Laughs for the record

Updated: Sep 14, 2019, 09:52 IST | Snigdha Hasan

Comedians are now inviting audiences to recording sessions of their most perfected sets, clips from which go up online. How long do artistes wait before "letting go" of material?

Laughs for the record
Sorabh Pant recorded two sessions in July, which he released online

Having an online presence today is almost a non-negotiable extension of what creative professionals do offline. A witty tweet, an Instagram teaser or a YouTube clip giving a sneak peek into what's coming up are all part of the paraphernalia, so to speak, of being an artiste. The world of stand-up comedy is no different. In fact, the phenomenon of videos going viral owes its existence — to a great extent — to clips of comedians commenting on current affairs, or adding a funny spin to evergreen themes. For those of us whose regular dose of entertainment includes attending a stand-up performance, these videos have more of a recall value. But for those who don't, such clips are a window to an artiste's brand of humour — and a potential invitation to watch him/her live in the next gig.

That's why stand-up videos are serious business, which more and more comedians are realising the importance of. This perhaps, explains why instead of recording a routine performance, artistes now have dedicated, often ticketed, recording sessions, clips from which then go up online. But performing live lies at the core of stand-up. So, how long do artistes wait before they feel a part of their material is YouTube-ready, considering they are vying for the attention of viewers who are spoilt for choice and have the attention span of a goldfish? And how do they navigate the fine line between putting things up online to increase visibility and saving the real deal for the actual performance?

Rohan Joshi
Rohan Joshi will record a session in October

"With videos, you are trying to catch lightening in a bottle. Getting a bit [a small fragment of a longer set] right can take months, sometimes, even a year. So, the material that ultimately becomes available on YouTube has already been tried and tested for anywhere between 40 and 150 shows," explains funnyman Sorabh Pant, who recorded two such sessions in July at a Khar venue before releasing them online recently. Fellow comedian Rohan Joshi, who will be recording in October, concurs, calling the content of such recording sessions "the most perfected material." He adds that the key is to ensure that he has toured enough with the material and sold every ticket for shows featuring it, before putting some of it up online.

This also explains why comedians make it explicitly clear in their announcements for recording sessions that only those audiences who haven't watched them perform in the last six months to a year should sign up for them. "Comedy is not like music. You can't hear the same joke again and again. Also, only when what the audience hears is fresh will I receive organic laughter," says Joshi. Pant agrees. "Even for the most prolific comedian, it takes a considerable amount of time to hone a set and settle for the realisation that it cannot be made any better." Which is why "parting with a set is always a tough call, otherwise we would be releasing many more videos," shares Prashasti Singh, whose entry into the stand-up scene was through the web series Comicstaan.

Prashasti Singh
Prashasti Singh

What makes the cut to go online varies, being incredibly funny remaining a constant. Joshi, for instance, prefers very small bits. "They are no longer than two to 10 minutes, and are intensely topical. So, they have a short shelf life," he explains. Singh, on the other hand, lets go of material that has reached its peak, or "a set which was written at a life stage I have grown out of". Finer details aside, any material available online ultimately feeds into the actual act of stand-up. "Releasing a video is effectively marketing [your upcoming shows] for people to come and watch them," reveals Pant.

But while it's easy to become a one-video sensation in a world that loves to hit "share" and "forward", it is important for young comics to not fall into that trap, Pant cautions. "When you have just 20 minutes of material, you can't be uploading 10 minutes online, and disappoint the audience that lands up to watch you live, reposing faith in your video."

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