The Australian standup promises not to pull his punches as he debuts in the city
When he first came to India in 2007, comedian Jonathan Atherton remembers that not too many understood what he was trying to do. “They were like ‘he’s just talking’. I think they were expecting acrobatics, magic and music,” he laughs. But there was one among the crowd, a journalist who had come to interview him, who was entranced. “He came to every show and just wanted to talk comedy. He later became a comedian himself, Ashish Shakya (of AIB), and he’s really good. I like to think I was a small part of his inspiration,” the 54-year-old adds with pride.
Today, Atherton is pals with Vir Das, whom he considers a “skilled performer and passionate about building indigenous comedy” and Papa CJ, “a pioneer of the scene”. And the Indian audience, according to him, has matured in the last few years. “By 2009, I had three sell-out shows in 800-seater auditoriums in Mumbai,” he recalls. In town to make his city debut at an event hosted by Chennai Comedy, he says he is looking forward to it because the “audiences have also become more discerning. Indians like to laugh at clever ideas (and a bit of slapstick), but they don’t suffer fools.”
Wild and funny
But comedy hasn’t always been a part of Atherton’s makeup. Having a globetrotting journalist as a father had given him the travelling bug. After dabbling in acting (including an HBO production, Lion of Africa), he worked as a safari guide in Uganda and an English teacher in Japan, among many other jobs. Then an accident found him back home, with his leg in a brace, regaling people with travel anecdotes. “My flatmate’s girlfriend, who worked as a cabaret dancer, thought I was funnier than the comics who performed at her club. So she fooled the owner, saying I’d been doing standup for years in the UK, and gave me a slot. Luckily, it went well,” says Atherton.
After performing the world over and opening comedy clubs in Southeast Asia, he says cultural observation and language (a student of linguistics and anthropology from the University of Queensland, he speaks more than 10 languages, including Hindi) are his fortes. “I don’t pull my punches and I use ‘truth’ as a defence. I think political correctness is thinly-veiled racism. It is predicated on the false notion that ‘others’ do not have a sense of humour,” he states. For Chennai, Atherton hasn’t written anything specific, but when the crowd is in front of him, he says, “I’ll feel their energy and come up with stuff just for them. I like to improvise a fair bit as each crowd is different.”
Sunday, at US 101, at 8 pm. Rs 500. Details: in.bookmyshow.com
Surya Praphulla Kumar