Charlie Chaplin had said, "without laughter is a day wasted!" Laughter is so important that now-a-days, those who make a living by inducing laughter in others are highly rewarded. These people who leave everyone around them in stitches and are looking to spread the joy of laughter are called Comedians.
"A comedian is an entertainer who writes or performs routines designed to make people laugh," says stand up comedian, Rajneesh Kapoor. However, they don't do this by cracking a few jokes in the pub and asking their friends for beer-money in exchange for the gags they've been riffing. These professional performers make a living by getting out there and making the public laugh during organised comedy events, films and TV shows. It is the ability to make up stories and lie compulsively to amuse others. "It is awesome, almost like talking to people for money. I am like a verbal prostitute," laughs Sahil Shah, another stand up comedian.
While stand-up comedy in India is still not at its peak, it is getting there fast enough. The growing interest in the genre has caused a surge in the number of comedians and comic groups who perform regularly. "Now that the first generation of desi talent has firmly rooted itself in pop culture, the number of aspiring comedians is increasing dramatically," says Tom Course, CEO, Canvas Laugh Factory. To illustrate this increase, Course gives an example, "I have an open mike night once a month with 16 places available and it is always booked months in advance," he adds.
Stand-up comedy is finding its fleet in our country. Earlier this year, Vir Das hosted the maiden edition of The Weirdass Pajama Festival (TWPF) to celebrate comedy and give performers a platform. The event brought together around 70 stand up artists who performed at over 95 shows.
Although there isn't any formal education to become a comedian, if you want to become the next Russell Peters or Aziz Ansari, you definitely need training. At the moment a lot of it is done on the job. There is an informal journey starting with the 'open mike' where new artists perform for about 4 minutes. "If they are any good they progress to 'open spot' which is a short spot in the professional shows, which tests the material and delivery,' informs Course adding, "That open spot is repeated until they can hold 20 minutes of material and then they are auditioned for a show called 'Rising stars.' Shah agrees, "You need to practice and get as much as stage time as possible." One may take up writing workshops to get the hang of writing but performing and delivering it comes with time. "The main element of training is finding your own style amongst those that are already there and learning the craft," adds Shah.
Stand-up comedy is not easy; and getting started is the hardest part of all unless you follow certain rules. The current top comics didn't become successful the easy way. The ride is quite bumpy, mainly when it comes to access, so far there are not many outlets promoting the genre. "There are a lot of aspiring comics but only few production houses/ stages for them to perform on," warns Kapoor. So, one needs to have a lot of patience. "You also need to have a lot of low self esteem," laughs Shah.
Life as a comedian is definitely not a laughing matter but once comedians are at the peak of their career they can draw crowds of thousands for their live shows. Being a regular on TV shows, cast in movies are good options too. "It can be quite a jet set lifestyle which as always, sounds glamorous but when you've spent enough time on the other side, you know it can be exhausting and lonely," warns Course.
"You will spend the first eight months of your career running around trying to get on stages and trying to make contacts. But when you actually pull off a good 20 minute set, you can expect between Rs 2500 to 7000 for a public show, and Rs 15000 to 20000 for a corporate show at entry level," informs Course. However, when it comes to be a professional, "You can demand 50,000 for a public show and 4 lakh or more for a corporate in an industry that is just starting," he adds.
Getting the audience drunk in laughter for a living can be so fun you will feel guilty at having to refer to it as your job. Though, it is not every ones cup of tea. But then again we can't all be comedians, some people have to do the laughing.
Pitfalls an aspiring comedian will encounter :
SILENCE - Your jokes will not be as funny as you think they are, you have to be thick skinned to handle the silence.
HARD WORK - There is no fast track, you have to be dedicated to the genre, learn about it and watch as many shows as you can.
BE ORIGINAL - Sounds simple, but stealing jokes and repeating SMS jokes is not comedy
Workshop your material - Run it by your friends, the milkman, the friendly chap sitting next to you in the bus — basically, run it through as many people as possible and get their feedback