The comedians cracking up Delhi’s comedy clubs

first_imgWhen Ukraine elected Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian, as its president earlier this month, the world cheered. For the television star, who wooed his voters beyond his comic acts, a joke just turned into reality. While Delhi still has no comedians contesting for the highest office in the country, the club of comedians is definitely rooting for it.Laughter is no silly business in the city as the multiple shows run in Delhi-NCR are doing brisk business. And clearly, the business is booming. Ambience Mall plans to launch an exclusive comedy club soon. According to Arjun Gehlot, director, Ambience Malls (Gurugram and Vasant Kunj), malls need additional entertainment options to attract more visitors.”Malls across the world are allocating more space to entertainment. Looking at the local trends and consumption patterns, we are plan ning to start a comedy club in both our malls as I believe it is something different from the usual movie and gaming experience,” says Gehlot.COMIC CULTUREDelhi loves humour, declares Jeeveshu Ahluwalia, the 41-year-old Gurugram comedian, who did a 35-city tour all over India last year. The corporate director, who quit his job after 16 years to be a stand-up comic six years back, knows what it means to sell jokes to an uptight audience. “Despite being the political hotbed, the audiences here are politically neutral as compared to other metros,” he says. Comics are the new superstars with fan pages on social media and packed live shows.Every second bar in South Delhi or Connaught Place now hosts open mic nights. No wonder the city has had many home-bred comedians. Some of the names that are creating ripples in the comic world include Rajneesh Kapoor, Amit Tandon, Neeti Palta, Appurv Gupta aka Guptaji, Kishore Dayani. This set of comedians also travels to destinations such as Australia, US, London and Singapore with their acts. Despite the clichés, Delhi has never harboured any gender bias about laughing aloud.advertisement”Being a female comic from Delhi, I am always asked this question as to how the audiences react to my jokes. Honestly, so far, I am floored by the reception I receive here,” says Neeti Palta, who performed alongside Russell Brand in the Comedy Central Chuckle Festival 2015 in Delhi. Having worked with J Walter Thompson India as a copywriter for 12 years, she took to the stage with a five-minute act on the insistence of Raghav Mandava, founder of stand-up comedy club, Cheese Monkey Mafia, in 2011. For some like Guptaji, stand-up comedy was an escape route from his fear of public speaking.”In 2013, when I started, few people understood it as an art form. Most of those who attended my shows had seen something online and wanted to hear me live. But that has changed now. People today come because they realise it as an art form just like performing arts or cinema,” says Appurv Gupta, whose first act at Akshara Theatre got more than three million hits when it was uploaded on YouTube, the video-sharing platform. Having kick-started the year with a multi-city tour in Australia, Guptaji is at home when performing for a Delhi audience.”When I entered the scene, Delhi-NCR had just a show or two in a month. Comedy was a dead area. Today, in a day I earn more than what I made in a month then,” says the 28-year-old engineer, who completed a successful 10-city US tour last year. For stand-up comic stars, Delhi works as a city where the corporate executive will queue up to watch on weekdays while the family audience gains traction on weekends.”I noticed this exciting segregation of audiences when I performed recently in Gurugram. On a Sunday, there was a group of elderly people, mostly grandparents, who were out to have a good time,” says Neeti Palta.THE LAUGHTER LANDSCAPEStand-up comedy as a form of entertainment in India has its origins in the 1980s when Bollywood comedians such as Johnny Lever performed filler items in award shows. Soon the art form started getting recognised and got its first mass appeal in 2005 when ‘The Great India Laughter Challenge’ debuted on television, thereby bringing a dose of laughter into our homes.The scene from television moved to gigs, when in 2008-2009, Papa CJ and Vir Das started performing to a live audience. By 2010, several auditoriums, cafes and other live entertainment platforms were holding open mic events where newcomers tested their potential.The Comedy Store from London opened shop in Mumbai and the country had one of its first retail spaces dedicated exclusively for laughter, with both Indian and international artistes putting up gigs. And in Delhi, which was yet to get an exclusive space, stand-up acts were performed at cafes such as PianoMan Jazz Club and Manhattan, cultural venues such as India Habitat Centre and Siri Fort Auditorium, and so on. But in the last five years, comedy has changed significantly in the city.advertisement”Some of the biggest names in comedy had their first solo shows at Akshara. These include Amit Tandon, Jeeveshu Ahluwalia, Zakir Khan, Abijit Ganguly, Abhishek Upamanyu, as well as rising stars like Sumit Anand, Aakash Gupta, Vikramjeet Singh, Rahul Dua, Robin Pupneja and others,” says Anasuya Vaidya, director, Akshara Theatre.One of oldest theatre venues in Delhi, Akshara Theatre started experimenting with comic acts in 2014 when artists Maheep Singh and Amit Tandon convinced Akshara’s founders Jalabala Vaidya and the late Gopal Sharman to give a platform to stand-up comedy artistes.”My parents didn’t need much persuasion as they have always believed in freedom of expression and created Akshara as a home for artistes,” says Anasuya Vaidya. According to Bradley Anderson, programming associate at Canvas Laugh Club, the comedy scene in Delhi is “growing”. Canvas Laugh Club, which opened in Gurugram and Noida in 2016, is one of the few clubs in the city that has been dedicated primarily to comic acts.”Theatres, auditoriums, restaurants, bars, are all seeing the benefit of the expanding comedy scene. Savvy independent producers are running events that give plenty of options for live comedy,” says Anderson. On an average the Canvas Laugh Club host 10-14 shows a week at Gurugram venue and seven to 10 in Noida.”The turnout depends on timings and who the acts are. An open mic may have only 20 people in it. While solo show of a bigger name may touch beyond 250,” he adds. With comedy shows getting popular, newer avenues such as HOME by the PVR Group are allotting space for comic gigs. Situated in the Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, this members-only club that opened in February, has live performances and movie screenings throughout the week.”We decided to make Comic Fridays at HOME this month with Neeti Patla as the pilot artist. The response has been incredible, since its introduction our members have been coming in every Friday,” says Renaud Palliere, CEO International Development, PVR Cinemas.MIND YOUR BUSINESSUnlike popular perception, Delhi isn’t prudish when it comes to comedy. “In fact, I have had a more conservative experience in Pune and Mumbai when someone got offended because of a comic’s lines,” says Ahluwalia. Concurs Palta, “Though my favourite city to perform is Bengaluru as they understand subtle humour, Delhi remains easy to please. I just need to be a little loud and boisterous here,” she says.People in the business believe that Delhi is ready to take a joke.”When you enter a comic club you go there with the mindset that things will be said and various jokes will be cracked but they have to be taken lightly and sportingly. Apparently, I’ve heard so many Dilliwala jokes and they are mostly based on real life incidents that people narrate. I believe Delhiites are mature enough to take those jokes, enjoy hilarious performances and add a dose of laughter to their day,” says Gehlot. That it is an alternative form of entertainment that encourages two-way participation is what further promotes its popularity.advertisement”It’s a more sustainable form of performing art. The lighting and sets cost are minimal,” points out Anusuya Vaidya of Akshara Theatre. It’s not just the college crowd, millennials or the corporate powerhouse who is queuing up for laughter. It is the preferred choice of entertainment for people from all age groups.”The growing popularity of stand-up comics showcases the new cutting-edge creativity in entertainment. India’s new breed of stand-up comedians is tickling their audience with their bold, unconventional take on the daily-life struggles of the common man,” says Palliere.Also read | Vir Das on Conan O’Brien show: All Indians aren’t smartAlso read | Biswa Kalyan Rath proves himself againlast_img read more