In the last decade, we have all witnessed a major transformation in our content consumption. We all grew up from waiting every weekend to watch Kapil and Gutthi’s banter to watching AIB’s well-budgeted YouTube videos. Our introduction of Indian roasting was, majorly through the AIB roast, the controversial 2015 roast, released on the free video streaming platform, YouTube, which became an instant hot topic for spreading “vulgarity” amongst the youth. As time passed, roasting was picked up as a genre of its own by fellow content creators. It saw an instant spike with the introduction of short 5 min clips uploaded by the then-teenage YouTuber Ajey Nagar also known as Carryminati. Fast forward to 2021, the genre has seen a massive surge of creators entering and transitioning to the genre. This increase in the community has also seen an increase in backlash and multiple accounts of ‘offensive’ humor. Then why does the community continue to thrive and attract more audience? Will this ever be yet another gimmicky, attention-seeking genre or a critically curious community? Grab a cup of coffee and some eye drops (just in case) while I take you into the massive world of “roasters”, joined by my friend and a popular YouTube sketch comedian/ writer Jagjyot Singh who helped me navigate the terrain of roasting, YouTube and content creation.
What Qualifies as a Roast?
Thanks to YouTube and our Indian roasting scene, the verb seems to be thrown around the thumbnails and description quite loosely. One search and you’ll find yourself drowning into a pool of creatively photoshopped thumbnails filled with titles in all caps, maybe a disgusted face made by the creator alongside the concerned person to be roasted. But the question remains, “What exactly does Roasting mean?”
Roasting is often a very well-produced and staged event that includes a roast master who hosts the event and invites the panel to roast the guest of honor. We have all seen the Justin Bieber roast ads, back in 2015, on Comedy Central. The most distinct feature between this televised roast, be it that of Justin Bieber or AIB, is that the concerned person towards which the roast is directed, willingly gives the consent to roast. When we transition to a digital space as broad as YouTube where 500+ videos get uploaded every minute, the communication and collaboration differ, plenty of bad and cringe content gets released into the wild regularly, many of them include people intentionally or unintentionally creating such videos. These videos then get picked up by the roasters who call out on the absurd or wrongdoings by the person in concern. While I have enjoyed a roast or two on Taher Shah or the mass favorite, Dhinchak Pooja; the roasting community has progressed into a much more direct approach of calling out and without prior knowledge or permission of the person to be made fun of. Of course, there is nothing wrong with bending and twisting the subjective rules, but it has led to extensive trolling, in recent years.
Serving the Hypocritical Humble Pie
While these roasting videos serve a purpose to voice a much-needed criticism, most of these videos are usually made according to the topical trending environment such as the TikTok ban, the rise of Reels, or the Pewdiepie VS Tseries fight. This leads to many roasting creators touching on topics without extensive research or well thought out script, the result becomes a video with a blend of targeted audience attracting content and shock humor, mistakenly justified as “dank humor” in a poor attempt to cover up for their punchlines filled with misogynistic, body shaming and sometimes, casteist and classist slurs as well. Case in point, Elvish Yadav, a popular figure in the genre, during the Rhea Chakraborty witch hunting, made plenty of Bollywood roasting videos. These videos clearly displayed his disdain towards Bollywood celebrities and celebrity culture. Cut to a year later, he is seen promoting a fantasy gaming sponsorship wherein he highly praises the Bollywood celebrities associated with the brand. So how exactly do we justify these paradoxical gatekeepers who tend to have their own set of subjective double standards and rules?
The Audience Plays an Equal Part too
While I do admit, I have been going too harsh on our creators, at the end of the day, many of these young creators do it intending to satisfy their creative needs and to earn their bread butter. The creator’s content is heavily interdependent with their audience as well. Hence, the audience does become a major stakeholder and a part of decision-making in a subconscious sense with regards to topic selection and video format. The audience holds substantial power in turning these videos viral across the platform, they could either love the video or completely hate it, there’s a very polarized approach especially in viewing mainstream, trending creators’ work. Jagjyot explains this, “In a country where there have been 15 seasons of Big Boss, we sure do enjoy drama, it’s kind of a guilty pleasure to tune into.” This could be a good explanation behind certain creators deliberately picking sides and catering to a particular bias. Due to this fixed bias, these roasts end up nitpicking and exploring the themes from a very superficial perspective such as looks, class, gender, etc.
Role of YouTube’s Guidelines
Since many of these “roasting” based creators are massively popular such as Carryminati, Lakshay Chaudhary, etc. with YouTube constantly featuring them on their trending page, I did wonder what happens when these huge figures find themselves into controversies. Are they bigger than the platform? Do they indirectly have some control?
Jagjyot replies,” It is very subjective and unpredictable, there have been cases where the content gets age-restricted unnecessarily and simultaneously you’d find certain videos with heavy negative and harmful undertones not being properly monitored, so the guidelines do their job but just the way a human would function, it is bound to have some imperfections”
These guidelines sometimes backfire on the creators themselves too. The genre requires the creators to emphasize flaws and the wrongdoings of the subject in concern, for example, sexual undertoned prank channels or misinformation spreading other roasting channels. Due to this, there have been multiple attempts of taking down these videos without proper explanation resulting in unnecessary strikes on the channel. many times the guidelines of Youtube are used for better or for worse. The creators themselves find themselves in the middle of defending and protecting their videos which hamper their free speech and content creation process. So maybe not everything is always fine and dandy for these creators.
All Roasting Is Not Bad
The genre does carry the baggage of immersing itself in a plethora of online controversies and dramas, one cannot generalize these creators and ignore their positive impacts as well. With the growing audience being aware and evolving constantly and with more creators basing their careers on this video format, the genre is also filled with creators vocally criticizing with a higher creative purpose.
Jagjyot says, “When you see a good roast, people who are doing wrong, they improve too, they adapt and change their stylistic choices, for example, popular YouTuber Ashish Chanchlani was often called out for his overuse of the boom sound effect which eventually led him to take it into consideration; creators such as Amit Bhadana have also improved for the better due to these feedbacks.”
With the lines of roasting and commentary being constantly blurred due to its common denominator of criticism, creators such as SaimanSays and Papa Ocus have actively voiced and touched upon relevant issues and the hypocrisy within the community by tackling the issues in an entertainingly experimental manner.
Where Does the Problem Arise?
While using free speech and expressing a fresh and opposing idea is always a new, interesting approach, the problem arises when the punchlines become personal and no longer carry an intention of improving the subject’s content. Instead, it turns into a vengeful, mass-conforming, hatred speech. It can be observed that most of these cases occur when the subject in concern belongs to some category of minority such as minor girls, rural tier 3 catering content, etc. When these punch-downs take place especially coming from a place of systematic privilege, somehow the punchlines lose their relatability with the possibility of triggering traumatic experiences through their “harmless” slurs. The popular Indian gamer, Carryminati’s now-deleted video is a prime example of this by using the analogy of a “young girl” to denote a negative connotation. In the video, Ajey Nagar goes to compare “cringey, tier 2” TikTok star, Amir Siddique as “beti” and goes on to misgender him using she/ her pronouns in a failed attempt to grab some laughs. The problem doesn't lie in him “roasting” the concerned person’s content but in the choice of his words to convey his point. So the cultural policing done so far loses its integrity immediately. While these incidents might be ignored with a "boys will be boys" mentality, these incidents have serious repercussions on their young audience and the already vulnerable minority. Many of these young kids get influenced and appropriate these harmful words for themselves considering their favorite creator had normalized it and paved the path for them.
What is the Solution?
Jagjyot reminded me that while it is essential to call out the cringe and misdeeds, it is equally important to remember that the subject at the other end also is a real person with their own set of emotions. The real way to tackle this issue is to have a good balance of seeking attention and empathy. It is very essential to curb the unwanted drama and controversy because it draws the attention of the audience from the subject being roasted as well which could end up creating a massive mob mentality leading to an internet battle between the two sets of viewers. Meanwhile, the budding creators in the community need to be patient and organically try to grow instead of forcefully favoring sides in a trending topic, and simultaneously, the audience must be conscious of the content they view and reject whenever it is necessary instead of celebrity worshipping.
It is also interesting to note that while the content is being developed through these years, the audience also goes through its own evolution which includes the change in taste and choice in its media consumption. The world of Youtube sees a constant reshuffling in its audience. The content that becomes redundant for the older audience becomes innovative and fresh for the younger ones. Hence, on a broader scale, there is a constant progression of consuming content which cyclically helps in improving the overall taste in pop culture.
What’s the Judgment then?
Of course, there isn't a concrete yes or no answer to the question. The reality is that the community in the past couple of years has seen massive growth and has established many renowned content creators who have provided constructive criticism and humor in an entertaining and accessible way to the youth. There are plenty of creators such as Sunraybee, SaimanSays, whose stylistic videos garner 500k+ views regularly, making conscious use of their platforms in a much more positive and holistic method of critically analyzing, offering feedback, and staying authentic and transparent to their audience. But one cannot ignore the immense toxicity of those creators with the purpose of gaining quick views by blindly conforming to the masses and hypocritically moral compassing other creators under the garb of "criticism". Roasting and commentary in themselves are valid and legitimate genres that will only continue to thrive thanks to the ever-increasing penetration of diverse content. But at the end of the day, the question you need to ask yourself is, is anyone’s comedy and roasting worth ignoring the collective effect on others’ Mental Health?