Fall Down Laughing

A look at the stand-up comedy circuit in Chennai

Rochana Mohan, III Year B.A. English

A room full of people, the sound of laughter echoing off the walls. With a mike in hand, the person on stage continues to speak animatedly. The laughter continues, the audience is absolutely captivated. Here is a person who has the ability to make you feel happy with their words.

Stand-up comedy is a relatively newer art form in India and is particularly fresh in Chennai. The trend has been around the city for five years, but it is only in the recent years that it has garnered much popularity and attention. Comedy has always been a part of our culture, ever since the days of Tamil theatre, but what makes this fad so unique now?

Many comedians from Chennai have made it big in the entertainment industry, namely Karthik Kumar, S. Aravind and Naveen Richard. Their successes in the field have encouraged younger enthusiasts to take up the art forms and attempt to carve in a niche in the city. This created an influx of newer talent into the scene.

“The atmosphere here is very encouraging,” says Syama Harini, a stand-up comic working with Evam Stand-up Tamasha. “It’s not competitive at all, now that I think about it. We’re all giving each other encouragement and listening to each other’s jokes, because we’re all just trying to make it. We’re all losers anyway, at the end of the day,” she adds with a laugh.

This does not, however, take away from the talent that runs in the city. The newness in the field allows for them to explore vey many options and find their own unique brand of humour. Content-wise, comedy in Chennai is as diverse as the people performing them. There are intellectual comedy, slapstick comedy, dirty comedy, deadpan, energetic, bilingual and more. The environment allows for them to experiment and gauge its success.

“Stand-up comedy here is very diverse,” says Smarabh Sriram, a stand-up comedian associated with the group The Pundits. “It’s like how no two people are the same, so no two comedians are the same. For example, for me, I like to sit down for hours and write my sets in a stretch. I also perform very physical comedy. It’s different from others.” Conversely, Harini says, “I just write my jokes as they come, bit by bit. I’ll write some now and some later and make a set. My comedy is relatively clean, compared to other comics.”

A major part of the comedy scene in Chennai are the public shows, with most comedy shows held in music halls such as Museum Theatre, Music Academy or the Sri Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Hall in Lady Andal School. Several local comedians and troupes perform at these venues. These public shows see loyal fan-followings and large crowds appearing.

“The Chennai audience is smart,” says Sriram. “It’s a very diverse crowd. We’re old-fashioned in the sense that we’re nice people. We won’t boo people off stage. So the crowd is very encouraging. Don’t ever think you can get away with anything with them, though. We don’t appreciate thaiyr sadam jokes.”

These audiences in Chennai are just as supportive of this new art form as are the comics themselves. While established comedians have large fan-followings, even the newer comedians and groups see a certain patronage in their audiences. The crowds are very diverse. The encouragement and support greatly motivate and fuel comedians and the comedy scene.

“Our job is to make people happy,” says Sriram. “I still remember my first show. I was scared and so nervous. But once I got on stage and felt the atmosphere and got my first few jokes rolling, it was like I was in a trance. The only thing that was present was the laughter. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

[Photograph Source: The Pundits Facebook Page]


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