The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 | Stand-up comedy is not a joke

May I have your Attention Please: How to hold an audience: Anuradha Menon, Cyrus Broacha, and Kanan Gill in conversation with Suresh Balakrishna 

Updated - January 27, 2024 04:27 pm IST

Published - January 26, 2024 05:35 pm IST

(Right to Left) Anuradha Menon, Cyrus Broacha and Kanan Gill in conversation with Suresh Balakrishna at The Hindu Lit for Life festival 2024 held at (The Hindu Pavilion) Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Friday.

(Right to Left) Anuradha Menon, Cyrus Broacha and Kanan Gill in conversation with Suresh Balakrishna at The Hindu Lit for Life festival 2024 held at (The Hindu Pavilion) Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Friday. | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

How does a stand-up or comedian assess an audience? What does a career in comedy entail? All this and more came to light in a tongue-in-cheek session, May I Have your Attention Pleasea freewheeling conversation between comedy experts Anuradha Menon, Kanan, Gill, Cyrus Broacha, and Suresh Balakrishna, Chief Revenue Officer, The Hindu. The session touched upon the changing face of comedy over the years, how stand-up on stage was vastly different from what’s done on TV and the OTT, the prep and pressures that come with the trade, and more. 

Menon and Gill explained how a survey of the audience was usually enough for them to assess and accordingly steer their performance in a certain direction. Speaking of how they adapted to everything ranging from 60-second reels, 20-minute podcasts, and hour-long shows while remaining funny and relevant on social media and the stage, Anu said, “Cyrus and I have had training in television. So, acting on the phone is difficult. But the dream today is to go viral in some form so that people will eventually come for our shows. The best way to ensure that is to make a 90-sec reel which goes viral, and hope that people eventually turn up for a show. However, irrespective of the medium, the nature of the beast has changed and one has to be wary of the material he/she uses. I chose to stay away from political material for I cannot have a skincare routine in prison,” she joked. 

Interview with stand-up comic Kanan Gill on his debut novel ‘Acts of God’

Addressing the question on comedy as a career for youngsters, Gill said that if they were drawn to it, they were sure to pursue it. “The first few years in comedy are straight public humiliation. However, if your drive is strong to not feel the pain, you can make it, for, it is quite a lucrative career. Go for it.” He urged youngsters to go to open mics, study other comedians, observe how people did things, and constantly improve. Menon explained how stand-up was no more just stand-up but also involved writing comedy for events like the IIFA, for instance, which was another avenue for those interested. 

Comedians Cyrus Broacha, Kanan Gill and Anu Menon are here to grab your attention

Importance of preparation 

 “There is an illusion of spontaneity in stand-up as I prepare well in advance; it has to be immediate. I cannot use any language that is not common, as the audience has to process it immediately. The performance of the material is as important as the written text of the material, The writing and the performance are inseparable,” explained Gill. 

Menon said that it was as important to sell a good joke as it was to write it, for, that’s where performance came into play. Broacha explained how, apart from preparation, stand-up comedy involved quite a bit of acting. “I don’t like to prepare; I hate learning lines. It is more fun to be spontaneous. The key is to find the middle ground between preparing and freewheeling as that is the only way to hold audience attention,” he added. 

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