The actor who failed at standup in the early years, on nailing the ‘joke’ and going solo
When Karthik Kumar first did standup in 2009, a woman came backstage just to make him promise he’d never do it again. “Now, I have the last laugh,” smiles the founder of Evam Standup Tamasha who has done over 225 shows and is debuting his solo standup tour, #PokeMe, in September. But he does admit that the first couple of years were tough and that most of his jokes bombed. “The pressure to be funny had drained all the humour and too much analysis had robbed me of the joy of creating,” he explains. Now that he has ‘made it’ (“there’s a feeling that an audience will like the world I’ve pieced together”), Kumar says he is also planning to create an online stand-up space soon and take his “bunch of mad boys” to newer markets across India. We talk to him about how he went from zero to the top of the standup ladder.
It’s #PokeMe, don’t miss the hashtag! It’s interactive and about all the things that are ‘poking’ me in my eye and in my soul. The 90-minute show will have songs and interactive dancing, and I’m talking about North India, South India, ajinamoto, nighties, Modi, Amma, Article 377 and Candy Crush, to name a few things.
On September 6, at Sivagami Petachi Auditorium, at 8 pm. Details: 9940496286
Karthik the comic.
I hide behind a mask. I wear glasses without frames, superhero tees and loud pants—a Shakespearean jester, so to speak. I’d like to believe I’m channelling my inner Cho Ramaswamy. I’m emotional, energetic, tongue-in-cheek and all over the place.
Cracking the ‘funny’.
The secret is not to think funny, but to tap into an emotional source. Then use the ‘science’ of comedy to punch it up. There’s always a funny way to put something—brevity being the soul of wit—but the source is that ‘feeling’.
A good standup.
Being true to yourself, being courageous, real and funny. Good standup marries comedy with what you are willing to stand up for.
Visiting comedy clubs.
Stand-up is most powerful when it’s local. So I go to clubs all over because it teaches you what’s most relevant ‘locally’. It’s more of a learning because when you perform, you hardly get to listen or learn from observing.
Keeping track of ideas.
I record stuff everywhere. I’m constantly talking into my phone’s recorder and usually when I do, I’m cracking up. I recorded a note on a Ferris wheel once. It’s the funniest ever because to this day I have no idea what I said.
The average life of being an Indian, it’s a riot of sensory stimuli. The number of things that are taboo is in itself a powerful funnel to see life through—gods and their rules, coupled with god men, politicians and moral citizens and their ‘BS’ is vast buffet of humour to pick from.
Improv segments woven into stand-up is a natural fit and is prevalent in the West. But it’s a bit too early to try it in India as the audience is still understanding the art.
Surya Praphulla Kumar