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Hunt for a Star

entertainment Updated: May 21, 2010 14:44 IST
Naomi Canton
Naomi Canton
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

After months of delay, The Comedy Store is finally due to open its doors in Mumbai on June 10. And Don Ward, the founder and CEO, will be in town scouting for India's next big comic talent.

Auditions, to be held on June 19 at the two-storey venue at the Palladium in Lower Parel, will be hosted by Ward, who is looking for locals with the potential to make professional careers out of stand-up comedy.

Next Indian comic
Spokesman Paul Tough, who has flown into Mumbai to launch the project, says, “We are looking for the next big Indian comic who is going to rival Bollywood. They can be of any age, shape, size, class or any caste. The only condition is that at this stage, we are only looking for performances in English or Hinglish.” Budding comics will have to do a two to three minute standup show in front of Ward.

Tough explains this is part of a long process of auditions to hunt out the best in India and they will be looking for comics who can perform in regional languages in the future. The idea is to replicate in Mumbai what happened when Ward opened the Comedy Store in Soho in 1979. At that time, although comedy existed, there was no dedicated comedy space.

Ward bought a nightclub and started The Comedy Store. He placed an ad in magazines looking for aspiring comedians. The grand opening night in May 1979, saw 150 would-be comedians queuing up. The resulting chaos led to the police turning up. Among them was Alexei Sayle, who later became a legend in the UK.

The Comedy Store then went on to break new talent, as many who took to its stage later became household names. “We will give everyone feedback and draw up a list of who we think has potential. Then we will add them as open spots to our Thursday to Sunday shows immediately,” Tough says.

Local talent
The comedy store is looking to start a local talent night at the venue, says spokesman Paul Tough. In time, a pan-India hunt is on, looking for talent in every state. Anyone that makes it, will be brought back to Mumbai to perform.

“Don Ward and the professional comics will run master classes and nurture the talent. We want to turn it into a profession here. That is what we did in Britain,” says Tough.

The Comedy Store will open in Mumbai on June 10, with one show, followed by two shows on June 11 .

Three international stand-up comedians will fly into Mumbai for the opening shows. Briton Paul Tonkinson, renowned for making fun out of male and female logic, Briton Micky Flanagan, who draws on his East End background to tell comic tales of working class life, and Canadian Pete Johansson (brother of Hollywood actor Paul Johansson) will perform.

“They are all seasoned professionals with lots of stage and TV experience,” Tough says. Explaining why the opening date was moved back from December 2009, Tough says: “We had hoped to open earlier but owing to logistics, we could not. This is a massive undertaking and we wanted to do it right. A venue like this has never been built in India before. We just wanted everything to be perfect.”