With Stage 42 currently under way and Kala Ghoda beginning in a week. both armed withstrong comedy lineups, The Sherp looks at why India needs its comedy festivals.
In the last several years, stand up comedy in India has acquired renewed fame and following. The likes of Johnny Lever, Shekhar Suman and Ranvir Shourey have now paved way for Vir Das, All India Bakchod, Varun Grover and Kanan Gill, who are nothing less than celebrities in their own rights. India’s english-speaking collective would now rather binge on their videos than on the videos of a certain Russel Peters. This shift in consumption, we think, could not have come at a better time. For India not only deserves its comic heroes, but also desperately needs them.
Comedy Festivals in India
Stage 42, a multi-grenre offering from Only Much Louder is a festival that dedicates much of its resources to India’s comedic superstars. It features the usually well known established comedy groups, as well as lesser known comical wordsmiths who are wielding original content in the open mic scene across the country. Along with music, (that features musicians such as Boyce Avenue, Anish Sood, Dualist Inquiry among others) the festival provides a platform that brings together the best of India’s comic talent across various venues around the country.
On similar ground is the Pajama Festival, a comedy festival curated by Vir Das, arguably India’s most popular english-speaking comedian. As Das brings together some of the best jokesters from, not only our country, but also the global comedy circuit. Even a cultural festival like Kala Ghoda includes a full fledged comedy lineup featuring the very best of acts, as does a music festival like Bacardi NH7 Weekender that had All India Bakchod and Alien Chutney, Das’ musical-comedy band, deliver some hilarious tunes to the audience. And not to mention, the several independent open mic and improv festivals that take place throughout the country. The vociferous consumption of the same is testament to the fact that stand up comedy in India is now more popular than it ever was.
Now, more than ever
India is at the centre of a more enduring global conversation. One involving social inequality, war, development, gender issues, pop culture responsibility and climate change. India, by itself, is also witnessing a rise in social consciousness, much more than one that has ever been. Twitter and Facebook are inundated with differing political and social opinions and debates, which is a favourable idea on the whole, because it shows that people care enough to take sides. And in a society that is equipped with knowledge is a stand-up comedian with the ability to be most creative. With an audience capable to understand, are comics who hold the potential to be diverse with their content, who hold the reins to expand what is and can be funny and who can also stimulate contemporary conversation by bringing much ignored topics into the limelight.
Why a comedy festival, then?
A comedy festival isn’t just a platform to laugh it out. But it is also an inroad into the most prevalent issues that bother contemporary media, for stand-up comedians are most inclined to pick up situations and make light of affairs that concern the very audience paying to watch them live. At a comedy festival, you’re exposed to different opinions, opinions that are borne out of different backgrounds and cultures. Sometimes, these opinions differ in thought and argument, thereby letting you assess the yin and the yang of a popular opinion, so you can carefully form yours. Most times, these comedy sets also take the less beaten road, opening you up to a social consequence you had paid very little attention to in the past. Therefore, a comedy festival is a time to be a lot more informative.
But most importantly…
…a comedy festival lets you laugh at yourself. Lets you look at your own problems in the mirthful undertones taken up by the stand up comic. Lets you witness the absolute absurdity of the system you are a part of and laugh at it instead of being overtly critical. Life is tragicomic, and there is no way to truly comprehend that, than at a comedy festival.
And should be offended.
Here’s the thing. When a stand up comedian goes up on stage, they’re not always likely to say something that will sit well with you. Sometimes you may disagree, and sometimes you must feel really aggrieved, and that’s fine. A comedy festival is also the avenue to react, but your time to react shouldn’t be in the midst of a set, but rather the channels of communication you’re most comfortable with. Take to your blog, Facebook timeline, Twitter feed, or what have you, and list out all the reasons a show must have irked you. That builds discourse, an exchange of opinion that facilitates a larger narrative.
The next time you find yourself a comedy festival, make sure you head to it. Not only for the laughs, but the cultural consequence of the art. Think about it.