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Laugh out loud: Top comedians pick the best from the new crop

India’s first generation of stand-up artists tell us how comedy has changed and new talent that’s making them laugh out loud

more lifestyle Updated: Jul 01, 2017 08:19 IST
In the last decade of stand-up history, comedians have matured (some at least!) and audiences have too (ditto!). Aditi Mittal along with five other comedians tell us how.
In the last decade of stand-up history, comedians have matured (some at least!) and audiences have too (ditto!). Aditi Mittal along with five other comedians tell us how.

Who’s making you smile today and how? As platforms change and new faces take to open mics practically every weekend, six stand-up comedians tell us who’s the funniest among the new comics.

The gag about engineers being single, is done and dusted and seriously needs to go, feels comedian Sapan Verma. (Aalok Soni / HT Photos)

Sapan Verma, 28

Sapan Verma, co-founder of East India Company has done over 1,000 shows across the world and he’s seen both performers and the audience grow up over the last decade. “Around seven years ago the biggest punchlines were Rahul Gandhi, stingy Gujaratis and alcoholic Punjabis,” he says. “Now we can talk about what we want and find an audience for it.”

A joke that needs to go: Gujaratis get a lot of flak at comedy shows for being misers. That joke is overdone. So is the gag about engineers being single. The problem is that much of the audience still finds these jokes funny and comedians sometimes go for low hanging fruit.

Comics to watch out for:
  • I really enjoy Sumukhi Suresh, Gaurav Kapoor, Kashyap Swaroop, Urooj Ashfaq and Manik Mahna, says Sapan Verma.

How to stay funny: The only way to do it is to work on new material. A lot of comedians repeat jokes for years, so if a returning audience feels like they wasted their money. I write about 45 minutes of good new material every year. So every 6 months, at least 50% of the jokes will be new.

“Today’s audience is opinionated and bold enough to tell you what was genuinely funny and what was stereotypical,” says Neeti Palta.

Neeti Palta, 38

Neeti Palta, former senior creative director at an advertising firm took to stand-up in 2011, has performed across India and has seen the scene change from verbal humour to everyday issues.

“People who follow me from the beginning say that I have matured as a comedian,” she says. “Today’s audience is opinionated and bold enough to tell you what was genuinely funny and what was stereotypical. I remember a girl come backstage after my show and asking me how, as a woman, can I make fun of women. I responded saying feminism is about equality and I can make fun of women as much as I make of men.”

A joke that needs to go: No joke needs to die. We should maybe stop cracking engineer and Rahul Gandhi jokes, but someone should, many people still haven’t heard them.

Comics to watch out for:
  • I like Kunal Kamra, Nishant Suri is fun too. A comedian needs to have his own voice and not crack the same jokes everyone else does, says Neeti.

How to stay funny: I follow the rule of never putting down my audience and try not to make bad natured jokes. I also stay updated with relevant topics current affairs while preparing my jokes.

Papa CJ has done over 2,000 shows across the world, a job unheard of in the previous generation!

Papa CJ, 40

When Papa CJ got on to the circuit in early 2009, the focus was more on live gigs than social media. “The biggest change is the impact of social media in getting comedy out there and increasing the popularity of both comedy and comedians,” he says. He has done over 2,000 shows across the world, a job unheard of in the previous generation!

A joke that needs to go: A line that I personally dislike is asking the audience to givethemselves a round of applause. Occasionally it can be patronising. Also if there are multiple comedians on the bill, it’s irritating when every single comedian gets on stage and asks if the audience is having a good time. Just get on with it, will you!

Comics to watch out for:
  • My favourite established comedian in the country is Varun Grover, says Papa CJ

How to stay funny: I believe in spontaneous crowd interaction. There are times when 50 minutes of a one-hour show are made up on the spot. That’s exciting and challenging for me because I’m under pressure to make it funny.

Varun Thakur got on to the stage for the first time in 2011 and then there was no looking back. Now, he headlines comedy acts and is the founder of the SnG (Schitzengiggles) comedy collective.

Varun Thakur, 30

Varun Thakur was always the funny guy in college, but did his first large show in 2011, at Vir Das’s open mic night. There was no looking back after that. Today, he headlines comedy acts and is the founder of the SnG (Schitzengiggles) comedy collective. Corporate shows are the hardest,” he says. “You really have to work really hard to get a laugh. I remember how I had finished my joke once and was greeted with complete silence, followed by a loud burp from someone from the last row. Basically, the burp made everyone laugh and saved the day.”

A joke that needs to go: Delhi Vs Mumbai jokes.

Comics to watch out for:
  • Abhishek Upmanyu is really funny and relatable, feels Varun Thakur.

How to stay funny: The golden rule to staying funny is keeping it casual. People are here to relate to you, so make it an easy conversation. The humour will follow.

For Aditi Mittal, the biggest evolution of comedy is in the fact that it has become an essential part of entertainment even in smaller cities. (Satish Bate / HT Photo)

Aditi Mittal, 31

Aditi Mittal has been doing stand-up comedy since 2010 and is one of the first female comedians in India. She’ll soon be on Netflix, with her show Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say. She’s found that comedy has become an essential part of entertainment even in smaller cities. “For god’s sake Vizag has its own comedy scene and that is so cool!” she says. “Once in a hilarious turn of events, some extremely wasted dude took offence at a show and tried to spit on me. He reeled back and came forward with a dramatic move, but ended up soiling his own shoes and T-shirt. As for me? I ran but ran away laughing.”

A joke that needs to go: ‘Why do women take so long to dress up?’

Comics to watch out for:
  • Sonali Thakker gives stellar live performances. Karunesh Talwar’s rants on sharks being lazy are also hilarious. These guys do their homework and it clearly shows.

How to stay funny: Tell the truth. Speak your heart out. If you are tanking and you know the energy in the room is dipping, talk about it and improvise.

Comedian Sorabh Pant knows his way around the troll army, frequently brings up topics like the beef ban and jokes about Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi

Sorabh Pant, 35

Starting off as a TV writer, Pant went solo as a comedian in 2009, with his show ‘Pants on Fire’. He has been travelling across the country for his comedy show #RantOfThePant. “I’ve always been a political comedian,” says Pant. “But now people are easier to entertain and jokes have become tamer.” He frequently brings up topics like the beef ban and jokes about Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi. “People are waiting to troll you, so the trick is to work harder on your jokes to make it balanced, not avoid it entirely.”

A joke that needs to go: No joke is stale, if you give it the right spin. But community-centric ones are a tad boring.

Comics to watch out for:
  • Kunal Kamra’s jokes are totally off the centre which gives him quite an edge. Sumukhi Suresh reminds me of Aditi Mittal because she is so uninhibited.

How to stay funny: Keep getting on stage. The more you perform and churn out content, the funnier you get.