`If I am the king, you're the prince'

COMIC ACT The duo play their part well in real life too

COMIC ACT The duo play their part well in real life too  

When Raju Shrivastav and Naveen Prabhakar laugh, the world laughs with them. When they weep, they can count on each other to lend a willing ear. Riding on the success of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, the duo was in town to tickle Hyderabadis with those side-splitting capers that have made them household names. When Metro Plus caught up with the flamboyant jesters at Sangeet Sagar, they were just too happy to walk down memory lane and relive their friendship.

K. Sachidanand Menon checks out the men behind the masks and finds a tale of stage frights, struggles and a comradeship that's rare to come by in show world.

Raju Shrivastav: You certainly have come a long way Naveen. It's hard to believe you're the same scared youngster who came to me about 10 years ago.

Naveen Prabhakar: That was in 1996 just before my first foreign show. I was badly hit by stage fright and didn't have a clue on how to perform for an audience abroad. In desperation, I rang up some comedian friends of mine and sought out your number.

Raju: Yes, you came over to my house...

Naveen: And you boosted my confidence with a two-hour pep talk, telling me how to handle people abroad and the kind of jokes they like.

Raju: Like I said, you are so different today, more confident and witty. I think your punchline `Pehchan Kaun' has become a national anthem for comedy. You are a good anchor, sing well and look good. I guess there's a female following out there too. You have become the King of Comedy.

Naveen: If I am the king, you are the prince. After all, it is the prince who looks younger than the king and gets all the attention of pretty girls. Enough of flattering me Raju bhai. Now tell me some bitter truths.

Raju (laughing): Okay. I think you should get in variety to your act. What you are doing right now is definitely raising laughs and I like it too. But the novelty value might wear off. With your talent I'm sure you can improvise and think of new gags.

Naveen: That's true. Variety is what gives life to comedy. Look at you, even today people from as far off as American and Holland love it when you get on the stage. In one show in Holland, I remember fans passing little slips of paper on to the stage with requests for their favourite Raju Shrivastav gags. There is a universal appeal to your kind of comedy.

Raju: See, comedy is all about knowing your audience. When I started out, if a comedian took a dig at a politician, he would feel insulted. Today, if there are three politicians in the audience and I take a dig at two of them, the third one would feel insulted about not being the butt of the joke. He would think he isn't important enough to be laughed at. Basically, a comedian should have a finger on the crowd's pulse and, more importantly, move with the times.

Naveen: That explains why some people like dirty humour while others prefer clean comedy. It is a fine line we comedians walk - entertaining them without offending, even if the latter happens unintentionally.

Raju: In that way, comedy is almost like tragedy turned inside out. If someone were to slip on a banana peel and land with a thud, it's tragedy for him. But for those watching, it's something to laugh about. I think it's okay to get into mischief now and then. I mean, all we want is to see people laughing. If we cross limits occasionally while raising laughs, the public should make light of it.

Naveen: I get what you mean. I always try to crack jokes that a family can enjoy. Once in a while, however, I like to spice it up and hope they like it better (winks). Everyone thinks it is easy to make people laugh but it is actually a tough job.

Raju: Yeah, it took me so many years and a lot of work to reach my current stature. Back then, televisions were just making their presence felt in living rooms. There were no comedy shows and very little advertisement for whatever events we did. You guys are lucky to have come up so fast.

Naveen: We really are lucky in that regard. I guess I was at the right place at the right time. But tell me, do senior artistes feel insecure about up and coming comedians, especially since their growth is very fast.

Raju: Not at all. I myself was helped by comedians like Johnny Lever. This is not to say that everyone is comfortable with their rival's success. There were a few who tried to slow me down when I started. But generally, comedians are a very generous lot. Knowing how difficult it is to make a name, they help each other out.

Naveen: That's true. I don't think I would have made it big without your help.

Raju: Never mind. Continue with what you are doing and hope that I keep laughing at all your jokes.

Naveen (laughs): Ditto.

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