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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Career as Comedian

The laughter business




THIS genre of entertainment is beginning to catch up in the big cities and TV has done more than its bit to popularise it with the masses. Shows like The Great Laughter Challenge, and in the past, Movers and Shakers, have only contributed to the popularity of this emerging genre. The trend has caught on at both ends — with youth who want to crack up on stage, and also with the audience who want to be entertained. Yes, this is the business of stand-up comedy and it's all about making your audience laugh. However, stand-up comedy has traditionally been one of those job areas of show business where formal training plays a minimal part and hands-on experience counts for almost everything. Despite this, stand-up comedy very rarely can be taken as a full-time profession. 


A cool temperament and the ability to laugh at one self are the basics required. And of course, the ability to make people laugh. 
   Nanjappa Appachu, Ampro (armatureprofessional), a comedian from Bangalore, says, “My mentor, who is my dad, asked me to define my stage persona after he saw a couple of my performances. Defining your very own stage style is important to continue in this trade. In the beginning, impersonators can be tolerated, but continue too long and you won't go too far,” he cautions. But the most important criterion is the chance to perform as much as possible. And for that, Nanjappa suggests, “Grab any chance that allows you to perform.” 


The content that is delivered requires prior preparation. “What looks like an effortless performance up there is something that’s involved gruelling preparation,” says another stand-up comedian, Ajit Saldanha. So where do they get their gigs from and how do they figure out what kind of material to include? 
   Ajit says, “'It’s generally pop culture references. Stuff also comes from current happenings, and a lot from celebrity blunders and bloopers.'' 
   As Ajit puts it, “It’s their ingenuity to seize an apparently boring moment in comic terms.” 


Don’t fold your cards immediately just because your first show bombed. Making audiences laugh comes only when you have the ability to laugh at yourself, and most importantly to laugh at yourself with others. “Doing as many performances whenever there’s a chance will enable you to write better jokes, tailor the show for each audience type, assemble a routine, handle hecklers, pace a show, develop a distinct comic voice and personality,” says Ajit. 
   Where does one go to learn some stand-up? Ajit recommends ‘learning by watching.’ He says, “No formal courses exist, but studying professionals, their attitude, style, jokes etc. can be an amazing teacher. Imitating your favourite comic can be a good starting point, and then work towards developing your very own personal style.” 


In India, there are no comedy clubs, says Ajit. So do most stand-ups start from emceeing and performing theatre? Ajit vehemently disagrees, he says, “Stand-up has a class of its own, and requires a different set of skills, almost like making thinking out-of-the-box a habit.” 
   Nanjappa kick-started his desire for standup through theatre. “I joined a local theatre club and acted in various plays and created a niche for myself. But it was only with time that I was able to move towards removing the fourth wall.'” (This is a literary term which loosely means that the comedian addresses and includes the audience in his acts, no wall exists between the performer and the audience). Other ways to work as a stand-up comedian is to perform at pubs that offer jazz nights or karaoke. 
   Another place to perform is doing corporate comedies, in between corporate events. The trial show of stand-up comedian Vir Das was done at a mall in Mumbai, so the burgeoning mall culture provides another platform to these artists. Nonetheless, once you start doing well for yourself, you will be discovered soon and will probably star in the next TV sitcom! 


Your pay will materialise once you have earned a name for yourself. A stand-up can expect anywhere between Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 lakh. But for starters, hosting a corporate event can be a little more rewarding. They are usually paid Rs 20,000-25,000 to host a threehour event, says Murli Ramu, who regularly employs fun emcees for events. Are women paid better than men? Ajit disagrees: “Not really, but then, there are less women in this field and so, sometimes, they might be paid well.” 


Ajit Saldanha runs an event management company. Ajit however feels stand-up comedy has great future prospects. Ad films which are humorous are usually on the lookout for stand-ups. Radio jockeying is another field that is open to them. 


Stand-up comedy courses exist abroad, but there are virtually none in India. Doing a media course or some creative writing is the next only option, or a BA or arts course that gives you a lot of free time to learn and figure it out on your own, say experts. Abroad, Pepperstock is a well-known institute in the UK that offers comedy courses. Also, Salford University and the University of Kent.



Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group


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