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The Rise Of Stand Up

The Rise Of Stand Up

April 01, 2012

Why did the chicken cross the road? India's stand up comedians have the answers.

Laughter may be the best medicine, the best kind of laughter comes from the medicine cabinet. I just wrote that now, and am extremely proud of the creative genius that spurred me on to what I like to believe is the joke of the century (if you don’t agree please ignore said “joke” and continue reading this piece undeterred). I can only imagine the rush that would come from going up on a stage, getting to mock a bunch of famous people, exploiting stereotypes and eliciting uncontrollable fits of laughter from an enthralled audience would feel like.

It’s become a trend of sorts, emerging in the country generally, and Mumbai more specifically. The rise of comedy itself in the country was pioneered, I think by Cyrus Broacha - hilarious, Parsi, and all-round barrel of funny if inappropriate giggle-inducing anecdotes and impressions. Now one dog-lifetime after him, stand-up comedy is creating a buzz like never before. No longer do we have to repeatedly draw attention to Russell Peters’ Indian origin to feel like our country has in fact made a contribution to the art that is stand-up comedy.

Living in Chennai, I recently had a chance to see Vir Das, Cyrus Broacha and Vikram Sathaye perform, not all at once of course. Vir Das a comic who appears in the Nescafe ads trying to hit on an uninterested Deepika Padukone and failing miserably apparently due to his non-coffee drinking ways (the idea behind the ad, if you don’t drink Nescafe, you have absolutely no shot with Deepika Padukone, and if you do, well she’s probably going to pass anyway). His comic stylings exploit, like those of most comedians, Indian stereotypes and cliches with regards to sex, cricket and combinations of the two (aka Mandira Bedi). He is the relatively well-known member of the emerging race of stand-up comedians.

Ashish Shakya, a humor columnist for the Hindustan Times, who coincidentally used to assist Cyrus Broacha to write material for the CNN-IBN parody news show - The Week That Wasn’t, is also a popular comic. I particularly enjoy his political satire, another area which comics enjoy drawing from. These are only two of many rising stars in this business - Abish Mathew, Kunal Rao, Aditi Mittal, Rohan Joshi and Tanmay Bhat are just few of the people whose work I’ve come across in my cyber comic-stalking. Though Mumbai-centric, I would like to believe that the bug will spread like...well a bug. These guys have a fan-following because they’re good, they’re funny and they know how to work an audience. It’s almost like an elite club and I’m unhappy to announce that I just might be the wannabe cool kid, who would like nothing more than to belong to said club (too bad I have crippling stage fright issues).

Like any place, we have our local stars. There’s an RJ in Chennai called Balaji, whose hilarity knows no bounds. My Tamil does not exceed expectations, even on its best days, but one hour of listening to this guy and I spent the whole time keeled over in uncontrollable laughter, clutching at stitches in my side I didn’t even know I had.

Tis’ an art and a gift to be able to make people laugh
, to know that you’re the reason someone’s day is less-crappy or more-awesome, depending on whether you’re a glass half-empty or half-full kind of person. The timing, the precision, the creativity and the constant flow of good ideas it needs, is hard work. You have to tread that line between playfully mocking and intensely offensive quite carefully. You have to be subtly abrasive, quietly loud and you need to know what’s happening in the world of cricket, if you want to make it as a stand-up comic in India. The good news is, even if you and I don’t have those qualities, we have quite a lot of rising stars in the pipeline already.

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  • icyhighs
    02.04.12 03:33 PM
    Recently returned to India after 8 years abroad and discovered local standup. Thrilled to bits - humour is such an important agent of social change, as well an indicator of changes in society. We seem to be doing well on both fronts. More power to the funny men(and women)!
  • Aditi
    01.04.12 01:08 PM
    I recall my only intro to stand-up comedy was watching Seinfield until now when I went to the Comedy Store (my first visit!!) and I was very happy to see that Indian stand-up comedians are not only at par with their foreign counterparts but in some cases better. Also it was kind of nice to see that Indian public is slowly warming up to the idea of stand-up.
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    01.04.12 10:11 AM
    Yes, it is wonderful that stand up comedy is rising in India. The first generation is always going to focus on the current issues for material.

    I'm hoping it is just a matter of time before we get comedians who'll dig deeper and cross boundaries.

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