In Amazon Prime Video’s upcoming series One Mic Stand, some of India’s most well-known actors, politicians, musicians and celebrities will be trained by professional stand-up comedians to deliver a full stand-up comedy set for the first time in their lives in front of an audience.
Created by stand-up comedian Sapan Verma, the series will feature online personality Bhuvan Bam, actresses Taapsee Pannu and Richa Chadha, singer-composer Vishal Dadlani and Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor making their stand-up comedy debut with the help of Zakir Khan, Kunal Kamra, Angad Ranyal, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya. The series will be premiered on November 15.
“Nothing like this has been ever done before,” Shakya told Scroll.in. “Each episode starts off with the comedian and the talent meeting for the first time and their subsequent creative process is recorded, which continues over several meetings till the final performance which happens in front of a live, paying audience.” Shakya has been paired with Richa Chadha.
Chadha’s experience in theatre and film was a plus point, since stand-up comedy involves remembering the jokes and acting out characters and mimicking voices, Shakya said.
“The jokes stem from what the talent wants to talk about,” Shakya explained. “Like, say, Richa wanted to talk about certain experiences from the film industry. Based on that material, a writer’s room finds the jokes. Then, over a lot of meetings and rehearsals and to-and-fros, the jokes are fleshed out. We worked on the material even till the day of the shoot of Richa’s performance.”
But not everyone wanting to perform stand-up comedy comes with the experience of having faced live audiences for years. Shakya had some tips for young wannabe stand-up comedians.
“The content doesn’t have to be deep,” Shakya said. “It can be mundane Seinfield-like micro-observations also, like how utensils are arranged in the kitchen. Before even attending an open mic, watch the greats. Figure out which style suits you, observational or storytelling or others. Note the structuring of a joke. You may have an observation like, say, taxis are hard to find on the road. With that starting point, develop a joke. Write down your material. It will be bad when you’re starting out. That’s okay. Try that out in an open mic, and at an open mic, you will find more like you. You will see what others are doing and it will open your mind.”
Stand-up comedy is not a job that can be done in isolation. “You might write your material alone, but to know if it works, you need to keep going out and performing continuously,” he observed. “Additionally, if you come to stand-up comedy thinking it’s a glamorous business or you will make money, you can’t make it. Money won’t come to you just like that. You need to have passion and the ability to keep it alive.”
The stand-up comedy scene has vastly improved in India, but is nowhere close to what it’s like in the West, Shakya acknowledged. “The total number of stand-up comedians in India right now will be less than the number you will find in four blocks in New York city,” he said. “Hindi comics are increasing in number now. Soon you will have more stand-up comedy in other languages as well. One shouldn’t be worried about competition. Even if we need to keep upping our game today as the market is changing so fast. But if one’s non-serious, they will drop off anyway.”
India will never cease to inspire experienced or budding stand-up comedians as “just the news offers so much content alone”. He pointed out that performing stand-up comedy is a job, not a hobby, so even if one is uninspired after a point, “just take a break and come back. You have to wake up and do your job ultimately.”
Shayka was one of the founding members of the comedy collective All India Bakchod along with Rohan Joshi, Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba. AIB was dissolved in May following sexual harassment allegations against Khamba. Bhat too was accused of ignoring sexual harassment complaints against AIB contributor Utsav Chakraborty.
Shakya has since been a solo operator. He recently taped a stand-up comedy special in addition to returning to his blog after four years. The comeback post, titled A Mostly Unhelpful Guide to Modern Dating, was published on November 3.
“After writing a weekly column for six years straight, I got bored with writing in that format, and then, my company took up my time,” Shakya said. “The four-year gap became longer than it was intended, but then I started missing writing long-form. So I just sat down and wrote a 1,000-word thing despite knowing people these days barely read articles that long. But I like the format, and I think I will be blogging more often now.”
Meanwhile, Chintu Ka Birthday, AIB’s maiden film production, has been doing the rounds of film festivals. Will the group return any time soon? Shakya’s reply: “Well, the people behind AIB are all creative people, so creative minds will always keep creating.”