Why you must laugh if you’re at a standup comedy gig in India
Obviously, you don’t have to do what I highly recommend but hear me out.
The comedy “scene” is still very very new and raw in India. We have a show like Comedy Nights With Kapil, which airs on National Television and is heralded as “the best comedy show ever” despite its extremely sexist, discriminatory and plain rude commentary. The show is more a platform for Bollywood to promote its films than anything else. Which is fine, we all have to find ways to make money. I’m very happy for Kapil Sharma. But it hurts my head whenever I try to understand how THIS could be classified as comedy.
Then there are the folks behind All India Bakchod, who have tried to push the boundaries of what it could mean to be a comedian in India. And they have done a great job, for the most part. Help push the comedy industry forward in leaps and bounds. Help push Freedom of Expression agendas and help instill confidence in many a young person to at least give stand-up a shot. But AIB has also digressed and stepped into the treacherous minefield of slapstick comedy a la Kapil Sharma and they have used Bollywood’s crutch heavily. Which is also fine, I love Rohan and Stupidusmaximus, and Khamba’s a bit awkward and I’ve never been sure about Tanmay. They’ve gone where no one dared to go – a roast for fuck’s sake! Involving Bollywood was a wonderful idea as well because it reached so many people for whom the concept of “comedy” is only whatever Bollywood throws at them. ( I had the chance to photograph them during the early days in 2011, when they didn’t call themselves AIB. See here. )
Then there is Daniel Fernandes. He’s my personal favorite in India currently. To me, his stand-up represents what an ideal comedy scene would look like. Daniel’s dark, political, you-should-not-take-it-personally, perfectly-timed humor is wonderful.
Aditi Mittal’s stand-up is another personal favorite. I haven’t seen too many of her performances and haven’t seen a single one live, but I hope that changes soon. Her commentary is slightly more slapstick than Danny’s ( not comparing, both do very different work ) but it still cuts at the right places and urges you to look inward. Intelligent humor that makes me think is the kind I prefer.
Apart from the above, there are Kanan Gill, Abish Mathew, Kenny, Varun Grover, and so many others who are pounding the pavement, creating a space for themselves and expanding the “scene” in India. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been to start and gain any form of traction.
Corporates have started hiring more and more stand-up comics to help elevate their otherwise boring events and conferences.
This corporate hiring is great. We need more of this. But I have noticed that in many of these gigs, the crowd is the worst possible.
While a Canvas Laugh Club or a Comedy Store has an audience that is there – and has paid to be there – specifically for a particular stand-up comic, most of the audience at a corporate gig probably has never been to a stand-up gig before. Most of them have no idea about the etiquette or are usually drunk by the time the comic comes up on stage.
I’ve been at a few of these – I was the blogger covering the event for the brand – and even I did not know that a comic would be performing on stage. There is deathly silence from the audience usually. Most comics on these stages are relatively new in the field. Some are still finding their voice, their “style”, and their jokes are rough around the edges. They might not be stars like Danny, Rohan and Aditi, but they might be one day. If you let them.
The client is usually only going to be happy and possibly re-hire them if the crowd laughs and has a great time.
If you ever find yourself in such an audience where the crowd is busy eating and drinking and summarily ignoring the comic on stage, laugh a little louder than usual. Laugh a little more than usual. Laugh at their jokes, even if it isn’t exactly YOUR kind of funny.
Looking at you, the rest of the crowd WILL join in. I don’t know why but it works.
And you might have just saved another young comic from an early “I give up”.
If you’re not into such lofty goals, you might find some satisfaction in that you might have just helped ensure the client pays the comic ( if they haven’t already taken a 100% advance ) and further recommends them and hires them again. The more a half-decent comic performs, the higher their chances of getting better.
You might say that the comic on stage is actually quite terrible and that it would be false-confidence-invoking to laugh at their jokes. To which I say that if you think they’re so terrible that your being an asshole in the audience is justified, how about you get up on stage and replace them? Maybe then you will realize what it takes to be on stage, in front of a thankless audience. Or maybe just leave – if they’re that bad. Staying in the audience, summarily ignoring the performer on stage is a whole lot worse than just rude.
No professional’s got mad skills within the first year of their career – for example, photographers spend decades honing their craft. It is the same for a stand-up comic. It takes time, it takes a lot of practice and it takes a lot of asshole audiences before they get to star level. Especially in a country like India, where some audience members believe that heckling is the actual comedy show.
I’ve always believed in the power of humor. It can resolve situations that seem unsolvable and it can help clear obstacles that seem insurmountable. So when someone’s trying to push THAT agenda, laugh. Ok?