Charlie Chaplin once said that life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot: this quote pretty much sums up what stand-up comedians do to tickle your senses - they take a serious subject, something you can relate to, and show you how funny life actually is. "Humour is best way to voice opinions on serious matters," feels 23-year-old Appurv Gupta, who is known for his distinct speaking style and has been doing Hinglish stand-up comedy for almost two years.
While stand-up comedy in India is still not at its peak yet, it's getting there fast enough. "The next five to 10 years is a booming period for stand-up in the country," feels Appurv, who also plans to write plays, books and direct funny videos soon. However, Kunal Rao, who has been part of the East India Comedy Company, Mumbai for some time now, feels stand-up acts in India aren't even close to its peak. "Comedians and audience in India are still in the exploring stage. Stand-up comedy is not even close to its peak here. In fact, our [comedians] biggest fear is that this is just a fad and it'll pass," says Rao, who quit his job as a CA to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. "There was some initial resistance from family members, but now they're happy that I'm happy."
Even for stand-up comedian Vipul Goyal, who is an electrical engineering graduate from IIT, Mumbai, the shift to stand-up comedy was drastic. "After six months of being a retail analyst for Adventity Inc, I realised my knack for stand-up comedy. I've been doing stand-up for the past four years now. Stand-up popularity was only growing when I joined it," he says, adding that apart from performing at college festivals, corporate shows, etc, he is also part of TheViralFeverVideos online.
For Aditi Mittal, one of India's top stand-up comedians today, things were slightly different when she switched to a full-time career in stand-up comedy from her corporate job in the US. "I had lost my job in the US because of the recession. I was absolutely broken. After looking for a job for three months, stand-up comedy happened. I just had two laughs at the end of my first routine, but I was hooked. There was even a time when I was trying to get into Indian TV. I had got the lead role in a show called Pyar Ki Nayi Kahaani (Indian version of Twilight). I had to turn it down as I couldn't have worked 28 days a month. The show ended after 10 episodes," says Mittal. When asked how she manages to hold her own in this 'man's world' - a female stand-up comedian is not welcomed with open arms - Mittal is quick to respond: "Food and safety are my priorities at any event. I usually share a good rapport with the organisers who ensure I get these two things at my performance. There have been incidents when hammered men have walked up to me and screamed things like 'You're disgusting', 'How dare you?' etc. But, why should I stop doing what I'm doing just because somebody fell on his head in the delivery room?"
Contrary to its image, stand-up comedy is a lot of hard work too. "There is a lot of travelling involved. I've performed in New York, Los Angeles, London, etc, too," says Mittal.
These youngsters had the guts to go off the beaten track in pursuit of a career in stand-up comedy in India.
But, exactly how rewarding is a career in stand-up comedy? We wonder. Mittal says: "The biggest pull is the fact that you are paid to have fun. Moreover, it's not something you can ever switch off from. Be it making fun of what people are talking or about life in general, you have to absorb it all." Kunal Rao, who also travels a lot on the job, says: "We have at least 15 shows to do when it's a good month, and probably six or less in a bad month."
Since, stand-up comedians perform for a pan-India audience; we ask them if they could spot a few differences in sense of humour. "Talking about religion or sex in Bangalore may not always work as South Indians are a tad classy with respect to humour. They usually appreciate political humour, only South politics though. While in Kolkata, people like to argue and are very clued on to what's happening around them, a mix of everything works in Mumbai. When it comes to Delhi, it works if you end with a gaali or two. They also like stand-up acts that are more animated and they get all political references but you lose their attention the moment you go slightly intelligent around them," Rao reveals his observations.
Here are the 20 stand-up comics to follow in 2014:
1: Neeti Palta
2: Appurv Gupta
3: Vipul Goyal
4: Kunal Rao
5: Sahil Shah
6: Sorabh Pant
7: Rohan Joshi
8: Aditi Mittal
9: Praveen Kumar
10: Sapan Verma
11: Ashish Shakya
12: Angad Ranyal
13: Aparna Nancherla
14: Abish Mathew
15: Anuvab Pal
16: Papa CJ
17: Azeem Banatwalla
18: Atul Khatri
19: Tanmay Bhat
20: Gursimran Khamba
Check out their stand-up acts below, they will leave you in splits.
(Some videos have explicit content, including abusive language)