Stand-up comedy is just catching on in the State. Vinay Menon is among the very few who pursue this genre.
Vinay Menon slides down the banister in his living room, lands on the floor with a soft thump and says “hello”. After moments of contemplative silence, he says, “The world is actually a really funny place, if you start observing it. But you need to look at it objectively.” The IT-professional who turns stand-up comedian on weekends, collects most of the material for his gigs from life around him. “It is observational humour. Contort it out of proportion and you get a few laughs,” he says.
The 27-year-old, who prefers comedy to IT, describes his jobs quite simply: “I am a Tester in my company. I find fault with things. Same with my comedy; I find fault with things.”
Vinay’s first gig was an informal one. He was at an open-mic night in Bangalore and got a chance to perform. He remembers having elicited a fair number of laughs from the crowd. “The crowd is a complex organism. You have to say things that it least expects. If your first joke bombs, then you can be sure the rest of your routine will too.” Since then he did a few more gigs in Bangalore and began opening shows for other artistes. Vinay won a stand-up competition in Chennai and later hosted and judged a stand-up competition at the GIM (Goa Institute of Management). Though it has been only a year-and-a-half since he began, Vinay believes he has found his place. Most of his routines start with jibes at Malayali quirks. “Some people, mostly Malayalis settled outside the State, have come up to me to say that I should not make fun of Malayalis,” he says. “Hey, I am more Malayali than them. I make good use of my ‘Malayali accent’.”
Vinay says he is constantly working on his act and building a formidable repertoire of jokes. “It is far more difficult than it seems. A lot of preparation goes into a routine. Being on stage and saying jokes non-stop is taxing. You cannot say unconnected jokes. They need to have an order,” he says. “If I think of a joke sometime, say in my bath, I write it down. It is always better to have a back up.” The longest of his gigs was at Hyderabad when he performed for a straight 30 minutes.
Nervousness is a given. “I’ve seen big artistes warming up before a gig. Some of them generally jump around and try to loosen up. I usually think of a time when I was very funny. You need to feel funny first, to be able to deliver.”
The Kochi boy has not performed in his city or anywhere else in Kerala yet. Stand-up comedy is just catching on in the State, with performances few and far between, most of them by artistes from outside. There is huge potential for a city like Kochi, though, Vinay says. However, performance spaces are fewer compared to bigger cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. “We need to have more open-mic spaces. Performing at an open-mic is far more liberating than performing stand-up on a proper stage.”
Few places offer formal training in stand-up, but Vinay says the closest to stage training he has had was from Evam theatre group in Bangalore. The one-month theatre training helped him acquaint with the basics of stage acting—body language and speech delivery. It also helped him build contacts, which is essential in his line of work. Again, stand-up is something one needs to experiment, practice, perform and eventually get better at, Vinay points out. “If you think you can try out your jokes on your friends, please don’t. It never works.”
Balancing a paying IT job in Thiruvananthapuram and a fledgling career in stand-up comedy, which guarantees you would not roll in money, is tough, he says. In between his job, stand-up and his interests in photography, travel and theatre, Vinay is pursuing his MA in English Language and Literature. “I don’t get much time to prepare, but I am quite sure I would like to be known as a stand-up comedian and not as an unknown IT person.”