With stand-up becoming the favourite side to a mug of beer or coffee, we look at the best places to get a laugh
If conservativeness is an oft-repeated criticism, the other is that Chennai can’t laugh at itself. But we’d like to disagree, especially in the light of local talent and international rib-ticklers—like Russell Peters and Radhika Vaz—performing to full houses. “Stand-up works brilliantly here because the onus of breaking conservativeness is on one person. And as long as it’s not an elite crowd, determined to rein in their reactions, people love to laugh,” says city-born-Bengaluru-based Kartik Iyer, the name behind the Higher Iyer brand of comedy. With the audience asking for ever-more guffaws, here’s our round-up of where to get your weekly fix.
Evam Stand-up Tamasha
A group of seven to eight comics, this one’s a mixed bunch. “Some of us have been around for some time, with 200 shows under our belt, while the others are just 30-40 shows old,” says headliner Karthik Kumar.
USP: Very South Indian in their presentation. “Stand up authorship is very local. A comic will focus on issues that plague his/her life.”
In the making: Kumar is working on his first solo show, a 75-minute set that he’s looking at premiering in August-September.
Anecdote: “When we were touring the US recently, we caught open mics in all the cities we visited,” says Kumar. “At New York, Chris Rock popped into one of the shows—to try untested material. He was horrible. But that’s the reason for open mics, so you can whet new jokes. I try out my really edgy stuff at such shows.”
Venue: They perform at Social as it is “accessible to the Nungambakkam and Besant Nagar audiences”. Evam Stand-up Tamasha performs every second and fourth Sunday, while Mic Testing, their open mic, is on every first and third Sunday
Up next: Mic Testing on May 10 (“We had to reschedule because of the IPL”)
Enna Da Rascalas
An off-shoot of the theatre group, Stray Factory, this comic ensemble comprises Rajiv Rajaram, Venkatesh Harinathan, Shyam Renganathan and Bhargav Prasad, with ample support from Yohan Chacko. “We like to mix things up. So we do stand up, bring in guest artistes, conduct open mics, and perform parody songs. Sometimes we’ll do all this in one show,” says Mathivanan Rajendran, the founder of Stray Factory.
USP: “We are branding the show as either Rascala Live or Rascala Night Live. The idea is to give it a Tonight Show vibe—with a mix of stand-up and comic interviews,” says Rajendran.
Anecdote: “The crowd is not open to all-out aggressive roasts yet—we just don’t take to trolling well. What really works is self-deprecating humour and physical comedy—like Rajiv’s piece about a small-town boy moving to the big city.”
Venues: What began as one-off shows turned into a six-month tie-up with Illusions (where they performed every last Thursday of the month). Next, they plan to open at US 101
Up next: Debating between a show on May 15 or May 22 at US 101
Show me the money
Comedy may not get the big bucks yet, but that’s ok says Sandesh Reddy of Social. “None of the acts are doing it for the money—it’s about promoting the stand up culture,”
he says, adding that money from Evam’s shows is split down the middle. But that’s not to say out-of-towners don’t get paid well—anything upwards of Rs 60,000, we are told. At Vivanta by Taj hotels, Trip Tease is their stand-up brand. “We want to bring the best in live entertainment—Radhika Vaz was one such delightful performance. And we hope to continue to host these events,” says Samrat Datta, GM, Vivanta by Taj-Connemara.
Unlike the rest, this group of eight comedians created by Crea-Shakthi is more focussed on the business of comedy. “Stand up is growing fast, so we created our own talent pool, investing in people we already had,” explains Abhinav Suresh, one of the co-founders. And as any business, the group is structured. “We have an artistic manager who keeps track of things and ensures that our content is always fresh and there are no repeats.”
USP: “We’ve grown beyond open mics and public shows; the trend now is private events. So we bring stand up that is customised to you.”
Anecdote: Suresh, who got married a few days ago, had the group perform at his wedding. “They customised jokes about us, the guests and how the wedding happened, and people were rolling in the aisles. Recently we also did a performance for the alumni of IIM Kolkata, which was a scream. The word B-School gives you so much content!”
Venue: Ticketed shows at Bay 146 and the Museum Theatre have given way to birthday parties, automobile launches, Rotary gatherings and, of course, weddings
Up next: Tomorrow, at My Fortune
Chennai Open Mic
When the comic group Burma Bazaar Conspiracy split up a couple of years ago, Vikram Balaji and Deepu Dileepan decided to venture out on their own. Besides doing ticketed shows at several venues in the city, they also host the popular Chennai Open Mic every week. “Open mic is like karaoke for comedy—anyone can participate. It’s a mix of seasoned comics and newbies, each doing sets of four minutes each,” says Dileepan.
USP: “Besides stand up, we are also trying to experiment with improv (creating jokes from phrases or situations provided by the audience, like the popular TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and music. We will add a few parody songs in our next show—like a news jam where we will take a bunch of headlines and make jokes with them,” says Balaji.
Anecdote: Dileepan recalls that right after the controversial AIB roast, they had done a show where they joked about the BJP and Hindutva. “We had to cancel the next open mic because someone threatened to go to the police.”
Venues: Open mics, every Friday at Lloyd’s Tea House and every Saturday at Besant Nagar’s The Brew Room Ticketed shows: Bay 146, on every fourth Sunday
Up next: May 22, at the Cuckoo Club Diner, Harrington Road, and May 24 at Bay 146
In search of new
Surprisingly, a few point to lack of venues as a reason limiting stand-up.
“We can’t always bring down acts because the kind of venues we want are not available,” says Sameer Pitalwalla, CEO of Culture Machine, who is bringing Indo-Canadian comedian Lilly Singh to Bengaluru later this month. Outfits like The Pundits are tackling this by taking their show private. “An unpcoming trend is customised content for
corporates. They are signing us to make short comic videos, introducing new products or showcasing their growth story,” says Murali Satagopan, one of the Pundits.
Surya Praphulla Kumar