With no clarity on 'normalcy' in a post-COVIDworld, stand-up comedians are resorting to digital reinvention

Stand up comedians are forced to re-invent themselves on social media and digital platforms, to keep busy and stay relevant in these times.

Shreemayee Das May 17, 2020 09:31:24 IST
With no clarity on 'normalcy' in a post-COVIDworld, stand-up comedians are resorting to digital reinvention

What do you do in a lockdown when your whole profession depends on a live crowd turning up to watch you perform? Stand up comedians all over the world are trying to deal with exactly this question, and also the growing anxiety that their profession might never be the same again — maybe not this year, or the next, or maybe never again. Right now, there’s no clarity on when the lockdown will be lifted, and for things to go back to normal in such a way that it’s possible to have live shows, seems more of a delusion rather than anything else. Stand up comedians are forced to re-invent themselves on social media and digital platforms, to keep busy and stay relevant in these times.

As the lockdown gets extended, more and more comedians are turning to online platforms to do shows — Youtube, Facebook and Instagram streams, paid shows on apps like Paytm Insider and Bookmyshow. They’re trying to come up with formats to appeal to a virtual audience. Comedians such as Sahil Shah, and Abijit Ganguly do regular shows, East India Comedy reunited briefly to raise money for charity, and Vir Das’ At Home series has taken off well.

But it’s not all shows and jokes. A lot of the comedians have turned away from the usual biz to try out experimental and fun concepts on their social media platforms.

Live Streams

Comics are now coming up with innovative ideas on what to live stream at this time; something that’s more appealing for a virtual audience sitting at home. Unlike jokes, that are dependent on the reactions of a live audience, games don’t require laughs for the comic to perform. The Stay Home for India campaign, hosted on Tanmay Bhat’s YouTube channel, raised money for charities (over 20 lakhs in two days), but it also saw comics playing games- Scribbl, Quiz, PubG, Roasts.

With no clarity on normalcy in a postCOVIDworld standup comedians are resorting to digital reinvention

Samay Raina, Viswanathan Anand and Abish Matthew play online chess to raise funds. YouTube

Another extremely popular YouTube stream was on Samay Raina’s channel, where comedians and professional chess players got together, again to raise money for charity. Featuring Vishwanathan Anand as the main draw, it also saw comedians Bhat, Abhishek Upmanyu, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Abish Mathew and Aakash Mehta team up with chess players to play fun games along with lots of banter. The stream raised over eight lakh rupees.

Social Media Videos

While a lot of comedians are taking this time to release previously shot videos, many are now making videos exclusively for their social media followers. Atul Khatri has been doing a daily edition of Only Positive News, on IGTV, where he chooses to focus on some good and positive news, in this otherwise bleak environment. The series reached its 50th episode recently and has enjoyed massive success.


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Delhi comedian Gaurav Gupta also got an overwhelming response to his videos at the beginning of the lockdown. Impersonating famous comedians and delivering the punchlines in their trademark manner, Gupta was hilarious and his mimicry was spot on. His impressions of Vipul Goyal, Biswa Kalyan Rath, and Zakir Khan became extremely popular, and provided much-needed relief at a time when fans were just beginning to get used to the idea of social distancing.

Characters

Moving away from the usual jokes and videos, some comics are experimenting with playing different characters of their Instagram profiles. Aadar Malik has been releasing videos as Mahesh, a local Bombay guy, commenting on the news- including the Arnab Goswami interrogation, and the issue of migrant labourers.

Bangalore comedian Punya Arora, too, has achieved success with her character Ms Lizzie, based on her school Chemistry teacher. She started the series before the just before the lockdown was announced, and Ms Lizzie speaks on current issues like lighting diyas and banging thalis, Donald Trump, and the opening of alcohol shops.“As a freelance artist I have to think of ways to pay the bills as well and I’m just trying to figure out how to go about it with this,” she says.

And there's also Danish Sait, whose character videos are getting more and more popular by the day.

Digital Telegrams

For Queens of Comedy star, and freelancer, Aayushi Jagad, coming up with the idea of digital telegrams was one prompted by earning some revenue during this tough phase. A lot of freelance projects, and payments, were stalled, and Aayushi needed to do something to earn money for herself and her family. The digital telegrams can feature song dedications, roasts, or a mix of both and are priced anywhere between 300-700 rupees. The response has been phenomenal and Aayushi claims she is much busier now than she was before the lockdown started.

Challenges

Feel the need to test your brain during this lockdown? Kajol Srinivasan has the perfect answer for you.

Currently doing a series called Quizzytime on her Instagram and Twitter, Kajol asks random, fun questions to her followers everyday. “People assume I was an avid quizzer. I’m not. I used to teach though, and giving people puzzles is the best way to make them learn. Quizzytime was an experiment. My quizzes are not time based. I give people 2 hours to figure out something and the point is getting the answer fastest. In fact, people come out with the funniest, most innovative things and those are way more interesting than an answer,” she says, adding that she’s thinking of making this into a live, paid show.

Comedians Supriya Joshi (Supaarwoman, of Comicstaan fame), and Mohammed Hussain came up with the idea of the Lay’s Challenge, through a random tweet, where Supriya had said Classic Salted is the best Lay’s flavour. The two came up with the idea of challenging each other on their Instagram. Hussain had to prove that Yellow Lay’s isn’t the best and he managed to do it with a landslide victory (and a lot of effort in presentation and videos).

For Supriya, engaging with her followers is a priority at this time. “We are all craving human connection at this point. It's been a month since we have met an old friend, or that person we hate, or just anyone. It's important to engage with people because it is a two-way street. I get to speak with people, so that gives me the comfort of "normalcy" and people hear from me, so I hope they feel the same too,” she says. She hasn’t yet monetised any of her social media content but might be forced to do so, she says, if the situation doesn’t change in the next few months.

Kajol adds that the lockdown has made her realise that she didn’t have to portray a perfect image of herself on social media, she could share her vulnerability too. “When I’d mentioned that the lockdown was getting me depressed, loads of people wrote in to me, including a boy from Kashmir, and that was so beautiful.”

Podcasts

Oh, and everyone is recording a podcast. 

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