Archive for April 29th, 2009

The Comedy Store, which was first started by Don Ward in London in 1979, will shortly be opening a new outpost in Mumbai. It will be a joint venture by Ward and Indian entrepreneur Amar Agarwal and will introduce stand-up comedy to Indian audiences for practically the first time.Well known British comedians such as Paul Tonkinson , known for his physical comedy, and Ian Stone ,a Jewish comic , will perform in the Palladium Building  in trendy Phoenix High Street. Other comedians who will be slotted in later include Russel Peters, a Canadian -Indian stand-up, and Paul Sinha, a gay doctor, who will be pushing the envelope with jokes about homosexuality.The shows will be compered by Sean Meo who will also perform a comedy routine. Shows will  have open mike slots and nights for local comedians.

How will the British comedians prepare for the gig ?  Ward says that they will be reading Mumbai newspapers to acclimatise themselves to the local culture and to search out current topics that will lend themselves to comedy. In addition, the comics will head out to Mumbai a few days before they are to perform.

Stand-up comedy is probably the most difficult form of humor. It takes a lot of guts to go out night after night to  different audiences and get them to laugh at your jokes. Not only does the comic have to wind up the audience and get it going but the laughs have to come thick and fast. It is not enough to be funny. The stand-up has to be quick to gauge the mood of the audience, get it to start laughing and be prepared to deal with wiseguy hecklers of whom there are always a few.It must be the most horrible feeling to stand in front of a mike and have your jokes fall flat. Under the best of circumstances, it is hellishly difficult to get the audience to laugh and to attempt to do so in India…. well, it takes a very brave man to do it. Best of luck, guys !!

One problem is that Indians are by nature very serious and are somewhat inhibited , unused to laughing out loudly. In general, they LOL only in their e-mails , not in real life.They have a different sense of humor and are relatively new to stand up comedy.Only lately have there been Indian TV shows like “Comedy Circus” that are devoted purely to comedy. Seeing such shows one gets the impression that much of Indian comedy is either of the slapstick variety or mere mimicry. The jokes are either recycled chestnuts or are painfully unfunny. There is precious little original material and much of it is forgettable. One other problem is that Indian audiences are not accustomed to laughing out loudly when they hear something funny . They are afraid of being disruptive or impolite. This can be a major problem since stand up comedians feed off their audience ; without a steady drumbeat of laughs, stand-up  routines lose steam and fall flat.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression with my comments about the state of Indian comedy. There are several Indian -American comedians who are making a good living in the US and I have listened to a few of them, either live or on TV. Perhaps the best known of them is Russel Peters who can be very funny though there is a mean streak to his humor. I have also listened to Dan Nainan, the son of a Keralite Father and Japanese mother,who gave up a career in IT to become a stand-up, and Vidur Kapoor, a  gay Manhattan based comic , much of whose humor has to do with his upbringing and his orientation. During  his live performance, Nainan was handicapped by a poor sound system and was not particularly impressive. However, I later saw him on Comedy Central and he was fabulous, original and clever and very funny. Another Indian -American comic who is getting rave reviews is Viji Nathan , a woman now  in her forties , who performs all over the country.There are a number of others on the comedy circuit which goes to show that no longer are Indians just doctors or lawyers or IT professionals. In fact I know one successful doctor who bemoans the fact that he was not able to pursue a career in comedy. He has to content himself   with performing his jokes at his friends’ parties.

Stand up comedy was born in America and many of it’s foremost practitioners were the Jewish comedians who used to perform in the Catskills resorts. They were a step up from the baggy pants comedians who used to perform in burlesque revues. Their humor was more cerebral though it was often just as racy. Who can forget Henny Youngman , Milton Berle, Jack Benny and Bob Hope and , more recently, Robin Williams and Steve Martin. From America , stand-up comedy has made the jump overseas to Britain and Australia and other foreign climes largely due to the efforts of people like Don Ward. Audiences there have learned to love stand-up and I think Indian audiences will too…. once they get used to a different type of humor than they have been accustomed to.

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