Category Archives: Stand Up Comedy

empty stage

How it feels to bomb on stage

At its most basic form, Standup Comedy is an absurd art form.

To go up on stage (and people like Jerry Seinfeld have said this in more eloquent terms), and try to get laughs from strangers, by spilling out the insides of your mind is absolutely weird. Jokes themselves are so subjective – they can either change your world-view, or get you shot in the head by fanatics.

The closest art form is probably singing – you go up on stage, you have a mic, an audience. You have words, and use tunes and tones to communicate. But that is where the similarity ends. A singer can replicate another singer’s song, and is appreciated for how close the singer comes to the original.

In any other art form (cinema, theatre, sports), you have a team working with you. Your success is dependent on how they collaborate with you. Your failures too, can be divided equally. That’s not the case with stand-up.

It is you, standing alone in a dark room of strangers in front of you. They are your thoughts, your words, your performance. Forget sounding like someone else, if you ever tell a joke that belongs to any other comic in the world, it’s the death-knell of your career. Forget copying a joke, even a similar strain of thought could mean THE END, beautiful friend.

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It is this auteristic nature of Standup comedy that makes it unique. There is no team to fall back on, no companions who will see you through. There are friends, of course, but they cannot get on stage with you, or for you.

In other forms, you can always come back. You could muff through the first half of a match, and make a heroic return in the next. You could screw up the first two paras of a song, and come back with a terrific solo in the end. In standup, the audience’s laughter is the only validation. You need validation every few seconds. If the audience does not connect to you in the first few minutes, fat healthy chance of them doing so in a while.

Also, the context to the art form. You could be the greatest standup comedian in the world, but a newbie from Warangal could steal your thunder on his day and sell it in the black market for 250 bucks.

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There are two terms used in Standup – ‘kill’ and ‘bomb’. (Trust comics to use two such terms to describe how they fare!). To ‘kill’ is to do well – to have a good show and get laughs. Of course, kill has other superlatives – murder, destroy, aatank, etc.

On the other end of the spectrum is – ‘to bomb’. To have a shit-show, to muff and fumble and mumble and grumble.

Of course, a lot has been said, written and filmed about ‘killing’ – the success and the glitz of standup. There are books written, shows made, films shot – there is modern folklore associated with successful standup stories.

But nobody talks about bombing. About standing on stage alone and watching your words fizzle out into a silent audience. About standing alone on a stage with your mic, with hundreds of people looking at you, and then slowly looking into their phones.

At one level, bombing is beautiful.

It is like yellow fever – you cannot predict when it’s going to come. It happens to the best, and it happens (more frequently) to the worst. It comes unannounced on some days, and on other, it RSVPs its attendance days in advance. There are days when you expect to bring the roof down, but end up swimming in a sea of silence.

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I obviously can not claim to speak for standup comedians in general, and this is where the blog becomes personal.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve seen me perform, but my jokes are not really family friendly. I don’t know why or how that has come about. Perhaps it is the shock, or the audacity of such jokes that make them such an integral part of my shallow quiver. Or perhaps it was the silly joy in cracking a ‘non-veg’ joke that has somehow shaped who I am as a person.

Which is why I don’t have a great strike rate when it comes to events that ask for ‘clean humour’. ‘Clean comedy’ is an albatross that hangs around every comedian’s neck (I am unsure if that’s the right metaphor – but it looks dramatic enough!). There is money on offer – lots of money – if you’re willing to toe the line.

There are corporate shows – shows for corporate India – mostly bored corporate employees who have been tricked by their HR into an illusion of a good time at an expensive hotel. I can see a bad show coming. Whether it comes announced or unannounced, when you get up on stage – you just know!

For a show to work, there are a number of factors that need to work – I don’t mean the sound and lights and other such paraphernalia. The audience has to be in the right frame of mind, they need to be on the same bandwidth – since a joke is always going to poke fun at somebody or something. They must also belong to your socio-eco-cultural surroundings because standup is subjective and contextual. And to top it all, the audience needs to find what you’re saying funny (or at the very least – stimulating/entertaining enough).

 

So, how does it feel?

It feels crushing. Absolutely heart-wrenching. You have nobody to blame – it is you, thoughts that emanated from your head, told in your voice. And the silence that ensues – is all yours! The humiliation is deeply personal. It is embarrassing, shameful even.

Like a number of tourists who walk towards a man selling clinkets on a bicycle, stare and ask about every product, and casually walk past without buying a thing. There is no redemption, no salvation. There are no second takes, or peppier second-halves. It’s just you, and the mic, and the silence through which you can hear your soul being ripped apart.

So, what do you do?

You feel the sweat trickle down the back of your neck, and patches of sweat in your underarms. You continue to look at the audience, and find a few people looking at you with sympathy – hoping you do well, but curious to see how cringey it can get. You can see in their eyes a rich blend of curiosity and sympathy.

You stand and you take it. You wade through the soul-crushing sorrow and do your time on stage. You soak it all in, say goodbye, and rush out. You smoke a ton of cigarettes and wonder what went wrong.

You wonder why anybody would subject themselves to this? Why would someone put themselves on stage in front of strangers and think they’re funny? Why??

But later, you meet your comedian friends and tell them of the ordeal. And the first thing your friends will do – no matter which city or what age – is laugh. They will laugh long and hard – more than all the laughter that you could have got, if the show had gone well.

And then, you realise it’s alright. They’ve gone through it too, or probably will. That if you cannot see the funny side of your failure, why would you even want to be a comic in the first place?

And then you smile and go back home. Wondering what a strange fucking profession this is.

Strange. But nice.

 

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Jio Filmfare South Awards

Writing for the Filmfare Awards

Alright, let me clarify.

I wrote the script for Filmfare Awards South 2017. Not the one where Shah Rukh Khan makes fun of the rest of the industry. Nope.

This is the Filmfare South Awards, where all the four industries are brought together – a gigantic jaagran where 58 awards are given in one night. In the span of the one show, you could watch Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham thrice, complete with the Mera Naam Mukesh Hai campaign and the Vicco Vajradanti advertisements.

The Filmfare South Awards are also different because stars south of the Vindhyas are very touchy about themselves. Take for example the Telugu film industry, where the biggest stars are not followed because of their acting skills, but their CASTE (I know! It’s fuck-all). There are reports every year of fans of one actor clashing with fans of another actor. Just last year, there was a report where a fan of Pavan Kalyan was fatally stabbed by a fan of Junior NTR for a fight during …hold your breath… an organ donation drive!

Half of my jokes got self-censored when I read up on this.

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The brief from Filmfare was simple. The Awards had been a bland affair so far, and this year they were looking to make it lively and fun, which is why they wanted someone from a stand-up background to script it.

I went through last year’s script and found that it had been hosted by the same couple for the last five years. The script for last year was so interesting, I went to sleep and dreamt of having cervical cancer! So clearly, I had my work cut out.

The hosts for this year’s awards were Vijay Devarakonda, a rank outsider who shot to stardom with Pellichoopulu (coincidentally the only Telugu film I’ve reviewed), and Allu Sirish – younger brother of Allu Arjun, whose films can be found dubbed on Zee Cinema as Main Hoon Lucky the Racer, Veerta the Power, Bunny the Hero, and Natraj the Pencil. 

Surprisingly, the two hosts agreed to make fun of themselves. I was confident that Vijay would be fine with the jokes since we both studied in the same school, and he had also agreed to come for one of the stand up shows I directed, completely around offence humour.

But when Allu Sirish agreed to the jokes, which were mostly about nepotism and the lack of talent among star-kids, I thanked my stars and quickly went on to draft the rest of the script.

The show in itself is a nightmare to write for, as there are about 58 awards in all the four South languages (No, C++ is not a South Indian language, fuck off!). I am not really connected to the movies intellectually or emotionally, and it helped me have an outsider’s point of view to the proceedings. I was told not to make fun of senior actors or popular stars, which meant I could only write jokes about the hosts, which didn’t seem too bad after reading the news about fans stabbing each other!

Finally, we had a reasonably funny script, two hosts who were willing to take a joke on themselves, a video that would be played at the live event, and a couple of gags that would make people wake up from their slumber and hopefully laugh.

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Since I am not too attached intellectually or emotionally to films and their stars, I didn’t have too much work to do backstage. Apart from announcing the beginning of the show, and making sure I didn’t screw up the words ‘Please rise for the National Anthem’ in English and Telugu, I had no real work to do.

The format of the show is rather treacherous, and after a point me and Sai Santhosh (my writing buddy) nearly zoned out. It was just a haze of one actor after the other getting up on stage and thanking the Almighty, their director, their parents, their children, their neighbours, the weather, the North Pole.

That was until I noticed Rahman!

If you’ve read my blog, you’d know I am not a fan of Rahman, I am a devotee. I realised this might be the closest I’ll ever get to the man, and the moment I noticed his chair empty, I ran to the washrooms, just in case he wanted to sa re ga ma pee.

Unfortunately, Rahman was nowhere to be seen. What I got instead was a Malayalam singer looking around with his Filmfare award. Our eyes met awkwardly and I congratulated him on the award. He immediately handed me his award to hold while he went to pee!

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It was 1 AM by the time the show ended, and the two of us went back home.

It had been a fun week, hanging out with all these famous stars like I was one among them. But one cannot fight one’s true destiny. It was time to return to writing articles on the 10 Benefits of Mosquito Repellents.

Image by veganbengaluru for infornicle.com '15 Reasons Why Once You’ve Lived In Bangalore You Will Not Like Another City'

Why Bangalore is the best city to smoke up, and a little plug-in for tonight’s show

The decision to stop posting on Facebook (which, if you have a good boss and a friendly work atmosphere, you should have read yesterday) was the best decision I could have taken.

I have come to Bangalore, and Bhavneet has brought his Kurukshetra-era laptop with him, and I decided to flip it open and start writing a blog. I feel liberated and wild – like a Marwadi teenager who goes out with friends and orders Egg Burji. It’s very nice.

I don’t have to open a note book, and then look around for Reynolds Racer Gel (Best pen in the world, must write about it sometime). I don’t have to find a note book that is unruled, with both the pages new and untouched, and then with a Red or Green pen, scribble down the first draft, and then open my Ayodhya-era laptop and type it all out again. This is better.

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This is my third visit to Bangalore in the last few months, and it has been able to impress a cynic like me.

I am not a fan of malls or pubs or other shit like UB City or whatever. I have a barometer of my own to judge a city. They involve trees, stray dogs and Mom & Pop stores. I have no solid reasoning behind it, there’s no elaborate philosophy or theory on why I chose these three aspects; but it just is.

It took me a few visits to Bangalore to discover there’s more than malls/pubs/robot-mating centres in the city. If anything, Bangalore is the best city to smoke a joint in.

Of course, you can’t smoke in public (not even a cigarette in some of the areas), but if you find a corner on a street, it’s a sensory treat. The roads are wide, trees forming a canopy, and you can still hear birds chirping (something that is a rarity in urban Hyderabad today, it’s almost like the birds left with the last Nizam).

I like to associate places with substances – Bhubaneswar for me will always be the city of Bhang, Himachal the place to worship Lakshmi-Shiva-Durga, Goa and booze.

Bangalore is the place to smoke pot. Just you and some good pot, a small joint, a pair of earphones, and a walk in the streets. It’s beautiful.

There are old men sitting outside their houses reading newspapers at 11 AM, the sun is not sunny, but a benevolent friend smiling down at you. Stray dogs are well-fed, friendly, and appear in all corners, in all shapes and sizes. Cross a main road and enter a colony, and the sounds of cars and streets are tuned out. What you have instead of honks and noises is a light buzz. Like the one in your head. Bangalore is the best city to smoke a joint in.

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Now, for the second part of the post.

Cricket has been an integral part of my life, as I’m sure it of yours.

For in India, if you like cricket, life’s good. But even if you don’t like cricket, you are surrounded by friends, parents, relatives, grocery shopkeepers who follow it like a religion.

In a way, growing up for me has been a journey that swivelled, turned and revolved around cricket. Along with a few buddies, we have written a thematic Stand Up Comedy show around Cricket. It’s called Silly Point and is India’s first cricket based stand up comedy show.

If you’re from Bangalore and free this evening at 7, please come down to Rangasthala Auditorium at the MG Road Metro Station. I can’t promise a joint after the show like I usually do in Hyderabad, because Bangalore. But it should be fun.

That’s all. Got shit to sort out for the show, and take a bath, and watch Raja Babu on TV.

Have a good day!

 

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(Featured Image: A beautiful capture by veganbengaluru for infornicle.com ’15 Reasons Why Once You’ve Lived In Bangalore You Will Not Like Another City’)

Hriday Ranjan Stand up comedy

Chinese Lizards and Oriya People

Dear Reader,

Let me admit I am not a huge fan of cross-platform promotion.

I get irritated when Shah Rukh Khan uses IPL to promote his latest films. I hate it when Salman Khan goes to jail in a baniaan and then comes out and promotes Dixcy Scott.

If I were you, I’d probably get pissed off about subscribing to a blog, and having videos coming to my inbox when I didn’t ask for them. I know that if my Guru, Sri Sri Jackie Baba got a whiff of what I’m doing here, I’d incur his wrath. I understand.

But is paapi pet ke liye yeh sab karna padta hai. Kya karein?

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So, without much ado, here’s a video of my performance at District N, Hyderabad. It’s a bar where rich people go to drink and splurge, and poor people like me try to amuse them by doing cute stuff. Like Stand Up comedy.

If you like the video, kindly do subscribe (Remember, it’s because of Sinner Stomach that I’m doing all this). If you don’t like the video, please add a comment below and inform me that you will have none of this nonsense anymore. I’ll consider it.

And upload another video next Tuesday.

Ok, brothers and sisters. Time to go now. I’ll just leave this here.

Thank you.