Tiruchi Humour Club shows people the importance of looking at the lighter side of life

For the past 15 years, the Tiruchi Humour Club has been making people laugh, think and then laugh some more through its programmes usually held on the last Sunday of every month. And it looks set to continue the good work today with the competitions for youngsters in stand-up comedy and cartooning as part of Children’s Day celebrations being held at Sivananda Balalaya school.

Vaai vittu siruthaal noi vittu poi vidum,” says G. Sivagurnathan, secretary and founder of the club, quoting a Tamil proverb that translates loosely as ‘laughter is the best medicine.’ “The physical act of laughter provides our tissues with oxygen and keeps us rejuvenated. Life is tension-free when you have a sense of humour,” he adds.

Simple mission

Sivagurunathan, who also works in the Co-operative Credit Society for Railway Employees, started the Tiruchi Humour Club with six friends in March 1999, inspired by people he met while studying for his journalism diploma and Bachelor in Law degree.

Membership is voluntary, and the subscription fee is equally relaxed, “anything that they want to give us,” says Sivagurunathan. “We don’t want money to be a barrier to laughter, and don’t mind even if they don’t pay.”

The club’s appeal lies in the simplicity of its mission: it invites public speakers to address the audience on different issues in a humorous manner.

“We have never cancelled any meeting in the past 15 years, except in rare cases,” says Sivagurunathan. “We also invite members of the audience to present their jokes on stage.”

There are some rules they must stick to: no offensive language, no double entendre, no politics, no sexism, and no making fun of the country.

“There may be many things wrong with our country, but making fun of India on a public platform is demoralising,” says Sivagurunathan.

Laugh and be merry

Those who attend the club’s sessions are of a mixed profile, neither too young, nor too old. “But they all appreciate listening to well-presented ideas in Tamil,” says Sivagurunathan. “Sometimes we don’t invite humorous speakers and go for medical experts or counsellors. Even then, the session is a sell-out.”

The Tiruchi Humour Club also launches books, especially those in the humour genre. It recently showcased writer Gnanasambandam’s book on the art of public speaking among college students in the city.

As to what kind of humour fares well in Tiruchi, rural or urban, Sivagurunathan says, “Actually this is a city of migrants who have come here either for work or education. So we all share a rural background. We just use a rural set-up to highlight an urban issue in our jokes. For example, if you owned a Raleigh cycle in the village, you’d be the richest man there. Today, the richest man is the one who rides his cycle within his room (stationary exercise bike). Our jokes provoke laughter and thought.”

Public interaction

Highlighting the Children’s Day contests, Sivagurunathan says that every year, he finds the parents to be very pushy. “I find that while kids are clear in what they want to do, their ideas usually get spoiled by their parents, who get very competitive, even though we are giving out only a certificate and a shield as the prize. So we always ask the parents to stay out of the contest venue (especially during drawing contests) to allow children some freedom.”

To give everyone a fair chance to compete, the number of entrants in each category has been limited to five from each school. “Our contests are meant to help families feel happy with their loved ones and share their jubilation when children win prizes,” says Sivagurunathan. Plans for the future include the introduction of family membership of Rs.1000 (for a group of 10 members) and the starting of counselling sessions with experts in clinical psychology.

The club has no official venue, but usually holds its meetings at Hotel Savena, the Tiruchirappalli Tamil Sangam or Sivananda Balalaya School. “It costs us around Rs.10,000 to host events like the Children’s Day contests,” says Sivagurunathan. “We are very lucky to have generous supporters. Every time I think the club is close to shutting down, someone has always stepped in to sponsor an event. Even the audience turns up simply in response to SMS invitations. Our club is non-profit, so we only want people to be happy when they interact with us,” he concludes.