As I sit down and reflect on my comedy career over the past five years, I try and gather all my learning and experiences into a coherent collection so I can use it to plan my path for the next five years. It almost feels like the curtains have closed on act I of my comedy career.
Act I for me started on July 4th, 2010, when I got on stage at Bacchus to do my first set for a significant amount of time. My thoughts at that point were quite simple but clear. Get on stage, write material, learn to write better material, improve as a performer and essentially become funny. At that point, it felt like if I accomplished all these tasks I would become a fantastic comedian who would travel the world and impress audiences across the globe in a matter of five years. As I sit down writing this five years later, I smile to myself and amaze at how naive I was. Granted, all the points I mentioned above are valid and extremely important not just for an upcoming comedian, but for all stand up comedians. However, I realize now that stand up like any other performance art involves a lot more. It’s not just about the quality of one’s act, or originality, or uniqueness of perspective, or command of the stage. It’s also about how you learn to use people, read people, convince people that you are funny even if you are not, and market your supposed funniness to the public. This of course is in context to the stand up scene in India and it might or might not be relevant outside the country.
As many of you know comedy in India is relatively young and Indians are new to English comedy, if you can call what we are doing here now that. The scene that started out as English stand up comedy a few years back has slowly evolved into regional language with a dash of English stand up comedy. Granted, from a numbers point of view it’s encouraging to see an increase in the number of individuals getting on stage to try out the art form, the increase in the number of venues hosting stand up comedy nights and an increase in the number of people coming out to watch shows. However, it’s also sad to see a lack of improvement in the quality of material, performance and writing. Since the scene in India was new a few years back we the comedians were in a unique position to set the bar and raise the expectations of the comedy going audience, which happened to a certain extent in the beginning. However, in recent times I see more and more ‘so called comedians’ playing to what’s expected of them, using unoriginal material and putting up shady performances. As always, in India we are willing to offer up mediocrity and make the audience accept it as quality.
The current trend in India is that if you have a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, a twitter handle, you can hold a mic and stand on stage for five minutes without shitting yourself; you are a stand up comedian. I may sound negative when you read this, but let me tell you I am not. All the choices I’ve made over the past five years have been conscious decisions and even though some of them might not have been the right ones, I have no regrets. I feel greed for money and fame has diluted the quality of the acts and strength of performances. There’s enough and more to go around. If we as stand up comedians realize this and focus on improving as writers, performers and as overall comics then we can demand the respect the art form deserves and in turn raise the expectations of the audience and the quality of the scene. There are enough avenues of comedy to explore and more than enough audiences who are fans of each. Lets not dilute any form by trying do to everything, because by doing so, we do nothing well. Some of us may be better at improv, some at sketch and some at stand up. Lets figure out what drives us and make every effort possible to improve our skills and in turn raise the bar.
As I sit here writing this I feel that Act I in my comedy career is over. My focus over the next few years hasn’t changed. I want to improve my writing, my performance, get more and more on stage nationally & internationally and keep growing as a comedian and as an individual. I look forward to Act II and hope we can learn from our mistakes and actually get funny.