The comedy scene is booming in the country, with Mumbai being one of the hot spots for comedians to perform. Is Pune lagging behind with not enough opportunities for stand-up artists here? We speak to local budding comedians about the audience, the vibe and the stage time that the city offers them.
“I decided to do a stand-up comedy show at our annual fest in college and that was the best decision I ever took. It prepared me for my first open mic in Pune where I met 12 other comedians and my comedy education began,” says Sudhanshu Ramteke, who believes that the Pune comedy scene has grown multi-fold in the last 18 months. Earlier, performers had to travel all the way to Mumbai for a four-minute performance slot. “This has changed now and we have weekly comedy open mics which has resulted in brewing a lot of local talent,” he explains.
Ramteke’s humour is broadly inspired by Bollywood, India and “of course, my family”. He says, “Everyday so many hilarious things happen around me, I just observe them and then convert them into jokes.” The comedian looks up to Jaspal Bhatti. “He was the king of satire and his comedy was way ahead of his time. His take on the common man’s problems are relevant even in today’s time,” says Ramteke.
“I didn’t want to be charged for watching the show, was why I got on the stage at an open mic in Mumbai,” says Agrima Joshua talking about her first tryst with stand up. She admits that there isn’t a single stand-up comedian that she particularly likes watching and that she took up comedy because of Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig, who have worked on the NBC sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live and a few Hollywood movies like Bridesmaids and The Ghostbusters (2016). “Kristen Wiig makes me feel okay about the weirdness,” says Joshua.
She reveals that the source of her jokes is her general hatred for everything and everyone. “I come up with new stuff every time there is a new group of people to hate. These days it’s dogs,” she says blatantly.
Talking about the comedy scene in the city, she says, “Pune is just growing. The launda (boys) crowd is strong here. I go to Mumbai often because the crowd there is more exposed to comedy, so they’re an easier audience,” says Joshua.
The first time she performed stand-up, it was for a Buzzfeed video. “As terrified as I was when I stepped on that stage and got my first laugh, it was like a high I’d never known before,” says Aayushi Jagad. She says that the comedy scene in Pune has just begun. “We have a few venues that are invested in giving comedy a real shot, but it is so new that the audience doesn’t know what to expect in terms of the types of comics. They recognise famous ones but are a little on-the-defensive when it comes to newer comics. I do get enough open mics to do in Pune, but that’s owing to the fact that very few women are in comedy, and even fewer ones in the city,” says Jagad, who still has to travel to Mumbai once a week to perform for an open mic.
Comedians don’t come up with new stuff every single time. They write a set and keep trying out the jokes within that set in different permutations and combinations till something specific clicks. “That’s why we rely on audiences so heavily, every time we do a set we learn what to say and what not to say within the joke. Having said that, my jokes come from a very personal place because I follow the writing rule of ‘write what you know’. I feel like I have a perspective to tell a unique story owing to the fact that I talk about things that have happened to only me,” says the comedian who absolutely adores Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey. “But among Indian comics, I adore Karunesh Talwar, Kunal Kamra and Aditi Mittal who can make anybody laugh,” she says.
When asked about how he began his journey into the world of stand-up comedy, Sahil Horane answers quite literally talking about his train journey to Mumbai. He claims that opportunities for stand-up comedians to perform in the city are increasing by the day, but sometimes, they do travel to Mumbai in search of laughter, networking and validation from senior comedians.
Talking about his humour, he says, “My material reflects the tragedies of everyday life and the flaws in the fabric of human nature. The undying desire for people to think I am intelligent is the fuel that fires me and feeds my insecurity.”
He shares that he is inspired by the work of Irish comedian Dylan Moran. “But he is not my role model because he’s a genius and humans with average intelligence can never be as good as him. You can say that my role model is Zakir Khan. He has turned his insecurities into humour which I hope to achieve too,” says Horane.
Watching videos of other stand-up artists online and thinking ‘Hey, I can do this as well!’ was how Siddhant Gupta decided to become a comedian. His debut performance was at his college where he was kicked off the stage after one-and-a-half minutes.
“It was not because I was bad. I was in fact getting a fair amount of laughs from the audience. I was dishing out mild jokes but it seemed like the authorities had a problem if the joke was on them,” says Gupta. But he has come a long way from that experience.
“I think there is a lot of potential in Pune comedy scene. The local comics are brimming with talent. It comes out in open mics. A few months ago, open mics were a rarity but now the scene is changing,” says Gupta, adding that currently there are three to four open mic events held at various venues across the city every week which gives him and fellow comedians enough stage time.
“I like to talk about topics which generally no one else is talking about or are considered taboos. Then I try to infuse those topics with my personal experiences. But most of my material is inspired from personal experiences,” says Gupta. His role models include American comedians Bill Hicks and Jerry Seinfeld. But closer home he looks up to Karunesh Talwar, Biswa Kalyan Rath and Sumit Anand. “These comedians not only have their own distinct voice, but they always have something different to say,” he believes.