Behind the jokes

Anjali Jhangiani
Thursday, 17 August 2017

Giving you a peek into the life of comics, the play revolves around five budding comedy artists who are preparing for an open mic night - where the stage is open for anyone to come and show whatever talent they possess. “An important and pretty famous comedian is coming to attend the event, and word is that this comedian might give a newbie some kind of opportunity to make a name for themselves in the industry if they are really good enough.

Writer-director Akarsh Khurana’s play Stand Up depicts the off stage life of comics striving to be part of the booming comedy industry.

In the last five years, the stand up scene in India has really picked up. It’s booming. Stand up comedy artists are the new celebrities in town. But while their job is to make us laugh through their performances, and make it seem like an effortless act, a lot of homework goes into it.

All this seems very interesting to me. While we are only exposed to their jokes, we don’t know how much work goes into coming up with the comedy, putting it into a script and performing it on a stage in front of an audience,” says Akarsh Khurana, who has written and directed the play titled Stand Up, presented by Act 1 Scene 1. 

Giving you a peek into the life of comics, the play revolves around five budding comedy artists who are preparing for an open mic night - where the stage is open for anyone to come and show whatever talent they possess. “An important and pretty famous comedian is coming to attend the event, and word is that this comedian might give a newbie some kind of opportunity to make a name for themselves in the industry if they are really good enough.

The participants at the open mic try really hard to impress the famous comedian, and they get a chance to meet him in person. It is then that they understand what he wants, the talent he’s looking for, and the talent that they have, is not necessarily a match. It’s a fun ride from there. You must come and watch the play to see what happens,” says Khurana, who will be making his Bollywood directorial debut with a yet-untitled film featuring Internet celebrity Mithila Palkar, heartthrob from the South Dulquer Salman and one of the most sought-after actors these days, Irrfan Khan. His work in Bollywood includes writing the dialogues for 2 States and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, and working on screenplays for celebrated filmmakers like Anurag Basu and Rohan Sippy.

Khurana likes to be thorough with his work, which is why he invested a lot of time and energy into research for this play. “We got in touch with a number of stand-up comedians and interacted with them to find out how things work. We got an insight into their world and a few of them let us have some of their earlier material which they do not use anymore,” says Khurana, adding,

“Since we are in the theatre line, some of the actors have worked in the sketches by these comic artists. So they already have a hang of things. We got a lot of stuff from All India Bakchod (AIB). I spoke to Anuvab Pal, who is a good friend, and Aditya Desai too.”

He clarifies that the play is ultimately a piece of fiction, a story that has been woven by him. “It’s just a story we’ve cooked up. The focus is on the melting pot of emotions that an artist in any competitive field automatically feels when they are backstage — baggage, ego, insecurity and so on. In this case, it is comedy, but these emotions hold true for performing arts across the board,” says Khurana.

The play has been performed in Mumbai and Delhi and is coming to Pune this Sunday. Khurana shares that he was sure who is going to play what role before he penned the script. Because he knew his characters’ strengths and weaknesses, it was comfortable for him to pen the script according to their capabilities. “I wrote keeping in mind their strengths because I knew who could handle which scenes well. It’s like the actors are playing slightly altered versions of themselves on stage,” he says.

The play features actors Abir Abrar, Adhaar Khurana, Chaityna Sharma, Kashin Shetty, Nipun Dharamadhikari, Omkar Kulkarni, Sarang Sathaye and Zayn Marie Khan.

Khurana’s aim is not only to make his audience chuckle, but also leave them with a lingering thought. “The play is funny, there’s no doubt about that. But it also leaves you with something to think about. I generally like doing stuff like that — taking on content that leaves you with a thought that tends to linger for a while. It’s a lot more effective than shoving serious content down one’s throat to make them aware about something or to provoke them to think about an issue. The comedy part of it gives relief value, but the ‘thought’ part makes a piece of work memorable,” he signs off.

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