Meet the Comedians Around the World Who Challenge Government Orthodoxy
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Dieudonné (“God-given”) M’Bala M’Bala is a black comedian and political activist in France. He performs live comedy in theaters throughout central Paris and frequently appears on radio shows. Although his comedy career began alongside his Jewish childhood friend Elie Semoun, Dieudonné is perhaps best known today as a vocal anti-Semite. In 2007, he ran for president on an anti-Zionist “utopian-anarchist” ticket. He is passionate about struggles of indigenous people throughout the world, especially Pygmy children in Cameroon (his father’s country of origin).
In recent years Dieudonné has fostered a close relationship with Jany Le Pen, who is married to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of France’s ultra-right-wing and anti-immigrant National Front party. Ironically, Dieudonné entered French politics during the 1990s to combat the National Front’s racist agenda.
According to The New Yorker, “Dieudonné’s humor is rooted in an intense, anthropological examination of French society that goes far beyond mocking Jews. A brilliant mimic, he manages to transform himself, in a few deft gestures, into dozens of characters. His shows, which are usually sold out, aren’t primarily attended by young minority men or skinhead rabble-rousers but by hip middle-class white Parisians; many seem to be couples.”
Launched in August of 2009, JayHind! (translation: “to India!”) became the first late-night comedy sketch show in India to appear exclusively to Internet audiences. Since its launch, JayHind!’s website has been viewed over 100 million times. Its YouTube channel boasts over 16 million total views. The network’s numbers are all the more impressive considering India’s culture of social propriety.
JayHind! owes much of its popularity to its charismatic anchor, Sumeet Raghavan, an actor-turned-comedian who is India’s self-proclaimed “most offensive humorist.” Indeed, Raghavan’s comedy is outrageous, edgy, and unapologetic. He has been known to dis India’s famous literary icon, Salman Rushdie (who “got into trouble for another boring epic”), the food served on Indian domestic airlines (“so toxic that it has altered the structure of my DNA”), and Indian culture more generally.
Much of Raghavan’s humor is politically focused. In a recent episode of his new show, The Late Night Show (which, unlike JayHind!, is broadcast to TV audiences), Raghavan rips into Italian politicians for “liking Swiss Bank accounts but apparently not being good at remembering such large prime numbers” (a jab at Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who reportedly stole funds from the Italian treasury). Raghavan continues his stand up by claiming that Berlusconi and his colleagues “are more comfortable with the number of their IQs. Yes, they like double digits, including inflations.”
Of course, as Raghavan is Indian, jokes about Pakistan are common. “Have you heard about their political situation?” he rhetorically asks in one particularly provocative sketch. “It’s been the same for forty years: fucked.”
Formerly a law student in Ireland, Keith Farnan worked in a public defender’s office in Georgia and on a prisoner innocence advocacy project before becoming a comedian. His “Cruel and Unusual” tour highlights the dangerous iniquities embedded within the U.S. justice system, particularly concerning the use of capital punishment, which he calls “barbaric.” Farnan also lends a healthy outside perspective on how the rest of the world views U.S. politics.
Farnan’s routines are insightful and sarcastic toward contemporary society and its values. He meets the issues he addresses with seriousness underneath the slapstick aspects of his routines. Farnan’s standup is sharp, ironic, and certainly not always politically correct, but it drives the point home. “You can hang someone, shoot them, electrocute them and poison them,” he has said. “But under no circumstances should you have someone executed by dropping a giant jelly bean on their head, by a dwarf, in a penguin suit. Because that’d be cruel… and unusual.”