Behind Raju Srivastav's terrific comedy lie many tragic experiences. The ace comedian tells it all to SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

Outstanding is an understatement to depict Raju Srivastav. For he has proved that he is way beyond. Or else, why, even after losing the title of "Laughter Champion" in the popular reality hunt on Star One, The Great Indian Laughter Challengetwo years back, he is still afloat while the rest of the pack just couldn't keep their funny side up this long.Without imposing on himself the weight of constantly living up to his public image of a terrific comedian, Raju comes across as anyone of us. With stories to relate on failures, embarrassments, and at times, loneliness before he finally stumbled upon success. A man who rose through the ranks.As Raju says, "Many tragedies have made me comic." And then he goes on to pick the pieces from his growing-up days in the "then smallish-town" Kanpur. "I was an embarrassment for my family. While my peers and cousins would talk about preparing for competitive examinations or achieving academic excellence, I would spend my time practising Hindi film dialogue. My parents would growl at me as I would tell guests, `Aap ko Deewar ke dialogue sunau'," relates Raju. A sensation that Bachchan was in the '70s for the young generation, Raju says he too was affected by his movies, the way he walked, talked and boogied. "So obviously, I copied him". But the challenge lay in inventing his own style of stand-up comedy. Raju took the everyday, chatty approach, of relating an incident, which happens to have a funny side. The most natural way of finding humour in the absurdities of life but a difficult feat to achieve, and sustain."My humour comes from observing people, their mannerisms," he explains. Travelling in the train, he feels, gives him the most ideas. "But sad, success has made me travel by air, something that takes me away from the man on the street," he says. If success stifles his source of creativity, he will not mind letting it go.

On Sony TV

With a handful of tele-shows now, Raju is a busy man. He has just performed at the Taj Mahotsav in Agra, and is back in Mumbai to shoot for the newly started series on Sony TV, Comedy Ka Badsshah, Hasegaa India. He is co-hosting the show with Rakhi Sawant from this past Friday at 9 p.m."The one-hour show has five rounds and in one of them, we feature couple of new comedians who are judged by me, Rakhi and a guest," he says. Besides a show on Doordarshan, he is also seen on Laughter Champions ka Mahayudh on Star One. "But I think I will get out of the Star One show as I feel its quality has gone down," states Raju. Yet another channel which will feature him "very soon" is Aaj Tak."But there were days when I was looking for work and there was none," he reflects. Before he became a known face, he had done no less than 500 shows with one of his favourite comedians, Johny Lever. "But no one took notice of that," he points out with a smile. Talking more about ideas that fuel his comedy, he relates how once, his brother was denied a job because he couldn't pay a bribe. "It was a sad day for all of us. I have seen many things from close quarters, one of them is corruption," he says, a shade wistful.Though he looks for a comic streak in personal hardships, not always, he says, he finds a reason to laugh. "When you see that you have a huge mobile bill to pay, that your son's marks are low, that you want to do something and can't because you are unwell, you know it is not funny," he states. Raju signs off with a rather double-edged line, "Log puchenge aap kaise hai jab tak ki aap ke jeb mein paise hain." You laugh at it but do know it is true.