'Audience expects content, not production value'

Updated: Apr 20, 2020, 10:01 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

In a freewheeling chat, comedian Angad Singh Ranyal discusses a lockdown special, technology and content during the pandemic

On a split screen, Sapan Verma, Angad Singh Ranyal, Azeem Banatwalla and Sahil Shah of East India Comedy emerge. This is EIC Charcha, their eight-month old bi-monthly show, except this time they are in their own homes and there is no live audience. As is customary with this show, they choose recent news items and crack jokes in candid fashion. The subject this time, predictably, is the lockdown itself. Ranyal talks about vegetable shopping; Shah reveals his experiences with mopping and cleaning, while Banatwalla shares his take on the call for lighting diyas. There is humour but a disconnect, too. One person has to wait for the other to finish.

Interruptions don't work as well as they do when you are live. "It's something you have to be aware of even when doing shows on the Zoom app. And disturbance doesn't just come from audience members," says Ranyal. "This one time the comedian himself was interrupted on a live show by his mother berating him about making noise in the middle of the night. Then there is always the occasional mixer-grinder going off in the background," he adds.

(Clockwise) Azeem Banatwalla, Sahil Shah, Sapan Verma and Angad Singh Ranyal in the EIC Charcha: Lockdown Edition
(Clockwise) Azeem Banatwalla, Sahil Shah, Sapan Verma and Angad Singh Ranyal in the EIC Charcha: Lockdown Edition

Amid the lockdown, stand-up comedy is changing, in both form and content. From Instagram live with interactive messaging to the Zoom app where the audience is visible, comedians are trying every avenue to see what works for them. "Instagram didn't work for me. It becomes chaotic, people start giving in requests, or hurling abuses. Neither the comic nor the audience knows what to do with the medium," Ranyal confesses and admits he has had more success with Zoom.

The platform of choice for EIC Charcha is YouTube to avoid the lags that come with live apps. "We recorded it twice though. It's difficult to work without an audience and not be able to feed off that energy," he explains. As for the content, even when talking about the lockdown, the comedians focus on lighter news items, a pattern they have followed with earlier episodes. "By the time the lockdown is over, every comic in the world will have a lockdown set. We are all comfortable writing about things we experience, and the audience finds it funny when they can relate to it. With this [the lockdown] the relatability is a given," he explains.

Themes and technology aside, Ranyal admits that even though there are several shows taking place online, there is not a lot of money going around. "I worry about those who have taken up stand-up comedy full-time recently. Shows are not ticketed and even if they are, proceeds go to charity which is of course the need of the hour," he says. Lack of motivation and discipline to produce new content is also a challenge, he tells us, when an open mic deadline isn't lurking in the background.

The audience, however, has been lapping up the web content and is supportive of comedians. "They are looking for content, not production value, at this point. Indian audiences are some of the best in the world. While those in Delhi want you to make them laugh, Mumbaikars are glad you are following your passion, and celebrate it. For now, everyone has been more like the people of this city," he says.

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