Anusha Parthasarathy turns the spotlight on four youngsters engaged in the business of comedy and learns that it’s serious work after all

The moment I say ‘goofy’, Aravind and Aswin look confused. “But our acts are usually serious,” says Aswin and Aravind agrees. “I am almost always angry on stage,” he adds. Trying to photograph four of Chennai’s funniest men (on stage) is quite a task, since you are torn between herding them into the frame and bursting into a guffaw. Much like their on-stage personalities, they mock each other, improvise in front of the camera, sing out loud and give me a checklist of things that need to be in the photograph. “This watch,” says Aravind matter-of-factly while Aswin whispers, “His shoes! His shoes!” And yet, the word ‘goofy’ seems to have stumped them. “Why do stand-up comedians have to look funny? Our acts are funny, our faces aren’t,” they chorus.

S. Aravind

Stage name: SA

Genre: Stand-up comedy

Associated with Evam Entertainment

Overcome by stage fright through most of his years in school and college, Aravind, a graduate in film direction, always found that he was more comfortable behind the scenes; until he discovered stand-up comedy. “I could never perform in front of a crowd except when I met friends, where I’d exaggerate events in my life and crack jokes. So a friend called me to his office once, under the pretext of meeting me, and soon I found myself in a stand-up audition. I narrated my story and was selected on the spot,” he says. Now, two years and 70-odd shows later, Aravind finds that stand-up comedy has helped him win over his fear. “I realised I’m not comfortable being someone else on stage. In stand-up comedy, I am myself, talking about my life, not lying (actually, I do lie sometimes) and making people laugh. It’s a tough art form where you are alone with a microphone and people are judging you the minute you walk on stage. But the beauty of this genre is that you can be nervous, incoherent, clumsy and still make people laugh.” Aravind works part-time as a stand-up artist and as an assistant director. He is currently working on a script for a Tamil feature film.

Rajiv Rajaram

Genre: Stand-up comedy

Stage name: Rajiv and Tucker Mani

Associated with Stray Factory

Always the class clown and the entertainer in the family, Rajiv gave stand-up comedy a shot two years ago. “Stand-up comedy has become popular thanks to YouTube and comedians like Russell Peters. I would say 2007 was a defining year for this art form,” he says. “The concept caught on, stand-up acts from other cities began coming to Chennai and people also wanted to see something local.” Rajiv points out that stand-up comedy, contrary to popular notion, is mostly rehearsed. “We have a routine that we keep adding to so that there are always new jokes. And then, depending on the kind of audience we have, we improvise on stage. I always push it because I know what works and if people don’t laugh, I just have to try harder, right?” The audience in Chennai, though, connects with anything to do with the city. “You can’t swear too much in Chennai,” laughs Rajiv, “But even otherwise, we try not to include double entendres as much as possible. The city, as of now, seems to be obsessed with one-ways, because of the Metro construction!”

Aswin Rao

Genre: Stand-up comedy

Stage name: Aswin

Associated with Evam Entertainment

Aswin has dabbled in many fields; a software-engineer-turned-photographer-turned-advertising professional, stand-up comedy is just another feather in his cap. “I talk a lot about life experiences, like that of being a software engineer,” he says. While theatre is about being a part of a group of actors, stand-up comedy is about shining alone, he says. “There is a clear mandate of having to make people laugh and you have to immediately break the ice and start connecting. Most often, we do know what will click but if it doesn’t work or if the audience isn’t receptive that day, we have to get spontaneous and involve them in the act. It’s not like we lead humorous lives but we make it seem like we do,” Aswin explains. So what works in Chennai? “A lot of tabooed subjects. But this is easy since everything is taboo here,” he laughs.

Venkatesh Harinathan

Genre: Improvised comedy

Stage name: Step Step Mani

Associated with Stray Factory

Venkatesh has been a part of the theatre scene for long. But started indulging in improvised comedy a few years ago. “You don’t have a set of jokes and so most of your lines come from the audiences. It’s important that they’re interactive. But, in case the audience isn’t, I do have some lines to fall back on,” he says. Venkatesh’s character, Step Step Mani (who, according to Venkatesh is an ‘obnoxious, lungi-wearing South Indian man’), however, rose to fame after he improvised and mimed Why this kolaveri di?, which went viral. Soon, Step Step Mani became a regular at Stray Factory’s shows. “I start with the kolaveri song, bring two members of the audience to dance with me. This is like an ice-breaker. Ironically, both theatre and improvised comedy work well together. People like it when you make an off-the-cuff remark during a play and theatre helps to improvise it.” Venkatesh also makes his debut in films with Sutta Kadhai and makes an appearance in Irandaam Ulagam as well. “I just want to remain an actor and being a comedian is a part of this,” he says.