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Mumbai's famous stand-up comedians on why they are going the podcast way

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Live podcasts will debut at a comic festival next week, while another property will introduce scheduled programming on YouTube. Some of Mumbai’s most famous comics tell us why they are laughing into the digital world

The fifth year of NCPA Cheer, starting June 3 will be different from its previous editions. The funny feast will present Audiomatic – Our Last Week's live podcast, presented by Anuvab Pal and Kunaal Roy Kapur. "Cheer was the first-of-its-kind festival when we began five years ago. It has full-fledged traditional plays, stand-up acts, workshops and now a podcast. The audience at the festival is usually younger. We decided to go with the podcast because their humour is witty, topical and not crass," says Deepa Gahlot, Head of Programming, NCPA. Pal, a popular name in the circuit, will also be conducting workshops with children at the festival. He is anxious about the podcast, "Many told us the podcasts don't work, and people don't listen. NCPA suggested we jam with our listeners. Usually, we record in a small room and that has a safety factor. It's not stand-up but a conversation, and you don't know if people will find it funny," he admits.

According to Sameer Pitalwalla, CEO and co-founder of digital media company, Culture Machine, podcasts today are not what they were meant to be. "I did a thesis on podcasts, 10 years ago, during my student years. In its original context, it is audio content that you should be listening to on your iPod. Now, the mechanism is different and the term 'podcast' is used loosely," he elaborates. "The US, for example, has a history of talk radio, which is why, the concept is popular there. If you look at AIB's podcasts, you will realise that they have more views on YouTube," says comic Sorabh Pant. "Companies like Saavn and Gaana are doing podcasts too. It will pick up big time in the next few years," he adds. For Pal and Kapur, however, the podcast has been a fun experience. "Just like TV, for the first six months — you need to build the brand. With Audiomatic, we try to keep the podcasts regular," shares Pal. However, AIB's Rohan Joshi has a different perspective, "Our podcasts got very popular on Soundcloud. It was pure audio. The concept is picking up in India. Only some podcasts, with energetic performers will grab eyeballs. Most people prefer to listen and imagine."

AIB Arunabh Kumar of TVF

On schedule
It's not just podcasts that are conscious of keeping a strict schedule. Top comedy content creators from across the country are coming together to launch their individual web series under the #LaughterGames property on YouTube. Led by Only Much Louder, this initiative will provide audiences original content on a regular basis and will also promote other comedy content creators to come up with content on similar lines. New series from SNG Comedy, East India Comedy, Anuvab Pal, Enna Da Rascalas, Random Chikibum, Kenneth Sebastian, Them Boxer Shorts, Arré and Put Chutney will feature as part of this property. "Given how under-served a large segment of the youth is on television, the idea was to create a property for scheduled appointment viewing online," admits Ajay Nair, COO, Only Much Louder.

Put Chutney

Not everyone believes that the appointment-viewing format works for videos on the web. "I don't think it makes a difference to the audience. It works for publicity, maybe. Appointment viewing is dead even for broadcasters. The audience who wants that is dwindling," feels Pal. Arunabh Kumar of The Viral Fever (TVF), who have been creating video content for the web for the last four years, has a different take. "At TVF, we have tried the scheduled content format. We focus very highly on production quality and sometimes, we had announced a date and couldn't keep to it because of production delays. It works mainly when you are launching a new episode and say, catch the first episode on a particular date and time." According to Joshi, however, "Scheduling on the internet is different from TV, but important. We upload a lot of our content on Mondays as weekends are slow days for the web. The content gets lost. An American show also recently moved its webseries from Saturday to Sunday because you want to make it to that water-cooler conversation at work on a Monday."

Put Chutney
Put Chutney

Picture perfect
Production quality of comedy content has seen a makeover. "We are comedians first, and creators later. We post simple videos of our recorded gigs on YouTube but they don't do as well as videos with high-production quality. There is a natural increase in expectation as the medium grows," says Kunal Rao of East India Comedy (EIC). "A good comic or a musician does not need great production. A piece-to-camera format also works at times. As producers we have a certain responsibility towards the content. None of the content we do in any genre at TVF, including comedy, is in the simple PTC (piece-to- camera) format," Kumar points out. According to Pal, most web series today use the same production formats including shooting, budget, costumes, as TV shows.

Cyrus Broacha
Cyrus Broacha

Chicken or egg, first?
So, does the audience watch a video online and then go to a gig or is it the reverse? "Videos help sell tickets to gigs," says Kumar. "Some of the older audience, who do not usually go online to view videos, watch our performance and then check out our videos online," reveals Rao. Comics also use their live gigs and online shows to feed off each other.

(From left) Anuvab Pal and Kunaal Roy Kapur
(From left) Anuvab Pal and Kunaal Roy Kapur

"This time at Cheer, I will present 90 minutes of brand new content. It's called, My Baby Thinks I'm funny and is about my 15-month-old son and my funny parenting experiences. I am also doing online snippets called Nursery Crimes, about having to listen to them every morning. I intend to show one of these videos as part of my act while with the videos people will know about the live act too," shares Pant.

The East India Comedy team
The East India Comedy team

Those were the days...
Cyrus Broacha hasn't quite been bitten by the online video bug but confesses that he might have to take the plunge soon. "I belong to the era of Mangal Pandey. He was funnier." he says. "We haven't figured the online medium yet.

Enna Da Rascalas
Enna Da Rascalas

We might have to at some point. We have begun to post two-minute videos of our online gags up on the web. Earlier, some of our videos like the one on Rahul Gandhi and another on onion prices went viral with over a million views. But those were timely. People like OML know the online business better but they don't talk to old people," he concludes, leaving us in splits.

When the web doesn't matter

Timepass Talkies Goes to Town is an act by Kiran Kotrial where he looks at clips from over 60 films in a time span of two and half hours. "I observe keenly. In a film I point out scenes and events that most people tend to miss. I have mainly performed the show in Bandra and this is our first time in South Mumbai," says Kotrial. "I had been doing private shows for long, which were attended by members of the film industry. Abbas-Mastan, Sonu Nigam and Johnny Lever pushed me to make the shows public. My format doesn’t lend to the online medium," he adds.

Boredroom Comedy is a Corporate Comedy Consultancy founded by former investment banker Vikram Poddar. "Humour is the best way to connect people. HR teams come to us to conduct workshops when they are starting new projects. The participants don’t know it’s a bonding exercise. They are told a few stand ups will present, and that a fun evening is in store," says Poddar.  "It's effective as opposed to many traditional methods; people learn to laugh, bond and trust. The humour is a mix of customised jokes, gags about corporate elements like conference calls and general humour," he adds.

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