REACHED 1,000 Twitter followers…Happy faces unlocked, screams the photograph,featuring four men pulling faces,making one wonder if the guys in the photo are really excited or are mocking the viewer. When you realise that the picture captures comedians Kunal Rao,Sapan Verma,Sahil Shah and Sorabh Pant celebrating their massive following on Twitter,it begins to add up. The quartet,which forms the East India Comedy troupe,has reason to smile as their social media following reiterates their popularity.
In the past few years particularly since The Comedy Store set foot at Palladium,Lower Parel,in 2010 stand-up comedians have entered the consciousness of many a humour lover. Apart from Pant,names such as Papa CJ,Vir Das and Anuvab Pal have turned into celebrities,with several shows across the country to their credit. After three years of its existence,however,the comedy scene in India and even in Mumbai is still left wanting. The Comedy Store has split from its partner Horseshoe Entertainment and Hospitality and tied up with alternate venues (including Blue Frog). Its former partner (Horseshoe Entertainment and Hospitality) has set up the Canvas Laugh Factory. These apart,with coffee shops and bars hosting funny acts,there seems to be a surge in the number of venues hosting stand-up comedy.
However,this has not been accompanied by a rise in the number of comedians. No wonder then,the focus now is also on finding and honing new talent. Charlotte Ward,director and assistant producer of The Comedy Store (India) Pvt Ltd,points out that,though The Comedy Store will eventually zero in on a physical space,for now,she intends to concentrate on organising open mics in other Indian cities such as Kolkata,Bangalore and Chennai in order to tap new talent. There are not more than 15 to 20 big names in the circuit today and one can repeat them only so many times, she says.
Then again,stand-up comics are aware of the low feasibility the profession offers. Established names concur that pursuing stand-up full-time is not a pragmatic move,at least not in the beginning. Initially,you learn as you perform,so you hardly get paid. You need to learn the ropes before you get to present 20-30 minutes worth material, says the 45-year-old businessman-turned-comic Atul Khatri,who recently joined Pants company. Pant adds that like any other profession,if youre good,you will make money. Ive been doing this for four years. Stand-up became my sole bread-earner only about 18 months ago, he says.
English stand-up comedy remains essentially an urban phenomenon. Pal,who is also an author,playwright and screenwriter,says that this is despite the fact that Hindi stand-up was huge in the country way before English stand-up arrived on the scene. The audience and the demographic for Hindi stand-up featuring the likes of Sunil Pal and Raju Srivastava is different from that for English, he says.
Another noticeable factor is the low percentage of women in this field. Aditi Mittal reveals that between Delhi-based Neeti Palta and herself,they represent the fairer sex in a funny mans world. The nature of stand-up is such that all over the world,the scales tip in favour of the men. With stand-up,you are never sure whether the audience is laughing at you or with you and I think thats a distinction that matters to women more than men, she says.
The underlying fact is the need to discover talent. Pant talks about their monthly open mic show,titled Virgin Pants. We do workshops in colleges to get more people interested in comedy, he says. The venues,on their part,are also egging on aspirants. Thomas Course,creative director,Canvas Laugh Factory,says that with a venue dedicated to humour,its only fair to encourage new talent. We host open mic nights where anyone can try stand-up. Once they have won,they move on to Open Spot,where the amateur comic performs alongside professionals for a few minutes, he says.