“I am a man; therefore, I am not outing you guys. I am saying ‘it’s true, no?’. When I get the nod from them saying ‘yeah yeah, it’s true’, or they smile or laugh, the women next to them can say, ‘You agree with that, no?’ That starts the conversation,” he says.

And it’s time the conversation started towards the journey of introspection and course correction, says Karthik. “I’m telling you honestly and vulnerably that I am struggling myself. But I am struggling having started that journey. It is a very difficult journey for men. But we have to embark on it, because it’s important. Today we are at the receiving end of great privileges that we have no business claiming.”

Karthik Kumar Aansplaining

Karthik Kumar in his elements, dropping one truth bomb after another

Karthik also thinks this is the right time for a comedy show of this nature, when we are at an “interesting cusp”.

“People who are in their mid-30s and 40s right now are well entrenched into the patriarchal system. But they are in touch with a generation in their teens and 20s, who have a much more extensive vocabulary to discuss mental health, work, their rights, and freedom,” he explains. “Therefore, the older generation has started saying, ‘Wait a minute. Are they right? Or are we wrong?’”

With Aansplaining, Karthik is exploring a new genre of introspective comedy that goes beyond making people laugh. Indeed, he has come a long way from his earlier days of standup comedy, with shows like PokeMe and Second Decoction, which were largely fun banters. His next show Bloody Chutney was an attempt to address the issues in society through his experiences.

Role of comedy

While he doesn’t think all comedy has to be educational, Karthik also believes all comedy need not be frivolous either.

The standup comic—who is also a reluctant actor (his latest was a cameo in the movie Rocketry) and a film director—says standup comedy has two parts to it: the comedy part and the standing-up part.

“You can stand up for your own truth... It could be about the judgement from society… If everybody spoke their truth, then their art will be very powerful,” urges the comic, who takes inspiration from comedians like MR Radha, Cho Ramasamy, and NSK, and George Carlin from the Western world for his ‘spoken word rap’.

Karthik Kumar KK

Commenting on where comedy in the country stands today vis-à-vis the West, where humour is increasingly reflective of the self and the society, Karthik says standup comedy in India is definitely moving in that direction, albeit slowly.

He cites the examples of Alexander Babu, who makes people laugh with his pop culture music while also infusing “powerful thoughts” into his comedy, and SA Aravind, who has written a show about his mental health struggles.

“Comedians are now thinking what else apart from making people laugh? I am hoping to be in that journey… hoping that I have already started.”

(Karthik Kumar is taking his journey of Aansplaining across Coimbatore, Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, and Pune, followed by an international tour.)


Edited by Megha Reddy