Mumbai's funnymen on how stand-up comedy is becoming a feasible profession

Updated: 05 January, 2017 13:57 IST | Dipanjan Sinha |

Mumbai's funnymen discuss how being a full-time stand-up comic is gradually becoming a feasible profession

Not too long ago, (not even a decade) the Mumbaikar was still getting introduced to the concept of live comedy. In 2010, Vir Das was pioneering the art of cracking jokes in English in India and there were about 15 stand-up comedians in Mumbai who were yet to get paid for what they did. Now, in the words of Anuvab Pal, a veteran who's done over 100 shows of his hugely popular show History of India, the popularity of stand-up comedy has increased "explosively." There are over 10 venues in the city, from one in 2010, that host stand-up every week. Spaces like Canvas Laugh Club and The Hive host new comedians for open mic performances every Monday and there are over 30 comedians in the city who get paid handsomely for each show.

Vir Das 

But borrowing concerned elder speak: Will cracking jokes pay the bills? Punit Pania of Chalta Hai Comedy reveals, "it can". Pania quit a corporate job in sales last year, to pursue comedy full time. "We do regular shows at venues like Barking Deer in Lower Parel, Brewbot in Andheri or Three Wise Monkeys in Khar," he says.

Money of the joke
Full-time stand-up comic Kautuk Srivastava puts the number of professional comedians performing in the city at 50 to 60. Pania feels that roughly 30 of them are full-time comics. "Now, if a comedian is writing a script for a web series or writing a column, he is still primarily a stand-up as he does not have a 9-5 job," Pania explains. The hardest part of not having a full-time job, according to Srivastava, is that there are seasons of plenty, and then there are periods when they get no calls at all.

Anuvab Pal

Pania says that remuneration for a stand-up show is not too bad either. Someone who has just arrived in the scene and not broken the Internet or suddenly become immensely popular can get Rs 30, 000 for a single show. This can go up to Rs 1.5 lakh for more established ones. "The main moolah is from corporate gigs," informs fellow stand-up comic Kautuk Srivastava. It can be for their sales pitch or to entertain valued customers.

Hijaas Moosa 

Initially the stand-up event was clubbed with events like dance, fire breathing and what not but now things have improved and people are more keen on stand-up shows," he says.

Hijaas Moosa, who performs regularly across the city sheds more light on surviving on comedy alone. "I barely survive after paying rent in Andheri (E) but that much I am able to afford," he reveals.

Funny money
At pub venues, tickets are usually priced at around Rs 250 to Rs 350, and includes a choice of beer. At more popular and established venues like the Canvas Laugh Club, tickets are priced higher at R600 on weekdays and Rs 750 on weekends. The pricing of tickets can vary widely depending on the popularity of the comedians performing and tickets for top comedians or groups can often be Rs 1000 to Rs 1,500.

Sharin Bhatti, who runs the popular city venues of unconventional shows, The Hive and The Cuckoo Club, says that the number of new comedy shows have increased so much that it is really difficult to keep count.

Kautuk Srivastava

"We have stand-up performances 20 days a month and this is a phenomenal increase considering that even two years ago stand-up was restricted to two or three days a week. It would not be stretching it too far to say that in the last three years the number of comedians in the city has doubled," she says.

Moosa points out that the audience for comedy, too, has matured. "Earlier, the audience was mostly first-timers. Now, we have people who go to sand-up shows and know what to expect. We can try out a lot more. We can try out dirty jokes, dark jokes and satire now," he says.

Punit Pania

Comedy has also evolved in other Indian cilities like Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Pune and many more comedians are entering the scene. Anuvab Pal, however, points out that money will always be a tricky question for a comedian. "One cannot start doing stand-up thinking about money. The moot question will always remain whether you have something to say and whether you have the urge to say it out notwithstanding the money," he asserts. The good news is that if what you have to say can make people laugh, money seems to be coming in.

Stand-up venues

  •  Canvas Laugh Club
  •  The Cuckoo Club
  •  Barking Deer 
  •  Three Wise Monkeys
  •  Jeff Goldberg Studio
  •  14 Sauce Story 
  •  Tap, Andheri

First Published: 10 December, 2016 09:13 IST

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