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Comedy finds its feet

They are known for road rage and rudeness, but with open mic sessions, Delhiites are learning to laugh at themselves. Comedy fix

art and culture Updated: Jan 24, 2012 20:00 IST
Shreya Sethuraman

While Mumbai has the Comedy Store, which launched last year and hosts three international comic acts every week, Delhi isn't lagging far behind with the laughs.

The first open mic session in the Capital was held on June 30, 2009 at the now-defunct Mocha Bar, in Nehru Place.

Papa CJ, who has hosted more than 800 shows of his irreverent brand of humour that borders on the sexist, says the stand-up scene in Delhi has been around much longer than in Mumbai. "It's been active for almost three years, as opposed to Mumbai, where it picked up after the launch of the Comedy Store. Open mic nights in Delhi genuinely encourage new talent to take the stage and get supportive audiences. This is great encouragement for a new art form."

Mumbai-based G Khamba, who has done some shows in Delhi, pokes fun at everything from social networking sites to a pony-tailed educationist. Khamba first earned his stripes at comedy nights in Delhi last year. "They are a great place for amateurs to hone their craft before moving on to bigger stages like The Comedy Store."

Delhi-based comic Sharmila Bhatia, who brings a woman's take on real life funny situations to the table, is originally from Mumbai. Bhatia says the city has only recently developed a funny bone. "It's only since the last year and a half that Gurgaon has developed tremendously. You have people from all over the country coming and working here. This has given Delhi's comedy scene a boost," she adds.

For Indians used to watching the Raju Shrivastav and Sunil Pal brand of humour on the idiot box, stand up comedy is still an alien idea. "I think it's a novelty still for people," says Khamba. "Most folks in India have only seen stand up of the Hindi variety on TV or have been exposed to Youtube clips of people like Russell Peters," he adds.

Author Palash Mehrotra, who frequents comedy nights, says Delhi's comics are bilingual and that is what is close to the city's heart. "Here, comedians like Sanjay Rajoura do stand ups in Hindi and in English. And that's what Delhiites essentially are — a culture struggling to reconcile the two Indias. In Bombay, like in New York, comedy is restricted to just one tongue."

Rajoura, who quit the corporate world last year to turn to comedy full time, says stand up comedy has really taken off in the last year, with the frequent open mic sessions. He often has audiences in splits with his proclivity to poke fun at India Inc. and Haryanvi culture, two milieus that he has been a part of.

As stuck up or ‘uptight' as Delhiites may appear to be, they have a great sense of humour. It comes as no surprise then that the movie Delhi Belly, featuring stand-up comic Vir Das in a meaty role, which pokes fun at the city, has been drawing big crowds. "Delhi Belly could not have been set in any other city," remarks Mehrotra. "Delhi has a great, very sharp comedy crowd. They want to be entertained, but they also give leeway if they know you are new," adds Khamba.

As Papa CJ puts it, "Delhiites are open to different kinds of humour — you can try almost anything here. They come with open minds and are willing to laugh at themselves."

So, as they say, bring on the funnies.

Comedy fix