CHENNAI: IIT-ans wear only T-shirts with gramatically incomplete sentences like ‘I code, therefore I am’. Some people have a universal defence mechanism — for everything, they retort, “Soldiers are dying in Siachen and you can’t pay `1,500 for a plate of dal rice?” And ‘It’s really difficult to take a dump in the morning if there’s a school next door: when you are on your toilet seat is when kids will burst out into the national anthem’. These are some quirky observations made by standup comedians from Bengaluru who had the audiences in splits at Bay 146, Savera, recently.
‘The Other Banana’ (named after Goundamani’s elusive fruit) saw a bunch of comics touring Chennai amid ‘peels’ of laughter. Says Suhas, a full-time comic, “It’s good to come out of your comfort zone and see if you can make people everywhere laugh. This is one of the most unique art forms where you don’t need anything but a mic.” And of course, your thoughts. And sometimes you don’t even need a mic, pitches in Navin, who works in a software firm “Most comedians are a bit screwed up in the head. There is some chemical malfunction, some tragedy somewhere,” laughs Suhas.
One thing was quite evident: there were no taboos in standup. From profanities and religious bashing to porn movies and masturbation, the jokes just keep flowing. But how different is it performing in another city? “There are a few common denominators everywhere. Everyone falls in love, has heartbreaks, goes to college, goes through workplace politics, etc. So people empathise with the comic. And empathy is key for standup. Tweak these a little and you get laughs,” explains Suman Kumar, a novelist and a stay-at-home dad.
Incidentally, he says, the group’s favourite comedians are all Americans or Britons. Kjeld Sreshth (who says his dad was probably high when he chose the name) concurs. “Humour in essence is universal and all the best jokes have a core of truth in them,” he says.
Getting laughs is what standup is all about, but what if you’re just greeted with silence? The comics all agree that it’s tough and perseverance is the key. “The first time I saw these guys, I thought hey I can do this and went ahead. I bombed like a boss. You could literally hear crickets in the room,” laughs Suman. “Your first good laugh generally comes months after you’ve been trying to be funny. And you need time to understand the audience.”
The comedians say ‘open mics’ are the place to start. An open mic session can take place in places like pubs or cafes and anyone can go up and test their jokes on an unsuspecting audience. But why would people willfully subject themselves to this? Pat comes the reply: “Because entry’s free.” And the group adds that the number of open mic sessions a city has is an indicator of the comedy scene in the city. In Bengaluru, for instance, there are about 5-6 open mic sessions a week.
“For standups, the important part,” says Suman, “is the writing. Next thing is to not have any maanam, vekkam or anything of that sort,” he winks, and adds a tad more seriously, “The key is to never give up and keep writing. You need to set up your own arcs, your callbacks and your character design.”
Kjeld butts in and shares his insight: “It’s easy to have a great night once in a while, but having consistently good nights is f***ing hard!” Concurs Navin, who adds: “It’s addictive. Once you hear people enjoying your performance you just want to keep going back on stage.”