Though Naveen Richard’s new Amazon stand-up comedy special is titled Relatively Relatable, the name is only a hook, for, as Richard explained, “I try to win my audience with some relatable jokes before getting to a weirder place.”
Relatively Relatable is Richard’s second stand-up comedy special on Amazon Prime Video following 2017’s Don’t Make That Face. The jokes begin with a quip about an everyday observation, such as witnessing cockroaches scuttling out of a cupboard, which is then escalated to a bizarre scenario: Richard going on a date with a cockroach and being taken to meet its parents. All the while, the laughs don’t stop.
The strangest moment in the special comes when Richard shows up on stage as Xavier Pandian, “my small-town cousin whom I give a platform to share some jokes”. As Pandian, Richard has the dorkiest hairdo, a tucked-in yellow shirt, and a shrill voice with which he drops the lamest jokes with exaggerated mannerisms. Its collective effect is perhaps the funniest five minutes in Relatively Relatable.
Haven’t Indian stand-up comedy audiences had enough of “relatable” humour? Since the Hinglish stand-up comedy boom began in the early 2010s, there has been an avalanche of content where the attempt is to mine humour out of most mundane millennial experiences. The results are tiresome just as often as they are entertaining.
Richard agreed, but added: “Relatable humour has been around for as long as stand-up comedy existed.” As an example, he cited the popular American sitcom Seinfeld, famously known as the “show about nothing”.
Richard added, “Humour comes from new ways of looking at what’s right there in front of your face. So even though my special’s titled Relatively Relatable, I flip a lot of the idea of relatable humour and I’m aware of it and I play with the concept of relatability.”
That’s for viewers to decide. Also on Amazon Prime Video is the recently released second season of Pushpavalli, which stars its creator and fellow comedian Sumukhi Suresh in the lead role of a stalker obsessed with winning over a man she fancies. Richard, its co-writer, plays the key supporting role of Pankaj, Pushpavalli’s foul-mouthed boss and quasi-father figure.
The tricky part of writing Pushpavalli lies in its premise itself: making a stalker a likable protagonist. “I think you start to like Pushpavalli because you also pity her,” Richard said. “You see her mom picking on her for her weight, her father died when she was young, it wasn’t easy for her growing up, the PG she lives in gives her a hard time, there’s a lot of sadness in her so you can empathise a bit, and her being funny helps.”
One of the most endearing but also perplexing equations in the series involves Pankaj and Pushpavalli. While Pankaj sees nothing that he likes in Pushpavalli, he also cares for her.
“He has a saviour complex, which I can relate to,” Richard said. “Sometimes there are people who are just caught up in destructive patterns, and if you abandon them, they will burn all bridges and no one else is gonna care, so you take it upon yourself to handle them. Also, Naveen knows Pushpavalli since the sixth standard and knows her mom, so there’s the family connection.”
Richard and Suresh have stellar comedy chemistry, as seen in not just Pushpavalli, but also the now-defunct series Better Life Foundation, their Amazon Prime Video sketch comedy film Go Straight Take Left, and YouTube videos that are filmed versions of their stage shows.
“When we became friends, we were both new in Bangalore,” Richard recalled. “We were both Tamils and we immediately bonded over little Tamil things. We were both very honest and instantly got along well. We would laugh at the same things and crack each other up, and then while acting together, we realised how much chemistry we had. When the stakes are lower in life, relationships are stronger. Late in life, a relationship becomes more about what you can get from me and what I can get from you.”
For now, Richard is stuck at home waiting out the coronavirus pandemic like the rest of the world, but “as a comedian and content creator” often found writing in his home, he said he is not affected.
“This is just life for me,” he said. “What I’m concerned about is wondering how much vegetables and Maggi I need to stock up on. This is a good time for content creators. Now without the burden of overthinking content, one can just a start a blog or a vlog or a podcast from their home like they had always wanted to do but didn’t.”