I never thought of humour or comedy as a ‘thing’ until I was in grade 9. I was a pessimistic boy, still am. Making fun of things and mocking people and situations without any sensitivity was what I was known to do. I was arrogant like that. If anyone said something, I always wanted to give it back. If I was ever out-smarted in verbal battles, which was most of the times as a kid, I used to just beat them in order to level the scores. It was mostly with my best friends and cousins that these things happened. In school, I was made fun of for being chubby, and with cousins, I got picked on for being the youngest. This was what I kept telling myself.
It wasn’t long before I realised that if I made fun of others it was irritating and annoying. But if I did it to myself it was humour. Also, it didn’t give others a chance to make fun of me.
As a kid watching movies, comedians like Brahmanandam, Doddanna, and Vadivelu were the main characters to me. I watched movies for them, to see them make a grand comic entrance and humiliate themselves in front of the heroes and heroines. I even dressed up like them. A bunch of Tamil uncles in Ooty called me Vadivelu. I couldn’t have been happier. My dad said, “They are saying you speak like Vadivelu and your mannerisms are like him as well,” and I was delighted. With whatever little Tamil I could speak, I mumbled out a ‘nandri’.
We had a decent internet connection and used to spend a lot of time on YouTube after school, to the point where I ate and slept on the computer table. It started with looking at football videos of Sir Alex Ferguson and Thierry Henry. I still cannot recollect how I stumbled upon a Russell Peters’ video. It was probably one of the bits from his special, ‘Outsourced’. He spoke about Indian and Chinese people in their respective accents which had me in splits. Looking back now, he was probably blatantly racist, but he also had the most mixed audience.
I learnt his jokes byheart and used them in situations to make people laugh. Especially the ’34.50 (thirty-four, fifty)’ joke for when someone asked for my weight, and ‘be a man, do the right thing’ when my friends refused to treat me to a samosa, or when they were reluctant to show me their answer scripts in coaching class.
After coming across Russell, I watched every one of his shows. In 2013 he came to India and I couldn’t afford the tickets to go watch him, right here in Bangalore. That night I cried because he was more than a comedian to me.
I have since then, grown with comedy and comics around the world. My first encounter with an Indian comic was Vir Das on ‘Marriage’. I just watched it as a one-off video.
I didn’t watch a lot of comedy apart from Russell Peters because I am always scared to explore, be it food or comedy. I am afraid I’ll stop liking a certain cuisine or certain genre in comedy if I come across some restaurant or comedian that I do not like.
It was AIB’s roast that pulled me back into comedy after a sabbatical, and since then I have followed as many stand-up comics in India as I possibly could have. I have my own set of favourites apart from the popular choices of Zakir Khan, Kenny Sebastian, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Kaneez Surka, Neeti Palta and Aditi Mittal, along with groups like AIB, EIC, and SNG. I love Daniel Fernandes, for he does a lot of research and is witty. He is more famous abroad than he is at home, according to his colleagues. He picked on me in one of the shows, where I was purring internally. He asked me if I knew what Facebook was, and if I had any friends as the seat next to me was empty.
I have now started to write comedy myself, although it is very little and almost insignificant. The one person who made me want to get into comedy is Louis C.K, he is hilarious, which also happens to be the title of one of his specials. Specials are basically one-hour solo shows that are the pinnacle of stand-up comedy. He says a lot of things for the sake of it. That attitude really grew on me. I loved how he could say things spontaneously and not care about it after. He also talks mostly about himself and puts himself in situations to show that he is an idiot and that is also how I would like to write comedy.
I watched a lot of videos on YouTube, almost every single one of them uploaded by Indian comics. I tried to figure out a formula that works for the Indian audience but soon realised that this was futile. The videos were a compilation of the best parts from a show, and they were edited well. I was watching Atul Khatri, a CEO by day and stand-up comic at night, do a Facebook Live where he said, “Watching stand up live is very different from YouTube, as people make mistakes and there is a direct interaction.”
At home or in college, you can slip in one of your jokes and the response would be much more than at a venue exclusive for comedy. As an audience member, you too expect much more from the comedians and that is where improvisation takes over. Your ‘comical instincts’ get stronger as you watch more live stand-up and it gives you the confidence to perform.
I go to That Comedy Club at Church Street, which is the first comedy club in Bangalore. This is where I have watched all my live shows, and met a bunch of comics. India has a varied audience, we sometimes see different audience reacting to jokes differently in the same venue itself. Neville Shah, a part of SNG, made jokes about his mother’s passing away and I found it gutsy and funny. I laughed, not really caring about the people around me. One side of the audience refused to laugh and was completely taken aback. I wanted to appreciate his jokes more but I couldn’t clap because of the crowd. In this way, when you watch it live there is a dialogue between the audience and the comedian, even though the comedian is doing most of the talking. Although, at times some chap in the crowd starts handing out advice or starts doing something silly to steal attention from them. Karunesh Talwar, one of my favourites, has a simple way to deal with such members in the audience, “I have written this, I cannot change it midway. You are one of the guys who goes to Zakir Hussain’s concert and takes the Tabla away from him and says yeh aisa nahi hai Zakir bhai, ta-dinak-din-da hota hai.”
What I learnt about stand-up from watching it live is that it is a daunting task to make people laugh, especially when they expect you to do so.
I performed at META 2017, the Josephite festival of literature, and I think I had the best start anyone could ask for. I had no proper material as such, I thought of things I could say in my head and jotted down a few keywords. The plan was to go on stage and just be me, be funny.
Looking back, I realise I had gone on for much longer than I should have, and I had dragged out some jokes. I made a joke about my mom with her in the audience and some of them didn’t take it well and that is expected. From then the temperature changed a little, so I decided to do some unfinished material as some more of my jokes would have got a similar response. It was a drag and I even saw some people walking out as I was stretching my Brahmin bit a little too much. After the performance, my mother said, “You talked about Brahmins a lot, you should have switched over to something else, but it’s okay”. She did not speak much about it, she usually doesn’t speak about things I do outside the house as much as the things I do in the house.
Some people rolled their eyes but I kept going until I was asked to stop by my friend (who was also the organiser). I overheard someone say, “It’s really sad when you cannot show your disappointment towards the comedian since his mom is in the audience, and you do not want her to be upset.” But I smiled, held my head high and walked out thinking I did something I would have never dreamt of doing just a year before. The fact that I could speak for 26-odd minutes to the audience and made them laugh, for even a brief while, gave me so much confidence and validation that nobody could take away from me.
Now that I have taken that first daunting step, I can write more and let my material do all the talking, instead of my smart mouth. Comedy was an outlet for me, a stress buster, and also something I want to study closely as I have been trying to do over the past year. Now, I take comedy very seriously.
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