If you are in India, you know this is THE time for comedians and stand-up comedy in India. While the Hindi comedians have been on the scene for the past 15 years or so with shows like Great Indian laughter challenge, Comedy Circus etc, the new age English comedians have been flourishing since the last 3-4 years. Comedy groups and individual comedians have been thriving in the Youtube era. I have never been hooked on to any of the Hindi shows because I feel many of them they resort to making fun of girls/wives and cross-dressing to get a laugh. But, the new age English comedians have proved that jokes can be intelligent without criticizing people/ gender/ race. They have also shown they can take jokes on themselves and can find humor in current affairs. And I, along with millions of others, have come to thoroughly enjoy this form of entertainment. Recently, Amazon Prime has been coming out with comedy standup specials with some Indian comedians. While watching these shows, I constantly found myself wondering how these comedians design their 1 hour+ shows. And I realized their process and shows can help designers in their process.
Disclaimer: I have zero knowledge of comedy and have no funny bone in my body. All I claim is I enjoy intelligent comedy thoroughly. My analysis of the design of the shows is purely based on how the stories are presented, how enchanting the storytelling was and how it was all tied together. Also, the article might contain internal jokes between the comedian and the audience, we suggest you watch the shows after the article and reread it later, coz we promise it will be worth your time.
Have a theme
I have watched all these one-hour specials mostly on the day they were released. Every single comedian bases his show on a particular theme and ties all of his jokes into that particular theme. I think the first time I noticed the theme was with Sapan Verma’s OCD – Obsessive Comedic Disorder . The most striking part of the show was the tying of the name and the theme of the show. So, Sapan starts with the fact that he has OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder (The author is unaware of the clinical proof of this). He gives multiple examples of how if he touches an object with one hand, he HAS to touch it with the other hand to make it “equal” (same though!) and so on. The story then moves to other jokes but every couple of minutes, he would make a reference to his OCD. And you can see throughout the show, he is actually shifting the microphone between his hands and mirroring actions – subtle but yet noticeable. The weaving of the name and the theme of the show is amazing. The theme that Kenneth bases his shows is his middle-class family. He has various clips on how the family reacts in different situations and even though his stand up special  was not on the topic, he references it in between pieces to bring out the theme his comedy revolves around. The best part about having a theme is, when you reference back to the theme in between another fantastic piece, you get the loudest applause. Because the audience sees the theme being built and is fascinated how you tied these unrelated pieces together. For example, Naveen in the start of the show had a segment on math and how as kids we used to rely on step marks. He, later on, moved to a brilliant piece about airports and ended with another reference to “step marks”. And that got the biggest round of applause and what a brilliant way to end a brilliant show !
Create a niche
If a comedian went on stage and said hilarious jokes in the same tone of his voice like you might use in a debate, would he garner equal laughs? If every single comedian did their jokes on the same topic in the same way, would any of them gain fame? Nope. There are only a significant amount of jokes you can make on demonetization and its outcomes and not everyone can sell it. There is where the niche comes in. Successful Indian comedians have created a niche for themselves. Presenting the joke in that form is what garners them the most number of applauds. Like Kenny is the pavam guitar playing guy, Aadar is the musical comedian, who delivers his best jokes in the form of a song , Naveen has THE best facial expressions and voice modulations from a Malayali uncle to a 4-year-old kid, the “maself Varun this side” garners more laughs than the very pretty intelligent Varun , Anuvab and Atul Khatri are the “old” comedians on the scene etc. Abish, on the other hand, is trying to bring into India the culture of light-hearted talk shows on the lines of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” or my favorite “The Ellen Show” or “The Late Late Show with James Corden” with his show “Son of Abish” . He created the niche, learned from his mistakes and improved phenomenally in the second season. This brings us to our next point.
Own and learn from mistakes
AIB tried the roast culture in India (I feel it was ahead of its time!) and the repercussions were pretty bad. Two years later, they still joke about it and the audience doubles up with laughter. They do not tiptoe around the controversies, they do not act like it did not happen. The best form of comedy is when someone is able to laugh at themselves and their mistakes. Take the example of when an artist mispronounces a word on stage (What is achachi Naveen?!). Do you see any of them fumbling and getting self-conscious? Nope. They say the correct word, repeat the wrong word and make a joke on what the wrong word can mean. Mistakes happen. On a daily basis. A good comedian owns them, learns from them and uses it to his/ her advantage.
Another brilliant aspect of the AIB Knockout was the way they emerged from the controversy. They did not back down completely and go out of the comedy scene. They were relentless and they have grown so much post that! The criticism always brings them to a corner but all of them climb back but stronger. How many times have you heard the first joke of a section of an artist bomb? Emerging from that sounds nightmarish. But have you seen them plow through the rest of the jokes? And the smile on their face when the joke finally hits the mark says it all. A good comedian is relentless and brave to go through with what they believe in.
In a recent episode of “Off script with AIB”, Rohan Joshi mentioned how his jokes are time specific . He can’t use the same set he wrote a year back and be on stage to say “Remember the IPL scandal one year back?”. Sums up the point perfectly. A comedian bases his pieces on the time the jokes are delivered, the place where they are delivered and so on. A Mumbai praising joke will work better in Mumbai than Delhi. A comedian has to evolve himself and his jokes according to the time, place and audience.
Most of the jokes a comedian performs are inspired from personal experiences. Even the most normal jokes are hidden behind the veil of an ex-girlfriend, a non-existing nephew/ niece (looking at you Azeem! ), because adding a personal touch to any story adds warmth and personality to it. Anybody can tell the story of kids using phones and tabs these days, but when you say “My 3-year-old niece has reached level 160 in Candy Crush, while I’m stuck at level 13”, it strikes a chord much closer to the heart. A comedian learns from experience and is not afraid to get personal.
Be the star!
Take any comedy show and who is the star of the show? The comedian! I believe this is true even in a group of friends. The funny guys are the ones who shine and remembered as the superstars! But the star always hears from the audience and makes them feel special and uses the new information to spin out some more jokes. An artist enters the stage with 100% confidence on himself and his material. He plows through the 1 hour+ jokes and for that one hour, he proudly presents his work and captures everybody’s heart in the process.
This was one of the most enjoyable pieces we have written in a long time. I thoroughly enjoy the work of these brilliant artists and have immense respect for them. Do let us know how you liked the post and any brilliant Indian stand-up comedians we might like. Don’t forget to share, subscribe and spread the love!
The shows mentioned in the post are. The Amazon Prime videos will require an Amazon Prime account.