Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa On Amazon Prime Video: All about sketches that work, and educate
Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa might resemble hugely popular comedy shows on regional television. But that is an opinion you’ll retain if you only skim the surface.
When was the last time we heard a young woman speak on stage about menstrual issues, about asking for pads in a ‘whisper’, and getting a friend to check one’s back for stains?
And, when was the last time you heard a son compare his awkward relationship with his father to that shared by a just-married couple (in an arranged marriage) on their wedding night?
On the face of it, Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video India last week, might resemble hugely popular comedy shows on regional television, where young talents showcase what they are capable of. Big names have emerged from the platform, and gone on to try their luck in films. But, that’s an opinion you’ll retain if you only skim the surface.
Just ten minutes into episode one, I was hooked, because as I watched and laughed, I was also learning something. Karthik Kumar and Praveen Kumar, two of the mentors on the show along with Rajmohan, are generous teachers. They freely share tips, based on their experiences on the stand-up circuit, and condense their learnings into snappy lessons on-the-go, for six chosen participants who get a week to prepare each set, under genres such as sketch, topical and anecdotal.
By the end of the show, Mayandi Karunanithi, Yogesh Jagannathan, Syama Harini, Abhishek Kumar, Karthigeyan Durai, and Annamalai Lakshmanan were put through the paces by the mentors. One of the things they get told is to pour forth more of themselves into their joke, so the audience feels connected to them, and, in turn, their joke.
That works for the audience too. We are invested in what Syama says, for instance, because she has this self-deprecating way of looking at herself, and life, in that order. When Abhishek (of Lockdown-fame Mrs Janaki, the teacher who had quite a few things to say about online classes and more) goes up on stage, you almost begin to expect his theatre background to show up — his body and face speak! They ended up as the first runner-up and winner respectively.
Because you, as the audience, pick up these tips too, you are able to see the growth of six individuals with a funny bone into near-consummate performers who can hold their own in a set, created within a week. And you can judge them too quality-wise, because you know the rules of the game too.
That is something Karthik Kumar refers to while speaking of his experience mentoring the six participants — in one episode he says he feels parental towards them. “When I watched the Hindi and English versions, I felt very jealous, because the audiences had started discussing comedy, and had their own vocabulary to understand comedy. That was unbelievable to watch, because that’s the most fun part, to deconstruct and put it back together. All these days, you did not care what the chef went through to cook a dish, suddenly you get to see what the chef did; and that makes the craft accessible in an interesting way. I’ve always hoped we did something like this in Tamizh, and then, this happened, like alwa" (a Tamizh slang that means landing something much cherished).
The greatest gift, says Karthik, is that the audience gets to go behind the scenes, figure the thought process and see the performance.
Did mentoring come easy, considering Karthik is still active on the circuit, and sharing skills calls for a certain generosity? “I’m not a typical funny person. Comedy is an acquired life skill that changed me, and I wanted to share it. It has helped me negotiate life in an equanimous way.”
The mentoring came with its own practical difficulties. The mentors had to produce results within a week, make the participants aware of their unique strengths, guide them, but ensure they don’t imitate, but get inspired. “In one week, they had to think, write their set, rehearse, edit it, write again, and finally face the audience. Since you're so closely involved, it is like being the anxious parent seeing your kid go up stage for the school annual day,” laughs Karthik.
Interestingly, all the participants won a round each. “They all got their time under the spotlight. What was most rewarding is seeing them work as a unit and collaborate. They were generous and helped each other. It was a very positive vibe, almost like watching MasterChef; you felt good about life. It was like singing a beautiful, hopeful, inspiring melodic tune.” That showed in the finale, in the bonhomie on stage.
The show is also important because it has the potential to open the floodgates for more rooted, classy Tamil humour, and break down existing barriers. It brings to the fore different voices. “When people speak about things endemic to them, be it a young girl, a middle-aged homemaker, a retired person or someone of a different sexuality, you get to see their viewpoint, and that’s very important.”
Syama, who insists she is an introvert, and that those who know her for long are surprised she does stand-up comedy, says the confidence to speak what she did came from her mentor and fellow comics. “They were the ones who changed and moulded this set. But I was a little worried whether the judges, being men, will relate to it.” She traces her love for humour to the time when she was working part time in Evam Standup Tamasha. “That’s when I saw Karthik Kumar Sir and Ashwin Rao as performers,” says Syama, who is planning more shows of her solo act Vada Poche. She says the Comicstaan experience was all about learning the techniques of writing a set and bonding with great names in the field as well as her fellow contestants.
The title winner Abhishek calls himself a theatre actor first, and then a ‘performing’ standup comedian. “I incorporate all my theatre basics and performance tactics into my stand-up,” says the artiste, whose creation Mrs Janaki has gone viral. Is it going to be a problem breaking out of that image? “Well, the show has helped people know that Abhishek is funny without animoji, without Janaki… I want people to see me as a whole complete package, known and defined for multiple styles and genres.”
The best part of Comicstaan, he says, was spending two months with six comics, talking and thinking only comedy. “The judges were always available for us, and that was lovely.”
Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa is streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.
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