The State of English Stand-Up Comedy In India
If one were to analyse the state of English stand-up comedy in India, it would appear to have undergone a huge change. From being an oblivious and unexplored field, today it has become a part of mainstream cultural commodity in metropolitan cities. Auditoriums and bars have become more receptive of the idea and host various stand-up groups on weekends. In fact last year India played host to famous international comedian Russell Peters. But this does not negate the fact that India has a shortage of English stand-up comedians.
Earlier this year Only Much Louder (OML) organized India’s first three-day comedy festival, Weirdass Pajama Festival, which brought together 70 comedians from across the country to entertain the audience. Although the organisers and participants were thrilled by the event’s success, it’s hard to ignore the fact that in a country of a billion people, there are only 70 comedians that can make people laugh. However, what’s even worse is that we create unnecessary competition within this small community that has made making people laugh their profession.
It was not until 6-7 months ago that comedy collectives like All India B****** (AIB) and Vir Das’ Weirdass Comedy extended their activities from live shows to YouTube videos. And soon began the comparison. With the viewers having their own personal favourites, they started to compare every joke and production styles, and began pitting one against the other. Often one would find these groups hitting out at each other in the comment section of the videos. As a viewer, I really find this amusing. I believe that all this competitive spirit hampers with the growth of an industry that’s still struggling to strengthen its roots. (Read this article to know how Vir Das, Rohan Joshi, Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba made it into this industry.)
But if stand-comedy is in its beginner stage than comedy on the Indian internet space hardly has a standing of its own. We have ripped off the whole concept of satire news websites like Faking News and UnReal Times from international sites like The Onion. “Jay Hind”—you can watch the shows here—was the first Indian standup comedy show made exclusively for the internet, and The Viral Fever (TVF) was the only YouTube channel to produce sketch comedies. Apart from these, all we have in the name of comedy on the internet was 9Gag’s indianised memes on Facebook, photo shopped pictures of Bollywood stars and trolls. Don’t you think this is a waste of the platform that the internet provides to budding comedians and satirists?
Fans or viewers who reduce these sketch comedies to “TVF vs AIB vs Weirdass” need to understand that it’s not a competition, but an industry that is hunting for budding talent. The reason we don’t see Key and Peele fans fight it out with the fans of Saturday Night Live is because Americans have hundreds of other options to choose from. It’s alright to have your favorites. Frankly speaking I prefer AIB over TVF’s Qtiyapa videos, but you don’t find me posting hate filled content on their Facebook walls, do you?
So instead of asking who is better TVF, Weirdass Comedy or AIB, why not think about how we can encourage them and use this space to voice our opinions. In a country of a billion and in an industry that draws thousands of viewers within minutes of launching a video online, there should be hundreds of comedy channels, but all we have is three. The stakes are definitely higher than you realize which is why the fans need to think bigger.
Do you think English stand-up comedy has a scope in India? Write your opinions in the comment box below.
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