The business of being funny is quite serious. Nobody understands it better than the stand-up comics. A case in point is Sorabh Pant, he of Travelling Pants fame. A loose comment here, a risqué joke there and suddenly you find yourself in crosshairs.
"I err on the side of caution when it comes to my acts. My performance is based on the kind of audience I have. I have been luckier than my counterparts who have faced threats for a particular joke. However, I was pulled off the stage once after 22 minutes because I took potshots at Indians where the audience largely consisted of foreign delegates. One gentleman pulled me up for not respecting my country. And this after a statutory warning that these were just jokes and I love my country!"
A file photo of Sohrab Pant.
Every job comes with its risks. For stand-up comics, it is audience's thin skin. "I love my life and I don't want to die for a joke. And if it has to be for a joke, it sure has to be the best joke anyone has ever heard," he says.
But going by the changing perceptions of the audience, Pant's life seems to be safe, for now. "Audience has matured. Jokes on politics and sex are ok but religion is still a no-go area. Also, it depends largely on the kind of audience – the younger set is far more acceptable," says the artist who performed at Vivanta by Taj in Gurgaon on Saturday.
In fact, audience members are most upset if they are not picked on. "After staid corporate events, people come to me and says 'yaar first row mein tha phir bji bilkul gaali nahi di, maaza nahi aaya'," Pant reveals.
When Pant started, the scene was dramatically different. "I started working with Vir Das and we would travel all around the country doing shows. When I started alone, people would ask why I would need a mike or a stage. Some of them actually expected me to go from table-to-table in restaurants performing. The reason I am loud on stage is because there were time when I had to do this, there would be no mike."
He has performed before eight people; at a mall event once he actually had to go request people to come and watch his show. "Till about three years back, I would get 150-200 audience members, nowadays it is a sell-out. Now, it has reached to the point that it is more about what I expect the audience to be rather than what the audience wants," he says.
The success is not a surprise given the rich material we have around ourselves. Asked who he regards as the funniest person in India, pat comes his reply, "Arvind Kejriwal is the hands down winner. I really want to like him but every time he goes and does something really bizarre. He is like a Zara sale, it may appear very exciting but you have to look at how well it works in the long run."
The three people he really misses, though, are Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. "That trio worked as a punchline for practically all jokes. I really miss them."