Till a few years back, stand up comedy for me was a rogue video of Russell Peters that somehow found its way on my hard drive.
It was back then that I stumbled upon a podcast by All India Bakchod (AIB), and that was my first introduction to the emerging comedy ‘scene’ in India.
What I heard, I liked. So, I went looking for the podcast creators on Twitter. Soon, I had discovered other comedians and their 140 character updates has kept me in loop since.
I may not have a thesis on the state of stand up comedy in India, but I sure am in a position to make an inference or two.
Social media has played a major role in making English stand-up what it is today. And I don’t think them performers will deny it. First hand digital interaction with the present and prospective audiences, gauging the public sentiment, platform for views Et all make social media channels very important for these performers.
In fact, social media has given birth to a few comedians.
Once you start cracking people up on Facebook and Twitter & have a loyal fan following, you wouldn't mind trying your hand at comedy in 'Open mics', would you?
But there is a difference between social media comics and seasoned stand-up performers. When you’re behind the protective shield of the Internet, you don’t have to stare into your hecklers eyes and shut him up with a piercing comeback. You’re in the comfort of your own room and behind the protective screen.
Open mic sessions might be a launching pad, but hardcore stand-up is another ball game altogether.
Presently, we have quite a few established comic artists, many budding comedians also a whole lot of noob performers. With so many jokes flying around, someone is bound to take offence.
The problem with the Indian audience is that, that someone turns out to be a huge chunk of people.
Let’s face it; India is a cultural melting pot. Many races, castes, religions, lifestyles give form to many jokes. Some are bound to make people laugh, and the fellows not laughing are the ones taking offense. But more often than not, we love jokes that are not even remotely depicting us.
I was sure that India couldn’t take comedy. I had written a list based piece, using stereotyping as a device. It was all in good humour, but the amount of 'hate' directed towards me was shocking to say the least. That was something personal, on the public domain, I keep reading about cancelled shows, unruly audience members, strict mandates by the organizers etc. And all that reinforced my notion.
But a lot of it is changing now, and fast.
Now, it is considered offensive to take offence at jokes.
What started off with the Great Indian Laughter Challenge breaking TV viewers into splits after their daily dose of soap drama, has now graduated to podcasts, video channels and hugely popular live shows.
Now, we have places specially dedicated for comedy appreciation. Comedy as a whole is going mainstream; TV, radio, films and current affairs carry content that’s either created or curated by comedians. But the biggest indicator is the fact that, people are actually willing to spend money to watch just these comedians pick on them.
From being a highly fragmented scene, it’s becoming an organized business industry. OML and other talent management agencies are doing a fine job at that.
When a business expands, so does the competition. From the sidelines, it sure looks hunky dory, but with different comedy collectives holding their own ground (read: AIB, Weirdass, East India Comedy and Schitz en Giggles), it might be a feeding frenzy on the ground levels.
When I was watching the TVF guys and AIB taking a bow on the stage, I couldn’t help but see the enormity of all this. From being something that a handful of people see or hear, these folks are notching million plus views on everything they put online, they’re performing to packed venues and networking with the other established designers, directors and performers.
And it’s just the beginning.
Things are still nascent for English comedy in India, and it’s going to become much bigger.
So now would be a good time to get all your information and keep it up your sleeve.
Intern, Structure Team