Comedy from a distance

Open mics, which once hosted large crowds, are being held with a restricted audience to ensure people’s safety. 
A performance at Comic Social
A performance at Comic Social

HYDERABAD: The world is slowly adjusting to the new normal. Theatres, cafes, and restaurants have reopened and are seeing a good turnout. Like most events, stand-up comedy open mic, which has been hit drastically by the pandemic, is trying to get back on its feet. 

The stand-up comedy scene in Hyderabad is slowly coming back to life amid strict Covid-19 protocol. Open mics, which once hosted large crowds, are being held with a restricted audience to ensure people’s safety. Comedians and organisers believe in spreading laughter but not at the cost of risking lives. CE speaks to them about how they are managing to brighten up the stage amid a prolonged pandemic.

Ashok Kathri, a comedian at Funny Side Up, says although Hyderabadis are not big fans of stand-up comedy, as compared to the people of Mumbai and other cities, they are slowly accepting this format of entertainment. But even this took a backseat in 2020.

Rupali Tyagi
Rupali Tyagi

“When the pandemic hit, we shifted to Instagram live sessions and then to Zoom shows. But this was not effective as there was minimal response. We have been patiently waiting for open mics to begin so that we can perform to a live audience — after all, that is what stand-up comedy is. The pandemic has affected performers too, as not many have been able to travel to other cities to perform, thus being restricted to just one area,” he says.

Considering how venues are functioning these days, he says, “Cafes have limited seating, if the place can accommodate 80 people, it is now restricted to 50. A few places have made it compulsory for guests to have at least one dosage of the Covid vaccine. This is followed by body temperature checks and thorough sanitisation. Of course, wearing a mask is must.” 

These restrictions and tight safety protocol have affected the turnout as fewer people are showing up for open mics due to restricted entry. Organisers have shifted bookings from spot sales to apps in order to to minimise physical contact (which has made it harder to push sales), he adds. 

Rupali Tyagi, an engineer-turned-MBA-turned-standup comedian, is of the opinion that nothing takes away the beauty and joy from live shows.“But we had to adapt to online shows in order to survive. Also, across the country, the ecosystem of venues and producers that supported comedy has sort of collapsed to some degree. We are all trying to figure out how to keep building that ecosystem in parallel. It’s like going back a few years in terms of the opportunities.”

She says shows are still happening both online and offline, but the virtual ones had to be worked on from scratch. “Live shows are not as packed as earlier because we offer only limited seats to keep the environment safer. We have also got used to the audience’s laughter coming from behind those masks. A lot of our earlier venues have shut down due to the pandemic. We are trying to find and create new opportunities to perform. People are definitely willing to come out for entertainment now because of the pandemic fatigue, but they also want to make sure that they feel safe,” she says. 

Rohit Madadi, one of the partners at Comic Social, says the upside of the pandemic is that many local cafes are considering hosting such events. “Previously, only big venues were considered as spots but now many local cafes are being approached. This is not only beneficial to the comedy field which gets a platform, but is also good for business as we get new customers.”

Cafes, like Comic Social, are trying out new strategies such as redeemable coupons to draw more crowds. “Cafes and other venues are using this opportunity to expand their business. Yes, we wholeheartedly support the comedy field and are proud to be able to help the community grow. But at the same time, this has also helped the business. We get new crowds due to shows and because of this, they come back a second time.” 

With respect to safety measures, Comic Social ensures that all its guests are sanitised and are wearing masks. “Apart from this, we have ensured that our staff are vaccinated too,” Rohit says. He adds that the seating arrangement is strict and only a limited number of guests are allowed into the room to maintain social distancing. 

The Joint, another open mic venue, also follows such precautions. Tamana Kheskani, head of operations and PR, says apart from the basic norms, the cafe ensures that the tables and equipment are sanitised. “We sanitise not just the tables, but the equipment used by the comedians, and the seats too.”

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