Instant Comedy

Improv Comedy Mumbai displays sharp wit on the stage as its performances are made up on the spot,based on the audience’s suggestions

Written by Debjani Paul | Published:September 11, 2013 2:09 am

In school,I was basically the defence attorney for any classmate who got into trouble with the teacher. The two of us would together sort it out with the teacher and I’d usually be the one doing the arguing,stumping them with questions,” says Dhruv Lohumi. His knack for repartee may have earned him a reputation for being a troublemaker as a child,but today,it serves him well when he goes on stage to perform improv comedy.

“I was always somewhat of a troublemaker as a child,but now I get to do it for a living. You have to be a little crazy for improv comedy,” he says. Improv,or improvised comedy,doesn’t have any prepared material or gags,unlike stand-up acts. Instead,performers make up the material on the spot,taking inspiration from a few keywords or ideas suggested by the audience. A popular genre abroad,improv comedy is relatively new in India,and began in 2009 when Lohumi and seven others joined hands to form Improv Comedy Mumbai.

“Usually we get on stage and take suggestions from the audience. Improv is different from stand-up comedy because we don’t focus on impromptu punchlines. Our focus is on developing an interesting story or characters based on the audience’s suggestions,” says Lohumi,who will be performing in the city today. He recalls one performance when he asked the audience to suggest a relationship,and someone said “brother and sister”. “The performance was about the dysfunctional relationship between a brother and a sister,both of whom are in love with the same boy. So the audience enjoyed the story itself,” he says.

The group also performs improv music,which Lohumi says is their trademark. “We ask for genre suggestions,and as soon as someone says ‘rock’ or ‘blues’,we begin to play a song made up on the spot,” he adds. The group often combines music and comedy to experiment with other formats for their acts. “Last year,at Impro Amsterdam,we performed an improv Bollywood movie,a spoof on the stereotypical films we see. We made up the hero’s character,the villain,the heroine,her father and everything else that you see in a movie. There was improv song-and-dance,over-the-top acting,and even improv fight scenes,” he says. They have since been invited to perform at four other festivals and will soon travel to Toronto (Canada) for another one. In Pune,the group has planned to use a format called Short Form,similar to the television show,Whose Line Is It Anyway?

“Every time we step on stage,there is great potential for embarrassment. This one time,we were stuck on stage and didn’t know what to say. Unfortunately,one of us said something racist and some people got offended. But that is why we perform in a group and rely on our teammates,so that if one person has an off day,somebody else can jump in,” Lohumi says. That said,the group gets more than its share of fanfare and appreciation. “In Amsterdam,after the Bollywood show,a Dutch girl came up to me and said how much she loved Bollywood and that she had a poster of Shah Rukh Khan on her wall,but that she was going to take it down and put up a poster of us instead. I can live with that,” he says.

The group comprises seven people from fairly different walks of life — theatre and the corporate sector. “All you have to do,is be able to make a fool of yourself,and work as a team.”

Improv Comedy Mumbai will perform today at High Spirits,8.30 pm onwards

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