Being funny, seriously

There’s something fishy about the oft-repeated line that often precedes some comedy shows and Bollywood movies — ‘Leave your brains at home’ — or something like that. More often than not, you end up watching done-to-death caricatures of communities and nationalities, Russell Peters style, and are encouraged to ‘loosen up a bit’ to enjoy them.

Sorabh Pant during a performance

But somewhere, amid all this, lies some hope for seriously funny comedy. The National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) hosts NCPA Cheer!, its first comedy festival, from June 22-24 this year, and will stage three new comic plays, stand-up acts and a workshop series on working with humour.

“You don’t have to be nasty, personal or crude to be funny, really,” says Deepa Gahlot, head of programming (theatre and films) at the NCPA. In India, she adds, there is no dearth of quirks — different communities, their ways of living, people in ‘complex’ situations and so on — that a good artiste can use as material.

Aditya Hatkari and Divya Palat

One of the three comic plays at NCPA Cheer! is FourSome, which is a set of four plays written and directed by Divya Palat. In Superstar, for instance, an established actor meets a debutant and says things that are rather deluded, obnoxious, and hence, funny.

In Bleep Talk, an earnest father tries to speak to his young daughter about safe sex. He isn’t comfortable using certain words and tries to keep it as PG-rated as possible, but isn’t very successful. In Marriage Counsellor, a young couple approach a marriage counsellor to fix their marriage. “All these plays are very ‘real’ — we all know that one deluded person who we nod along with, that father who wants to speak about the birds and the bees and is quite bad at it, and that couple that fights like crazy.

In fact, that couple could be Aditya (husband Aditya Hitkari) and me, for all you know!” says Palat, who also acts in Marriage Counsellor. “In India, we have place for everything — there’s slapstick, which is appreciated by some people, but there’s also enough room for those who want to be challenged in comedy, too,” she adds.

Another play, called Magic Pill, is an English adaptation of Satyadev Dubey’s Sambhog Se Sanyas Tak. It is a refreshingly humorous take on mythology and is about devas, apsaras, a do-gooder ghost, and confused humans. The play is directed by Hidayat Sami.

The festival doesn’t just plan to deliver good humour — you are also welcome to take stage. In a series of three workshops put together by comedian Sorabh Pant and artistes from The East India Co.medy, you can learn about sketch writing, stand-up and improv comedy and act it all out, too.

“Well, it’s the NCPA, so we’ve left all our gags on private parts behind, trust me,” jokes Pant. And comedy, he seriously adds, can be taught to a considerable extent. “Not everyone can be very funny at all times. In some improv shows, for instance, you mostly end up laughing at two or three out of four acts. The fourth one could be a disaster — which is alright, too! That’s what we will aim for during the workshops, too. There will be ‘theory’ and, later, the ‘practicals’. The idea is to be funny — and non-judgementally so,” he concludes.

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