What if jokes don’t land?

Abish Mathew   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In her first ever set as a stand-up comic, actor Sunny Leone doesn’t mince words. “You all know me for something I’ve done in the past that you have all judged me for, and that I might be ashamed of,” she says with a shrug and a smile before delivering the punchline or more like punch-word — ‘mastizade’ (fun seekers). And, the audience cracks up. This according to comedian Neeti Palta is a great strategy to win the crowd over. “Comics will tell you that if you get the audience with the first joke, they are with you. And, when you start by addressing what the audience is already thinking about you, you have them.”

For season two of Amazon Prime’s One Mic Stand, a reality show (hosted by Sapan Verma) that has celebrities attempt stand-up comedy after being trained by professionals, Palta mentors Leone. We see the likes of Karan Johar, Faye D’Souza, Raftaar and Chetan Bhagat, who are mentored by Sumukhi Suresh, Atul Khatri, Samay Raina, Abish Mathew.

Sapan Verma

Sapan Verma   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Less chat, more comedy

One of the first steps after everyone is onboard is what Verma, also the showrunner, calls a “long therapy session” where the celebrities meet their comedy mentors and the writers of the show – Dhruv Deshpande, Siddharth Dudeja, Aishwarya Mohanraj, Pavitra Shetty and Urjita Wani. “They talk about their lives and then the writers write jokes for them,” he adds. At the end of season one, Verma and the team knew that they had ‘cracked the format’ but there was always room for improvement; one of which was to keep each celebrity set crisp and packed with jokes. “In the first season, we often wrote long scripts but this time we ruthlessly cut them down to five pages. We have a great writers’ room and they understood that this was to make the show better.”

Much like celebrities who are attempting stand-up for the first time, this is a novel experience for the comics as well. And, teaching a newbie how to make a room full of strangers laugh isn’t easy. “You can be funny among your group of friends but that doesn’t always translate on stage. The stories you tell them are based on people and backgrounds that they know,” says Palta. Mathew adds, “It’s a Catch-22 situation. Comics become better by going to open-mics again and again. Only by failing, do you build the confidence that helps you manage a room the next time.”

Bracing imperfection

The format of One Mic Stand though, is such that a celebrity has only one chance on a given night to establish their comedy credentials. “It’s a live show, with a live audience. There is no cheating,” Palta says. Honesty, according to Verma, is a great way to win the audience over. “I’ve told the celebs that if a joke bombs, they can just say ‘It’s not my fault. Sapan told me it was funny’”.

Watch | In conversation with mentors and host of 'One Mic Stand'

Verma understands that the USP of the show is the vulnerability and imperfection that comes with having well-known faces attempt something new in front of the camera. “You know that they aren’t going to be perfect and it’s unfair to even expect it. This is why we retain moments when they look at their cheat sheet or fumble. Last season, someone fumbled and our editor cut it out but I told him to add it back because that’s the charm of the show.”

Neeti Palta and Sapan Verma

Neeti Palta and Sapan Verma   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It’s been a tough year for everyone. For performers like Verma, Palta and Mathew, the pandemic took away one of the most important things in their lives — a live audience. “As a comedian, nothing can replicate a live audience. You can do a Zoom show for 500 people but I’d prefer 50 people who are physically in the same space that I am,” explains Verma. Mathew agrees — “The Internet makes us feel validated but a live stage makes us feel visible.”

One Mic Stand is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 6:37:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/one-mic-stand-2021-amazon-prime-video-comedy/article37122767.ece

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