Ask him how he became a stand-up comedian, Vinay Menon blurts out with a nasal chortle: “the story itself is funny.” The story in question dates back to his Bengaluru days in 2012. “I had a break-up of a two-year relationship. But then I suddenly realised that I had a lot of free time. For some reason, I started going for open mic (stand-up comedy) sessions,” he says.
Vinay has since made a habit of garnishing everything he encounters with a dash of humour. Come Saturday, Vinay and his group from Kochi-based Comedy Lounge are set to administer a dose of the proverbial best medicine to an audience in the city with Setflix and Chill, an open mic event.
Perhaps the first English stand-up comedian in Kerala, the Kochi native is also a professor of English at an engineering college in Ernakulam. But while handling “serious” literature, he makes it a point to keep it light and enjoyable. “I want to make my classes as engaging and entertaining as possible. After all, you don’t want your students to fall asleep,” says the 33-year-old with a laugh. Also, the young generation serves as a touchstone for his “new” jokes.
While Vinay will be the host of Setflix and Chill, his friend and stand-up comedian Sabareesh Narayanan, also of Comedy Lounge, will be presenting a 15-minute final act. In between will be a no-holds-barred platform for anyone willing to crack a joke or two.
Describing his brand of comedy as that of “a cynical, sarcastic Malayali”, Vinay says “the funny thing is that if you are being funny, many will only agree with you.” For him, his day-to-day experiences are the best supplier of raw materials for his wisecracks. “That’s mostly observational humour but apart from that, I like to interpret my experiences from my point of view. I distil jokes from whatever I think will elicit a reaction. What I have learnt is, for live shows, pretensions will ultimately backfire. I try to focus on what a person like me might say,” he explains.
He remembers his first time on stage, when he almost made a laughing stock of himself. “I elicited zero laughter. I had planned (jokes) for 10 minutes, but in two minutes I realised I stopped on an empty tank,” he recollects. But Vinay kept at it, so much so that before the end of the year, he bagged a chance to open for actor and comedian Vir Das.
A big fan of late American stand-up comedian George Carlin (he calls him “a god to all comedians”) and Russell Peters, Vinay thinks stand-up comedy is not just a western art any more, with many comics from the East successfully giving a crack at it. Though fond of sit-coms too, Vinay says they don’t really influence him much as a stand-up comic. “Especially shows that make use of canned laughter. That’s artificial. It’s entirely different from drawing laughter from the audience during a live show,” says Vinay, who’s doing a doctoral research in Japanese literature and graphic novels.
He chooses his repertoire of jokes depending on the audience. “I try out different gags for different targets, like family, open mics, college, pubs.” But what’s constant is they meet somewhere between a script and improvisation. “I go in with an an idea but the rest plays itself out. I keep a set of bullet points in my mind and connect them with the immediate atmosphere. See, you are not ‘telling’ jokes, but ‘performing’ them and the body language, tone, pitch, all matters,” he emphasises.
One question he often gets asked is what happens when an intended joke falls flat. “(Laughs) Well, then, I simply have to move to the next one. Or, sometimes, I actually acknowledge that that particular joke did not work. There’s no need to feel bad. However, new jokes are usually tried out in open mic sessions before they are presented in live shows,” he says.
Vinay feels Malayalis’ sense of humour is quite diverse — from the prickly and the touchy to the sheer side-splitting. “Look at some of the memes coming out in Malayalam. Some of them are outrageously funny. But then we also have, what is colloquially called, chalu (bad joke). There’s a lot of potential but, on the flip side, we are also judgemental.”
Paradoxically, for Sabareesh, stand-up comedy is “a serious business.” For him, it’s something that needs patient chiselling to attain perfection. After coming under the wings of Vinay, the physics graduate came up through the ranks of Comedy Lounge. “I like to create a joke out of my everyday experiences and, sometimes, also try and convey a message through them in its totality,” says the 22-year-old.
He’s methodical in his pursuit. “I write all my jokes on my laptop since, that way, it’s more structured. These are then woven into the show’s atmosphere,” says Sabareesh. When not wielding a microphone, he works as an advertising consultant.
He values observation skills as paramount for a stand-up comic. “I keep making a note of anything I feel is potential material to tickle the funny bone. Sometimes, a good one-minute joke may take five months of polishing. I watch my own performance videos to keep improving,” he says. Of course, Sabareesh follows a lot of stand-up comics shows that are now widely available in OTT platforms. A fan of comics such as Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Kanan Gill and Praveen Kumar, the Kochi native says he has been revisiting George Carlin of late for some inspiration.
After all, making up jokes is no laughing matter!
‘Setflix and Chill’ will be held at Space Trivandrum at 6.30 pm on Saturday. Entry fee is ₹50 per person. Contact: 8289945825