Podcasts, stand-up, game shows: Indian comedy has diversified; have you found something to laugh at yet?
An animated Johnny Lever is engrossed in conversation with Govinda. Both of them are trying to figure out a way to find three men to marry three of Kader Khan’s daughters. Just then, Razak Khan walks in theatrically and Govinda, mistaking the man for an ordinary intrusive servant, slaps him. A few shots later they realise that Razak is actually Kadar's faithful minion. Lever, sensing the need for some serious damage control, jovially addresses him, “Arre aloo bukhare, yahan kaise padhaare?”
This scene from Joru Ka Ghulaam always cracked up my father, without fail. Back then, I could not understand why. But we’re even now, because I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t understand why I find All India Bakchod funny.
Between Lever and AIB, there was a Navjot Singh Sidhu, thumping his table recklessly, a Raju Shrivastava making the audience lose it with Gajodhar bhaiya, a Kapil Sharma taking digs at his wife and some more reckless table thumping by Sidhu. And then there came a whole new wave of comedy — mind you, before you brand my sense of humour elitist — I have laughed equally hard at a Paresh Rawal’s Babu bhaiya as I have at Biswa’s Mast Aadmi. But fact remains that comedy, more specifically stand-up has taken the country by storm.
It’s safe to say that comedy in English in India was made cool by a few comedians. Varun Thakur of SnG Comedy says he remembers his mother telling him about Indo-Canadian comic Russell Peters. For Thakur, comedy in English was synonymous with Peters until a few years ago.
“People were listening to Lucille Ball and other American comedians and we made our own version of that comedy. It suddenly became cool to be a stand-up comic,” says Daniel Fernandes, who hosts a podcast called You Started It and is known for his dark humour which “puts people in an uncomfortable space”.
“The internet blew up and we just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” he says, implying how the internet opened up to accommodate as many artists as it could.
With multiple artists came varied formats — podcasts, series, game shows, stand-up, improv, you name it. Kaneez Surka, who runs The Genral Fun Game Show, says she was trying hard to incorporate her improv self into her stand up set. I ended up hosting so many shows because I was trying to avoid doing my jokes and I realised I made a really good host.” With that epiphany and a little prodding from Biswa Kalyan Rath and Rohan Desai, her game show was born.
Interestingly, the radical transformation of comedy online, can be felt offline, too. Comedians are being perceived way differently today than they were 5 years ago. Comics are now doing things that one would consider a celebrity more suited for.
Mallika Dua, the internet’s beloved Makeup didi, went from a simple snapchat video to hosting IIFA 2017 Green Carpet. “Can another actor become Makeup didi? We don’t know,” says Fernandes, praising Dua’s ingenuity. The comedienne also recently made it to GQ’s 50 most influential young Indians list.
Dua is also proof that playing a character serves as catalysts in a comic’s popularity. A testimony to that is Thakur who says, “It has become really easy for me to slip in and out of Vicky Malhotra. I am talking to you as Varun but I can instantly talk to you as Vicky...[begins role-playing Vicky Malhotra — a struggling actor who’s also a bit of a jerk]...I want to make Vicky India’s Borat.” He knew he had hit the jackpot with Vicky Malhotra, when actors Ranveer Singh and Varun Dhawan impersonated the struggling actor on social media.
The question that now arises is, where do we go from here? There are game shows, podcasts, series, stand-up videos — the audience is undoubtedly spoilt for choice, already. “I have seen a lot of comedians trying alternative forms of theatre — which is good,” Surka points out, confirming experimentation is the key to relevance.
Although the circuit keeps getting bigger, comedy still a prospective career choice yet? Trust Thakur with putting it as succinctly as possible, “Go fu**ing all out! But don’t think you will become a millionaire after your first YouTube video.”
Therefore, you either go big or you remain another comedian on the block.