I’ll be honest. I wasn’t tuned into the talk-show culture from America until Priyanka Chopra moved to Hollywood to start her second innings as an actor: Quantico’s Alex Parrish. She did annual rounds of every late-night talk show imaginable in America: both the Jimmys (Kimmel & Fallon), Stephen Colbert, the View, and even Ellen! Her appearance might have lasted like 10mins each, but for me she’d inadvertently opened the Pandora’s box to an insatiable appetite for these brilliant shows!
The shows are of often classified under the Variety entertainment genre, involve generally an opening monologue, an array of guests who would have something to promote: a new movie, TV show, a book or sometimes just to say hi and discuss their wedding! The host, a charming TV personality often with a history in stand-up comedy, would also play fun-games that were a delight to watch!
But you’d object: Isn’t this what Comedy nights with Kapil is supposed to be too? Well, broadly maybe, but if one’s followed both religiously, they couldn’t be more apart!
The aspect that I’ve come to love and appreciate the most has been the ability of the hosts to make critical, even scathing, commentary on the state of their nation, of-course wrapped in a healthy serving of jokes! Their impact on public psyche is immense. Even the President gets irked when they take these sugar-coated pot-shots at them, but what can he really do about it? Freedom of Speech at its finest!
But are these shows only about making snide, yet intelligent jokes on the ruling establishment? Clearly no! John Oliver who’s been on winning streak for Best Talk Show for the past many years at the Emmys is a classic example here. His show has been so educational, in a fun way at that, that it makes complex topics digestible to the public. Netflix finally cracked the talk show genre with their breakout hit in the form of Hassan Minhaj’s Patriot Act, which is a more edgy version of John Oliver. Hassan’s episode of Saudi Prince Mohammad-bin-Salman was so displeasing to the Saudis, that Netflix had to skip that one from their playlist inside the country!
India’s track-record in recent history w.r.t talk shows has been unfortunately abysmal. I think that marriage of humor & political commentary aka Satire never really took off in a big way here. Of-course Cyrus Broacha has been doing political sketch comedy for over a decade now, but somehow it doesn’t really pack a punch the way it should. I wouldn’t act all elitist and diss Kapil Sharma, he is successful because he clearly fills a void that people seem to enjoy. But I’d never bet on Kapil to say something remotely political. AIB really attempted to introduce political commentary from comedians with their show: On Air with AIB, but a few seasons down the line, AIB was engulfed by the wave of #Metoo prompting Hotstar to dump them, rightfully so. I think we’ve narrowed it down to Kunal Kamra and a bunch of other stand-up comedians to carry the baton.
But I believe our political climate isn’t really receptive of such a talk show culture either. And it isn’t something that’s been a development in the past decade or so. We’ve always been a nation with a poor sense of humor. When has a ruling establishment laughed at itself? We find ourselves governed every 5 years by a bunch of pretentious self-important touch me nots! It goes deeper. it’s also reflective of our culture: the innate sense of respecting elders just because their older in age, the colonial hangover that now mirrored in our respect for authority and even our entertainment industry where we put an “actor” on a pedestal and worship him as a “hero”.
Either we need a better sense of humor or a pantheon filled with more deserving heroes! Till then tune in to YouTube where lie all the American talk show clips uploaded for free daily by the kind folks from Hollywood.