World Laughter Day: Rohan Joshi, Raju Srivastava and other comedians talk about comedy
With World Laughter Day falling today, we speak to comedians from different styles, eras and platforms to understand how the pandemic changed things for them.
It’s the best medicine, cheapest form of therapy and what not… There are multiple definitions of laughter that one can find on the internet. But what does it mean to the one whose job is to make people laugh? In the last two years, when the world got locked in the bars of melancholy, it will be an understatement to say that comedians turned out to be saviors. With World Laughter Day falling today, we speak to comedians from different styles, eras and platforms to understand how the pandemic changed things for them.
For me, laughter is a form of catharsis. It is something that relaxes your defenses and anxiety. It can be a stressful job to make people laugh and strive to be relevant. For some it is great but for some it can take a toll. I’ve been on long tours and the creative process can be exhausting. In the last two years, we kept finding ways to make people laugh.With the pandemic, I’ve learnt to not take anything for granted. We live in a world where you have to move with the flow. You have to be ready to adapt. I had to learn to stream during these two years. However, the most difficult part was to stay motivated especially when you are not getting in front of people physically.
Comedians saying I like to make people smile is a LinkedIn answer. The real reason is that it’s a big high. Like any art, comedy helps the artist express what he feels more intensely than most people. So it is therapeutic for sure and in some cases the only thing keeping the artist sane.
Last two years have been disastrous for most performing arts. We’ve seen fewer new artists coming up and many existing ones dropped off. I feel I have come out stronger because I faced one of our biggest fears, life without the stage, and I survived. I started being more mindful of everything I do and started putting people before everything, even writing and stand-up. Many artists switched to online and shorter formats. But I preferred live (performances) and kept at it against all odds. In fact I have probably traveled the most last year despite the lockdowns. Find what you love and let it kill you, before they ban it.
Comedy can definitely affect a comedian as most of them share their personal stories on stage with a lot of creativity of course. Comedians’ only job is to make people laugh and when we don’t do it, it affects us. Comedy is a two way process. You go on stage, you make people laugh, and it gives you energy. Then you use the same energy to make them laugh again. So it’s like a cycle. You feed on that laughter. Comedy is all about observation. When we were locked in for two years, that affected us. Fortunately I got Covid so I have a new set which is all about that experience. For instance, I did a video series called Only positive news, primarily to help myself. I’m 54 years old, so I had to keep myself busy. I did that to keep a routine. I even did Zoom shows and that kept me sane. I was the early adopters of online platforms. That was keeping me financially and creatively charged.
Comedy is a serious business. Comedians make everyone laugh but they themselves don’t laugh. But the world is changing. The audience that I used to see years ago are aged. Now the audience is young. And the current audience needs prompt laughter. Everything is fast paced. Now the audience wants mimicry of Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor. So we need to keep ourselves updated. Now I mimic Modi ji (PM Narendra Modi). Furthermore, today even the internet and WhatsApp are our competition. But yeah we need to reinvent ourselves. During the pandemic, the online shows were absolutely new. I got many offers for online shows and I did perform. It was weird as I was not able to see the audience and there was no response.
It helps you mentally to make 500 people laugh. Also you have to be strong enough to go on stage everyday and make people laugh irrespective how your day has been. For me the pandemic didn’t let my creativity suffer. In fact so many online platforms have actually helped me create more, upload more and reach more audience. Not saying that pandemic was good, but yes I got a lot of time sitting at home doing online shows, posting more videos. I think I have become a better version of myself in the last two years. Instagram helped me reach a wider audience with the help of reels. I started creating content differently for stage and for Instagram.
Comedy has helped me a lot, mentally and emotionally as well.Over the years I have transformed myself as a mimicry artist to a comedian, from a comedian to an actor. I also studied the algorithm of social media, studied the basics of it and then decided to not work for social media.
I feel like it is simultaneously the most terrifying and the most comforting thing to be in the business. of comedy. The same thing that terrifies you is the same thing that gives you solace. That was the paradox that i was grappling with over the past two years. I think we lived through a very surreal time and i dont think we acknowledge it enough how other worldly the past few years were. And when reality somewhat jumps the fence, then anything that you create in comedy will fall short of what reality is serving up. Comedy like any other job is stressful and as a comedian i have a very similar relation with my job. I love doing it and it is the only thing I know how to do, frankly. But, it terrifies me everyday.
For a stand up comedian, this is a profession, so, in my opinion, it has about the same amount of mental health issues and solutions that any other job would. However, what makes this job unique is that getting on stage and doing your bit also feels like a release. It is a form of therapy, though it’s certainly not a replacement for it!