No funny business

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Last Updated 29 March 2014, 13:32 IST
Laughter is the best medicine. And the small screen is serving it in a fresh plate using gags like no other. Kunal Chatterjee & Debayani Bose probe the lives of stand-up comedians and their ever-growing popularity in recent times.

Agitated, stressed-out are some of the words that dominate our vocabulary these days as we struggle with the mundane worries of everyday existence. We look for reasons to smile. Nothing can be more satisfying than a laughing spell with friends, family and relations. Research findings bear testimony to this fact.

New-age comedy shows will never fail those looking for laughter therapy. Of late, shows like Comedy Circus or Laughter Challenge are reigning the small screen and making people learn to laugh at life’s little annoyances.

Most stand-up comedians derive inspiration from Russel Peters and Jerry Seinfeld who rocked the stage in the 70s and 80s, in the US and UK, giving birth to the culture of comedy shows.
Stand-up comedians are people who present a bouquet of humour stories stringed together to form an act.

They usually use television as the medium. Stand-up is an American invention dating back to the mid-1800s. Thomas Dartmouth is regarded as the father of stand-up comedy and is credited with inventing minstrel shows.

No laughing matter

New York’s Gotham Comedy Foundation provides stand up comedians and laughter coaches. Its partners include comedy sets and laughter coaching sessions as part of their patient, consumer, and/or student outreach ancillary programmes.

From the times of master of quick wit Groucho Marx, an American comedian, much may have changed and evolved to suit the tastes of a laugh-starved audience. Modern-day comedians are increasingly using a plethora of techniques to woo audiences. Formed a year ago, East India Comedy already has six whole timers and eight freelancers who perform 10-12 shows per month. Though based in Mumbai, they have been performing across the country.

“We have been performing individually for the past four to five years but soon realised the need for a common platform. Hence, East India Comedy was born,’’ elaborates Sorabh Pant, founder member, East India Comedy. East India Comedy is a professionally-managed platform that houses some of the finest comedians who not only entertain people but also work for a cause.

“Mumbai audience has developed a taste for stand-up comedy. I still remember my first show at the Hindustan Hotel, Virgose lounge. It was well-received by the crowd, allaying all my fears about how people would react to it (show),” says Mumbai-based Sapan Verma, who scripts comedy shows for Comedy Circus on Sony. It (Comedy Circus) has entered the Limca Book of Records for being the longest running reality comedy series.

In West Bengal, laugh-a-minute comedian Mir Afsar Ali, or Mir as he prefers to call himself, had gained wide popularity and some loyal listeners.

His show Mirakkel, aired in a vernacular channel Zee Bangla, earned him reputation as a humourist and made comedy a serious business. Often referred to as the ‘king of comedy’, Mir’s career in television has seen several highs with humour-laced television shows Hao Mao Khao and Beta Betir Battle topping the list of popular programmes.
Smile for a cause

Comedy artistes may have to put up with a bit of struggle in the initial years, but with more corporate funding coming in, it is gradually catching up as a new-age profession. East India Comedy also serves social causes. The group helped to raise funds for athletes who were to take part in the Olympics, but did not even have the necessities like their jerseys, boots and gears. They also raised money for underprivileged children through their show in Chennai.

“I still remember my initial inhibitions when I started out as a stand-up comedian. My friends used to cheer me on during my maiden shows at Cafe Goa in Mumbai. I was afraid of facing the crowd. I was not making much sense in my first show but when I saw people laughing, I was on with the show,” recollects Sahil Shah.

“Comedians need to have a clever sense of humour. All of us have a funny bone but need to know how to use it,” he chuckles.
English stand-up comedian Kunal Rao left his job as a CA professional to become a laughter master. He feels it is not easy to be a comedian as people might take the simplest of jokes in a wrong way.

“I remember a show in Kochi that got cancelled at the last moment as the group that performed before us said something that people didn’t like. While doing shows, we try to be as clean as possible,’’ he says.
Kunal and his friend Sourav got together to do a show a few years ago.

“We do a lot of shows on Mumbai radio and have a presence on YouTube and different websites that are helping us to spread,” he says. “Comedy shows have clearly emerged as the new medium of entertainment that promises to tickle the funny bone and get the much-needed humour back in life,” Pant says.

(Published 29 March 2014, 13:32 IST)

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