How do they make Mumbai laugh?

Aug 05, 2013, 10:01 IST | Devika Desai

Mumbaikars are known to have a sense of humour; we hope, still. At least, going by the number of stand-up comic acts and comedy festivals that have mushroomed, satire and humour seem to have taken centrestage in a big way. The GUIDE decided to put the funny people behind the gags and the guffaws in the firing range about the chuckle quotient in the city

It was not too long ago when stand-up comedy, or comedy in general was just a small amusement to pass time for Mumbaites. However in the last few years, comedy has grown to be much more than a hobby. It has developed into an art that creates its own spotlight, an avenue for those trying to send a message to crowds in a new and quirky way that keeps spectators from slouching in their seats and rolling their eyes. 

Is the audience smarter ?
Comedians Divya Palat and Vir Das claim that it’s the audience’s increasing familiarity with comedy that makes them more able to pick out a comedian’s weak points and flaws. “Now, it’s not the joke that you tell, but how you tell it. Media along with the audience’s increasing familiarity with our methods emphasises the need to look for better material,” says Das.

Indian satirist and comedian Gursimran Khamba, on the other hand, claims that it’s still easy to entertain his audiences as he still gets a lot of first-timers to theatre. According to Indian comedian Anuvab Pal, the difficulty lies in the individual expectations that audiences hold for comedians as compared to the previous expectations for comedy as a whole. “Now people come to see the comedian, as opposed to just comedy. They like his style, they know what sort of jokes he cracks and so, the comedian has to strive to top his previous performances.”

What works best?
The vote was unanimous -- Indian context humour won hands down. Pal feels that comic references to well-known personalities and current events does the trick. “I prefer to tell stories but many others use this tactic to get a response from the crowd,” he states.
Das echoes a similar stance and says, “People really laugh at jokes about things that they can relate to or find familiar. It’s humour that holds meaning for them.”

What’s the biggest challenge?
According to Khamba, comedians have evolved faster than the audiences. “We comedians are fed on a diet of what we see in the US, where comedians continuously experiment with topics and techniques. However, people here aren’t used to acknowledging, let alone laughing about controversial topics. It will take a few years before our audiences are experienced enough to laugh light-heartedly at taboo topics.”

However, Palat believes, “People have shifted from the relatively louder, entendre bedroom comedies and now look for more refined and witty humour.”
To this Rao adds, “There’s always that one group who is tired of clichés and expects something more original. This makes the job more challenging for us, but challenging in a good way.”

Is the audience more sporting today?
“Indians have always been a sporting bunch,” says stand-up comic Kunal Rao. “By now, people who sit in the first two rows know that there is a high chance that some of them will get picked on, and they’re absolutely fine with that. In fact, sometimes they actually try to get singled-out by cheering loudly, or interrupting a story I might be telling. I think it’s quite nice, it shows that the people are as involved in our gigs as we are.” The others agree, with more to say. “There’s a lot more heckling than before,” says Pal. “Now audiences are used to being picked on, so they shoot back with witty comebacks. It’s all in good fun, and as long as it doesn’t get out of hand, we go with it.” 

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