Jokes apart, comedy clubs are serious business

From challenging content to new audiences, CounterCulture Comedy club founder Vishwaraj Mohan talks about Chennai’s ‘funny’ future
Jokes apart, comedy clubs are serious business

CHENNAI: Over the last year, Chennai has seen the launch of several comedy clubs across the city. These clubs offer both — budding and established comedians — a lucrative space to creatively push forth their art, while also reaching out to larger parts of audiences. One such club is the CounterCulture Comedy Club in Alwarpet, established on January 31, 2019.

In a conversation with the founder of the club, Vishwaraj Mohan, CE takes a look into the prospect of regional and vernacular comedy, the supply of stand-up content in Chennai, as well as developing and building larger and varied audiences for the art form.
Comedy market

“We’ve been in the industry for the last eight years. We’ve been working mostly with the urban stereotypical layer of audiences. When we sat down and looked at the anthropological break-up of the nation as a whole, we found out that most of the younger audiences are in rural and semi-urban areas. We decided to focus on this market,” says Mohan.

When they turned their sights onto the Chennai market, they realised that the self-sustaining nature of the city’s audience and comedians — what Mohan chalks up to “Tamizh Pride” — is a market that can very well hold its own separate from those in the likes of larger metros like Mumbai or New Delhi.

But Mohan admits that Chennai is lacking when it comes to the supply of stand-up content. “We are aware that the concentration of stand-up content is in the Hindi space. Thus, the club has an internal policy of 33-33-33 per cent break-up of Hindi, English, and regional language comedy,” he explains. 

To make inroads into the tier-two cities in Tamil Nadu, the club also has a travelling show in cities like Coimbatore, Madurai and Tiruchy, featuring five comedians. Mohan explained that CounterCulture hopes to give aspiring and budding comedians a platform to boost their careers.

“One thing I’ve learned, being in the entertainment industry in the city, is that we have to hype things up. To play the game, we are pushing them on social media, putting out podcasts, and touring with comedians. We are going to work with five to ten names and make them well-known in the industry,” he shares.

Content curation

With over 100 shows under their belt, the club in Chennai has hosted a variety of comedians since January. The 150-seater intends to give the performers a space to try out different content, as opposed to what Mohan calls the typical “thayir sadam” content.

“We have taken it up to generate the supply of content where it is lacking. For example, we have a Tamil night which is held every Sunday evening. These shows are packed, actually. I saw aunties in saris watching a comedy show. That is our intention — to open up our content to larger audiences, and not just the Instagram-leaning crowd,” he says.

Differing content will also help expand audience profiles, shares Mohan. Their weekly Tamil shows are timed in such a manner that audiences can still catch the last train, and priced in such a way that is accessible to many. “One thing we realised is that because we are in Alwarpet, there might not be many takers for our Tamil content. The audience we want to tap into, even some of our performers, come from very far away. So, we took the according steps,” he explains.

Creative power

Stand-up comedy is quickly rising through the ranks of popular arts in India, standing tall beside other entertainment giants such as the cinema industry and sports. “It’s storytelling. Every family has that one uncle that cracks bad jokes at a wedding. Stand-up is going to be a substantial filler for entertainment going forward, especially in Tamil Nadu,” he says.

Mohan believes that stand-up comedy is an approachable art form that can carry messages effectively due to its compact nature and basis in storytelling. Comparing stand-up to street theatre, he explained that the observational, adaptive and contextual nature of stand-up is the reason that regional comedy has much scope.

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