Irreverent and unapologetic, a fresh crop of standup artistes are giving the city’s comedy scene a fun update
It’s a great time to be a comic. Across the seas, Aziz Ansari is just five spots below Jerry Seinfeld as the sixth highest paid comedian on the Forbes list. Closer home, even if they aren’t rolling in dough, standup artistes are making sure they are the flavour of the season. And if someone still wants to harp about our conservative tag, let Delhi-based comedian Papa CJ set the record straight. “During my recent show, Naked, a female audience member spanked my behind so hard her contact lens fell out. She had to step out, put it back on and come back in. Where is the conservativeness?” he asks. Though he hasn’t been able to catch the local comedy — “Chennai is like my mistress: I fly in, do my thing and fly out” — he says the upsurge of comedians is good for the scene “because sometimes life is s**t and we need to find the funny in it”. Here’s looking at seven comics who are getting the best laughs.
Text: Surya Praphulla Kumar
Aaquib Jaleel | 21
Jaleel likes to make people laugh, even if they are laughing at him “because I’m making a fool of myself”. The final year literature student at Loyola College, who has been a fixture at open mics since last year, claims he’s called the ‘mother of all jokes’—because “I make fun of my mother”. But he adds that everything can become material for him, “including this interview”. Excited that the comedy scene in the city is growing quickly, he wants to travel the country, doing comedy wherever he can, and try his luck hosting any of the city’s comedy nights.
Joke of choice: I do a lot of religion-based humour. And because I am a Muslim I can get away with the iffy, slightly insensitive ones, too. A Millennial is: Someone who, when he needs to finish a sentence, looks it up on Google.
Bhargav Ramakrishnan | 28
Bhargav ‘Baggy’ Ramakrishnan has been producing standup for four years. Yes, even the comics with Evam Standup Tamasha need someone to tell them what to do occasionally. But it seems it took a ticket to Vir Das’ Weirdass Pajama Festival last year and three days of watching 40 comedians perform, to make him think ‘I can do this, too’. “Put me on stage and I will make a joke work. But the writing is tough,” he sighs. “I keep at it. I keep voice notes and write at least three times a week.” Of course, life isn’t as tough as he makes it out to be. A ‘jokester’ all his life, he loves picking on the crowd. “I do a lot of crowd work, 50 per cent of my shows are improv,” says Ramakrishnan, who does seven to eight shows a month and uses his family as fodder (his parents’ introduction to smartphones may just be the tamest), as well as his ‘generous’ proportions. Looking at doing his first solo show next year, he is working on new content—on people studying engineering (drawing on personal experience) and being unemployed. We’ll get to judge the content at the show he’s planning with three other comics next month.
A Millennial is: He who turns down jobs that offer comfortable incomes and states he wants to become a full-time artiste.
Vaishnavi Prasad | 26
You and I may call it quits if our first show was met largely with silence. But not Prasad. After her debut bombed last September, she took tips from the city’s standup community on how to tighten her set, and went back on stage. “Reading good books can help, too, and I’ve started reading news more,” admits the freelance travel writer, who says generic content—like how India is the only country where people dress up to go to the beach—got her laughs in New Zealand. Not happy about the messed up ratio of comics (“there are only three to four regular women comics in the city”), she wants to help people understand women can be funny too. She also works on comedy videos. “I work with a channel called Ventuno Humour and our latest, on biker women in India, got 5,000 views in a day,” she concludes.
Personal best: I’ve performed in Chennai, Bengaluru and even Auckland. I had gone backpacking in New Zealand this January and took on a room full of foreigners.
Rib-ticklers: I joke on politics, my family and ‘mennism’ (jokes that support men, just because it is unexpected)
Learning curve: I’m a fan of Britisher Eddie Izzard and South African Trevor Noah. But now I also notice mannerisms, sentence structure and crowd interaction.
A Millennial is: Someone who tells you he is a millennial. We shove it in your face—don’t you see us in the papers every day?
I started standup because my wife complained that I didn’t talk about her,” states a poker-faced Vikram Balaji. Well, not really, but his wife is the star of many of his comedy sets. The fan of Jerry Seinfeld got hooked when he made “350 uptight chartered accountants laugh” early last year—at an event where he volunteered to be the ‘bakra’. And with his consulting job at Ernst and Young taking him around the world, he’s tried his hand at performing in places like Melbourne, Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. “In Melbourne, my first international show, I remember spending 15 minutes in the loo ahead of my five-minute set,” he confesses. Now he’s performed with renowned US comedian, Tom Rhodes, got laughs at international comedy festivals and brings down globally renowned headlining comics to the city—the most recent being Matt Davis. And would you believe he had stage fright! “The first few times I kept looking down, as if my pants were slipping,” he laughs. Today, he heads Chennai Comedy, which organises open mics, creates comics under Mr Whipped comics, makes short videos and does plenty of private shows. “Most of my jokes are derived from the things I know—from marriage and airports to the corporate scene. And sometimes politics. Like with Rahul Gandhi—you don’t need to write a joke, just say his name,” signs off Balaji, who is planning a comedy tour of Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia early next year.
A Millennial is: A person who might be wearing a watch, but still whips out his smartphone to tell the time
Rahul Sridhar | 21
Rahul Sridhar is proud that he goes to Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering—not because he loves studying electronics, but it’s a great avenue to pick up jokes for his work with the comedy ensemble, The Pundits. “I used to nail impromptu speaking competitions at school, and in college I joined theatre, with Crea Shakthi’s campus initiative. So when they held auditions for their comic startup, I tried out,” he shares. With close to 30 shows under his belt, he has no qualms admitting he’s bombed at a few—like the one he did for an IIM Calcutta alumni meet where the audience didn’t connect with him. But he adds that if a joke works there is nothing more addictive than the sound of laughter. “I am a kid and I settle for instant gratification,” he laughs. With satire as a speciality, he draws on what he knows—sex education in school to flatulence on trains. “I have a notes app on which I record punchlines and then I work backwards, to create a build up,” he says, adding that there is no original work anymore—everyone’s “inspired” by someone else and then re-contextualise. “I’m working towards creating solo content. And after giving my best yet, at the recent Pundit Comedy Festival (two weeks ago), I am planning to travel a lot with my jokes,” he concludes.
A millennial is: One who thinks Y2K is (Canadian American wrestler) Chris Jericho
Sudarshan Rama, 21
Rama didn’t know the city had a comedy scene until he stumbled upon a comedy writers’ workshop last year. Organised by Burma Bazaar Conspiracy, Bengaluru-based comedian Praveen Kumar gave him tips on how to write a joke. “My first show was bad. People laughed, but looking back, the jokes were cheap,” he says sheepishly, admitting that he has since tried his material out at open mics almost every week. Never short of a smart repartee, his jokes revolve around his family, relationships and observations. Next up, Rama is gearing up to perform with Evam Standup Tamasha (tomorrow) and has his eyes set on Bengaluru’s comedy scene.
Best known as: Soda
Remembered for: I arrive at the venue even before the mic set arrives. I’m the signboard—if people see me, they know there is an open mic
Big ticket: I’ve done over 70 open mics and won Slab Entertainment’s comedy contest last week
Doing the funny: I don’t write content for a specific audience. At my last show, two 40-year-olds were laughing at Tinder jokes!
A Millennial is: My friend who posts about cracking deals and meeting the ambassador of Sweden. And I don’t even
have a passport!
Saadiya Ali, 23
Women’s rights and religion—two things that’s kindling for an explosion. But Ali loves going where lesser mortals fear to tread. Just over a year old in the open mic scene, she says she is trying to be a full-time performer/comedian. “I have my own YouTube channel, The Other Inbox (which mostly features sketches), and I do a lot of theatre with groups like Thespian En, Theatre Nisha and Crea Shakthi.” A big fan of Louis CK, Ali usually bypasses punchlines, preferring a narrative style with plenty of histrionics. She has a few corporate shows lined up, along with more videos for her channel, and auditions for plays and films.
What next: I feel like a decently big fish in a small pond now. So I want to check out the Bengaluru circle next and then I want to take over the world—be ridiculously famous and own 10 cars.
Doing the funny: The life of a 23-year-old is pretty amusing. You have people asking you to get married, you have your parents, you have bras—a whole bunch of things to talk and rant about.
A Millennial is: My brother’s generation with their selfies. Not us cool ones who listen to Pearl Jam.