Mumbai's Stand up Comedy Venues Set to Reopen

Updated: 13 November, 2020 11:46 IST | Jovita Aranha | Mumbai

With the state government reopening performance arts venues in Mumbai at half capacity, members of the industry weigh in opinions.

Jeeya Sethi  performing at The Habitat
Jeeya Sethi performing at The Habitat

"It feels great to be able to speak into the mic and hear people laugh," shares comedienne Jeeya Sethi who runs the Comedy Ladder, recalling her experience of performing live twice in a socially distanced setting at Lower Parel. "Since it's a room that I run, I set the rules and regulations. Even at half capacity, it was awesome. Zoom shows were a great substitute when we did not have access to the stage. But we'd often struggle with the uncertainty of whether the audio reached the audiences or pay close attention to their reactions. Now that we can reclaim the stage, I must admit that nothing comes close to performing live. It feels more personal," she reasons.

Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra who has a few upcoming gigs scheduled shares, "I haven't performed yet! Once I perform I will be able to tell you how different it is. It won't be the same for sure." When asked if there are jitters about performing to a more exclusive audience, he adds, "I'm excited to deal with the challenges, and changes that would have to be taken for the next full year at least."

Balraj Ghai
Balraj Ghai

The Habitat, Khar-based comedy and music café, a popular venue for stand-up gigs, spoken word, music, improv, screenings and open-mic events, is adapting to the change too. Founder Balraj Ghai adds how they do not intend to restart open-mic events until the situation has boiled over and spaces are allowed to run at full capacity. "By nature, open mics invite people from different walks of life, from different localities in the city far and wide, to share their art. We do not think it is ideal in the pandemic to encourage that." And so they are focusing on serving their customers food and hosting solo stand-ups in a controlled atmosphere where social distancing norms are followed. "Our income has certainly dwindled, and it is difficult operating with very few staff members and even fewer customers. But we are supporting artistes by letting them use our studio space to record their pieces — stand up and poetry — and go online."

Ronak Chitalia
Ronak Chitalia

Ronak Chitalia, founder of Vile Parle-based board games café, Chai and Games, will be holding a stand-up show on November 20 titled The Funny Lineup ft. Abijit Ganguly and Jeeya Sethi. "To avoid handshakes and hi-fives is the first order of business. We also encourage patrons to visit in small groups and with people they trust. Even if they have a hand sanitiser, we insist on the use of the one at the venue. Wearing masks is top priority; they need to scan a QR code and sign a declaration Google form to ensure they haven't travelled abroad or have any symptoms."

A session in progress at Chai and Games in Vile Parle
A session in progress at Chai and Games in Vile Parle

The café that accommodated 45 people pre-lockdown now has only 23 seats "The staff are blue-collared employees who are often sole bread-winners who need their monthly paycheck to survive. And with rents and other utilities remaining the same, the past months have been particularly hard for us," he rues. But he is hopeful that things will improve with time.

Mayur Vemula
Mayur Vemula

Like Chitalia, Mayur Vemula, founder of Standup Labs in Khar is willing to take the plunge. "We will be operating at 12 seats and are looking to increase the unit cost per ticket to make up for the low seating capacity as per SOPs." Vemula will continue to offer stand-up content in the online format. "At the venue, apart from mandatory temperature checks and sanitisers, we also intend to keep extra masks for visitors," Vemula signs off.

Tarun Rawal
Tarun Rawal

However, there are exceptions like Malad-based Clap Centre that isn't rushing to make the transition. Tarun Rawal, an event manager at the performance arts centre explains, "We had to shut the centre down. But we have adapted to the online medium seamlessly, where most of our open mics, workshops and stand-ups are in full swing.

While we will eventually move offline again, right now it is just not feasible."

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First Published: 13 November, 2020 07:18 IST

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