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Standup Comedy
Parul Chabra
Com: Why is that most things funny are about sexual or profane things?
Papa: We Indians are embarrassed of laughing openly at dirty jokes. Which is why I’ve learnt to turn the lights down on the audience, so that they can laugh when no one is watching. I always start very sweet, nice and polite, mixing new jokes with the old. And slowly, I will push the line. Unless you push the line, you won’t know that a line exists. But I am not here to hurt people. And not all comedians are like me there are non non-veg jokes too.

How do you develop content?

Papa: I came over in an Indian Airlines flight. And that has given me great material for three minutes. The point is, for me, every waking hour is a working hour. Because I am being inspired by something or the other at every moment. A comedian will always carry a notepad and a pen with him – to jot down those ad hoc things one comes across. And additionally, I’ve lived in Kolkata for 20 years – do you think I’ll have paucity of inspiration?

Com: Do you laugh in your sleep too?
Papa: I wouldn’t know that, because I would be sleeping. And if you’re suggesting that the one in bed with me would know that, well, that certainly is not a compliment! Imagine waking up at night to find the girl you have in bed laugh hilariously at you? “Hee  hee hee,” I hope she won’t be, “so that’s what you are!” I don’t want anybody to laugh at me when I’m in bed with my clothes off. And worse, she could be saying “Stand up (comedian)? Yeah, right? – I wish!”

Com: Do you see a funny future for yourself
Papa: You would notice that comedians mature. The older one gets, the better one gets. Because there would be a lot more observations and life experiences to reflect on. As a single man on the very wrong side of 20, what will I talk about than masturbation or some sexual fantasies? A 40-year-old meanwhile can talk about his nagging wife, his unruly children, the struggle to pay the bills, or even that satisfying feeling of having gone to the loo nicely.

Com: So if you are 30-years-old and your audience happens to be older – how would they be able to relate to you?
Papa: I celebrate my age and being myself at my age. The audience relates with me, thinking of themselves when they were that age. They laugh. Bear in mind that the audience doesn’t have to agree with you always. I think out of the regular box though. Like say, this pink chaddi campaign that was on for Valentine’s Day, where pub going women around the country sent pink chaddis to the Sri Ram Sena – that might not be a good thing after all. What if somebody from the Sri Ram Sena is like me, who loves women’s underwear? Wouldn’t they love to receive more of them? And the best way for that would be to harass more women!

Com: How do you know you’re having a successful show?
Papa: The test of knowing how effective you are is not by measuring how much people laugh.
Because one audience would be laughing, whistling and hooting at your lines while another could be just chuckling and applauding modestly. They might both be enjoying it equally, but the laughter produced might not give a correct picture of their enjoyment quotient. How I measure that is with the pauses I make – and gauging the resultant silence produced. If the audience is following your pregnant pauses as eagerly as you want them to, you’re having a good day. An hour onstage with four or five punchlines a minute would be 300 laughs per hour – and that’s quite a lot. And no matter how funny your friends think you are and how funny you are in front of the bathroom mirror, no joke is a joke unless it works at least three times in front of an audience. Some days don’t go as well as the others – you might be trying hard, but no one would be laughing. And in such a case, if you find one person laughing for all your jokes, and applauding, be assured – he would be a comedian himself! The reason for his laughter might be different though – he might be laughing at you, at every joke that bombs, saying, “Haa haa, that fell flat too. Let’s hear the next one….. Haa haa haa haa – that was a real sad one!” Stand up comedy isn’t exactly about cracking jokes. It is about building a rapport with the audience, having a conversation with them. Feedback is instant here. People sometimes don’t appreciate what goes into a stand up performance. Try keeping an audience engaged on any topic for one hour.

What sort of an audience is most difficult to tickle?

Papa: It’s those people who attend a show because it is a Page 3 event. They want to be at their prim and proper best when the cameras are clicking, and wouldn’t want to have a smile or gesture out of place. In that respect, I love smaller towns where they don’t have these Page 3 restrictions. There they come to the show saying, “Chalo, masti karenge (let’s have fun)” and enjoy their time. (The night drowns off in laughter, as glasses get refilled, and with Papa humouring his audience even more.) Another night, another city, another pub.

Com: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome onstage Indian laughter on the international comedy scene…
* Creative liberty is taken with the actual interview material to tailor it into a stand up format.
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