Sapna Sarfare asks four acclaimed stand up comics about how they pick out their favourite targets!
Humor is that rare connection between two people who might be strangers to each other before that one joke hits them. From being satirical to parodist, each of us has a sort that appeals to our funny bone. In the past few years there has been a steady rise in stand-up comedy, that in itself points out to one thing only, we are ready to laugh at ourselves, but to what extent? In an over-sensitized nation such as ours, what are the barriers? We go on to ask some of our comedians as to how do they go about picking out their favorite targets.
Ask about the humor which these stand-up comics enjoy and everyone has their unique answer. Popular stand-up comic Anirban Dasgupta reveals, “I enjoy jokes and stories that are well constructed and has a fresh perspective. I love it most when comedians talk about something personal and then ensure the crowd relates to it.”
Fellow comic Neeti Palta too prefers humor from real life. “Clever observations about things everyone sees but only the comedian offers a clever twist or perspective to it and makes you look at it with new eyes.”
Amit Tandon, another known name in the stand-up comedy circuit, loves all kinds of comedy from Raju Srivastav to Seinfeld. “Any form that is not sexist and doesn’t punch down is good with me.”
For Jeeveshu Ahluwalia, it’s the simple jokes based on life, which connects with him. “It resonates and makes me live the joke all over again.”
Each of these stand-up comics have their own unique style which has their fan following. Jeeveshu is the kind of stand-up comic who’s storytelling can be anecdotal and observational. Anirban prefers calling himself a joke writer.
“Performance and act outs are not my strengths, so I am hardly animated on stage. I rely mostly on the content and jokes.” Neeti’s humor is more tongue-in-cheek. “I teases and pokes fun at things and people in a way that they are coaxed into laughing at themselves.”
Amit, on the other hand, calls his humor as mainly observational and focused on the working class. “I am a father and a husband. So, a lot of my stories focus on those aspects.”
Coming to the main topic, most of these have their favorite targets or topics or sometimes prefer keeping things open for inspiration. Jeeveshu feels comics do not keep any particular topics as target. “We might side with some subjects but nothing is out of bounds. I like to write and talk about day to day acts and what they mean to be and what is my take on them.”
Amit’s funda also is simple – no specific topic. For Neeti again, her life is the base for a lot of material. “I basically do a lot of material on my life of a woman in India, my parents and upbringing, our grand weddings and the way people behave in them. So essentially my brand of comedy is tongue-in-cheek observational. Chances are if I have experienced some things then others would’ve as well, so there is reliability with the audience.”
Anirban’s topics keep varying with time. “It depends on what observation strikes and what jokes come out of it at that point of time. As long as it is funny, any subject is fine.”
Different audience’s tastes in a large country mean different humor. A stand-up might have taken care of that factor. Anirban discloses, “A good joke with proper context has the probability of working everywhere. I do think about the city and the audience before the show, and make minor adjustments, but nothing too significant.”
Neeti prefers keeping difference between jokes performed at pubs and clubs and ones at formal corporate shows. “But that being said humor is quite universal. If I do jokes about my parents and my upbringing, they tend to resonate across India. Also, whoever has hired me has done so for my brand of humor!”
Amit seconds Anirban on localising acts in both content and language. “You also see if there are kids in the audience.”
As said earlier, writing humor in India must be quite a tough situation. Anirban reveals, “Honestly, I have been pretty lucky so far in live shows, I have hardly faced issues regarding people getting offended. The demographics we play to generally have a lot of awareness, though there is always a drunken heckler who will get pissed, but other than that it’s been fine. I think if you present your perspective in a measured manner and give the audience your point of view, most people are intelligent enough to understand these jokes.”
To quote Neeti, stand-up owes its roots to standing up for something. “The truth is a bitter pill to swallow, but if you can sugar coat it with clever humor you can actually get away with a lot. So for instance, if I am talking about how women are treated in my country, I talk about my experiences rather than generalizing. Who can argue with that? Though there are enough people out there who like to take offense for the sake of it. But then you can’t please all of the people all of the time. And neither can you manage to offend all the people all the time either!”
Of course, there are times when things do not amuse even the best of the stand-up comics. A private wedding gig saw little interest in Amit’s act and he managed to get off the stage in 5 minutes. The worst for Neeti was a private party. “People hire a comedian because it is the “cool thing” to do. But they must also ensure they provide you with the right environment for comedy. At this particular party, people were more interested in networking and drinking. Comedy can never just be background sound of someone talking, you need an interested audience.”
“Bad shows are part and parcel of stand-up. There was this one corporate show for a healthcare company in Kolkata that was disastrous. 4 bar counters were open along with dinner. The audience was 40 ft away, and the dance floor was the stage. Nothing worked that day, and I did my time and couldn’t wait to get out,” Anirban reveals. There is nothing called as worst act, according to Jeeveshu and one learns from all acts.
Many consider themselves as wannabe stand-up comics and want tips to improve their act, literally! Anirban feels this is a great time for choosing to be a stand-up. “There is no substitute for stage time. Even bad stage time is crucial for growth.”
Stand-up comedy in India is surely on its way up from here and will keep on giving fodder to the funny brains.