Something about Sam...

Something about Sam...

comedy circuit

Something about Sam...

This is his first trip abroad. And that too on a business visa for two-and-a-half months. Sumendra Singh, better-known as Sam in the comedy circles, had been invited to present a special Indian Showcase at The Melbourne International Comedy Festival, one of the biggest comedy festivals in the world, that recently concluded.

Interestingly, he’s not a funny guy. Not in the conventional sense, anyway. The 28-year-old entrepreneur is more of a “backstage guy” who wants to make live comedy a viable entertainment option for Indian audiences. “It’s so much better than watching a bad movie,” reasons the co-founder of ‘That Comedy Club’ in Bengaluru.

The ‘jugaad’ factor

We are seated in a quieter corner of the pub on a Saturday evening, watching the steady stream of people — youngsters, older couples, gangs of friends, eclectic mix of families — armed with their show tickets, wrist bands and choice of beverage. Soon, the doors to the coveted zone are shut, and all we hear is laughter — loud and contagious.

“It’s a jugaadu setting,” admits the industrial engineer from Gorakhpur, who has earlier worked as a nightclub promoter, event manager and media sales executive. By revamping an unused section of a fairly popular pub (Beer Republic) located on the hip-and-happening Church Street, Sam (along with his partner Adeel K Q) has not only managed to pull off a lean business model, but also ensured the right crowd.

Started in May 2016, the club is open only three days a week — Friday to Sunday. “Because unless the shows are sold-out (130 tickets per show), it doesn’t make business sense,” explains the man who watches every stand-up act (even the repeats) performed at the venue. “I watch the audience reaction. If a person is not laughing, or is busy staring into his phone, we know it’s not working,” he says.

With a young team of three full-timers and three part-timers, Sam is the hands-on boss who does everything from getting in touch with the comic artistes to ensuring that there are no technical glitches (light, sound, etc) and that the 90-minute experience is a worthwhile one.

Laughter challenge

Sam’s original plan was to design the place like a classroom with a blackboard and benches. Although that didn’t work out, he has managed to keep the seats really close — so that you don’t get too comfortable and can concentrate better! “Also, when you laugh, there’s a contagious energy. It works better if you are sitting close together, almost touching the next person,” explains the comedy producer. And the lights are dimmed out, making it easier for you to laugh your hearts out without feeling self-conscious.

“Humour is universal and stand-up comedy is a grounded art form that appeals to all age groups,” avers the self-confessed “silent laughter” kind of guy. The beauty of it, Sam believes, is that anything can be funny. For instance, when an artiste like Neville Shah begins his act with ‘I lost my mother this year’, there’s pin-drop silence in the room. But as he goes on to talk about the way hospitals function, the things cancer does to you, and how relatives make hopeless efforts to help, it soon turns into a laugh riot.

Today, stand-up comedy is still finding its feet in India. One of the biggest challenges, Sam realised, is finding platforms that offer an opportunity to enjoy live comedy. So, in 2015, he started a production house, called Comedy Wagon, for creating and curating the best of stand-up comedy. Soon, the astounding success of Bengaluru Comedy Festival, which has completed two editions, proved that people were indeed willing to explore newer and more intelligent avenues of entertainment.

Over the last couple of years, Indian stand-up comedians like Biswa Kalyan Rath, Kanan Gill, Vir Das, Sundeep Rao, Aditi Mittal, Daniel Fernandes, Anuradha Menon, Neeti Palta, Sapan Verma, and Radhika Vaz, to name a few, have been making their presence felt not only nationally, but also across the globe.
Once the corporate sponsors start coming in and the reach gets wider, Sam is confident that it’s only a matter of time before live comedy shows become an integral part of the Indian family entertainment plan. After all, how long can you leave your brain behind at home?