Where is the Indian regional language stand-up comedy heading to in 2019?

Even as Comicstaan 2 starts streaming on July 12, Amazon Prime Video India is exploring regional language comedy as well

Even as Comicstaan 2 starts streaming on July 12, Amazon Prime Video India is exploring regional language comedy as well  

Even as Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Comicstaan’ returns for a second season, we track the trends in Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Sambalpuri and Gujarati stand-up comedy, and the comics behind them

Clearly, comedy is top dog on streaming platforms like Amazon Prime Video: the first Indian original to return (on July 12) is the reality show, Comicstaan. Ten stand-up comics vie for the title, with judges/mentors Kenny Sebastian, Kanan Gil, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Zakir Khan, Neeti Palta, Sumukhi Suresh and Kaneez Surka, and hosts Abish Mathew and Urooj Ashfaq.

Vijay Subramaniam, director and head of content, Amazon Prime Video India, says, “It’s like a comedy buffet, where you can sample different genres, and the format and content really appealed to audiences of all ages. The informal, unscripted banter between the judges also gave a natural feel to the show.” Suresh, who has moved to being a judge after hosting the first season, says that one of the top qualities they were looking for was the ability to handle pressure. “It’s not just about being good at writing and coming up with jokes, but also able to perform them in front of a live audience and a camera,” she adds.


While they have also green-lighted the Tamil version of the show, Subramaniam says, “So far, to be honest, we were focused on Hindi and English with regard to stand up. But using Comicstaan Tamil, we hope to make inroads and identify talent that can become a part of our comedy specials in the future. We also have our ear to the ground. In Bengaluru, for example, Hinglish, Hindi and English work. But we need to take a look at the local language comedy scene as well to identify things, which we are doing now. We will continue to innovate on comedy and come up with more formats to support what we have right now.”

Team Weekend speaks to comics from across the country on what’s happening with the languages from their states.

Anup Maiya of LOLBagh

Anup Maiya of LOLBagh  

Kannada: Keeping it apolitical

Four years ago, Pavan Venugopal started dabbling in English and Hindi stand-up in Bengaluru. Despite being a native Kannada speaker, he believed that would draw a wider audience. But when he tried his hand at a Kannada set two years later, he says, “A kind of magic happened. It felt more natural.” Lohit Kumar, who organises open mics, also started noticing more interest in Kannada content around the same time. On July 27, he will launch Gandhi Class, a collective where, he says, the jokes will be apolitical. Anup Maiya, founder of the LOLBagh collective, also says they steer clear of political jokes. During the elections this year, a joke addressed at a local party by Venugopal ensued in an uncomfortable silence. Since then, he has skipped political content. “I want to give the audience what they want,” he says.

Saikiran Rayaprolu is popular for his observational comedy

Saikiran Rayaprolu is popular for his observational comedy   | Photo Credit: NAVEEN

Telugu: Scaling up

Stand-up comedian Vivek Muralidharan feels the Telugu circuit has a long way to go. “I’m part of a growing movement. Our first stars are Saikiran Rayaprolu and Rajasekhar Mamidanna, but even for them, performing only in Telugu is not financially viable. I’ll give it at least six to seven years to scale up to a decent level,” he says. For someone who performs in four languages — English, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi — Muralidharan says English is the most accessible. Saikiran, popular for his observational comedy, agrees, adding that this is because it’s tough to get audiences. “Unlike other languages, we don’t have a vibrant theatre or art circuit. For most first-time audiences at a comedy show, it’s also their first live event,” he says. Prominent themes revolve around cinema and politics; it still hasn’t boiled down to thought-driven comedy, finds Muralidharan. “Here, I speak mainly about being someone who has learnt the language. One observation was how there’s no distinction in pronouns for women and animals, and how I consider Telugu to be the most chauvinistic language. It obviously offended a lot of people. I was an outsider commenting, but that is something comedy must do,” he says.

George Vivian Paul, a civil engineer-turned-comic and founder of the Kochin Komedians collective

George Vivian Paul, a civil engineer-turned-comic and founder of the Kochin Komedians collective  

Malayalam: Playing catch up

You’d think that Kerala, with its strong traditions of Chakyar Koothu (monologues that draw on the epics to comment on day-to-day events), Ottan Thullal (which parodies socio-political issues) and mimicry, would take to stand-up naturally. But it has been a slow ride. “People have started noticing it now, but are not sure of it,” says George Vivian Paul, a civil engineer-turned-comic and founder of the Kochin Komedians collective. For now, English is the preferred medium, with a few jokes in Malayalam thrown in. “At open mics, we get more people performing in Malayalam, but the comedy is slapstick,” says Vinay Menon, of the Comedy Lounge collective, who juggles stand-up and his day job as an English professor. While he feels the need of the hour is diversity (more women, more points of view), Paul states, going forward, the Malayali’s unapologetic opinions (on everything from politics to religion) will make this a strong market. “We are past the hardest step: to start. We don’t exactly have a road map; it is exciting and uncertain, but I’m optimistic. In Kerala, our cultural heritage, movies, underground poets and upcoming rapper scene have all created a stage where distinctive voices will make a hell of a sound.”

Sarang Sathaye, founder of Marathi comedy collective Bha Di Pa

Sarang Sathaye, founder of Marathi comedy collective Bha Di Pa  

Marathi: Going international

Three years ago, Sarang Sathaye started Bharatiya Digital Party — popularly known as Bha Di Pa — as a Marathi content creating YouTube channel. “A year later, one of our friends, who used to open for East India Comedy, did a 10-minute set in Marathi before a show by actor Mithila Palkar. The response was great,” he says. With a legacy of political satire in the state, comics like Sathaye, Mandar Bhide and Trupti Khamkar are not restricted in the themes they cover. And the demand for Marathi is not just regional; they recently did shows in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with an Australian tour coming up.


Sambalpuri comic Riten Pattnaik

Sambalpuri comic Riten Pattnaik  


The others: Starting out

The western Odiya dialect of Sambalpuri is Riten Pattnaik’s mother tongue, and language of choice for his stand-up over the past two years. While he has an upcoming show in Pune, he has also started open mics back home in Sambalpur to encourage local talent. “I’m currently doing personal themes, but will branch out soon,” he says.

Gujarati comics like Chirayu Mistry, Aariz Saiyed and Deep Vaidya were in Australia last month, thanks to initiatives like Manan Desai’s The Comedy Factory collective. While ALTBalaji had a Punjabi comedy show, Sardars the Great, back in 2017, it is folks like Maheep Singh, Parvinder Singh and Manpreet Singh who do the occasional show in Punjabi to keep the interest going.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 10:28:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/where-indian-regional-language-stand-up-comedy-is-heading-in-2019/article28296186.ece

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