We brought together three successful standup comics from Delhi, Bombay and Chennai to answer questions about what it takes to become a Standup Comic. The questions were raised by our audience that consisted of open mic participants hoping to make it big in the industry.
In case you missed the live session, here are the questions that were posed.
- How to write jokes when coming up with a set?
Kunal: First of all, stop writing jokes. Comedy is about opinions, your stories and your experiences. Elements of truth in your stories will make people laugh. That is what a joke is defined as.
Vikram: That’s the beauty of this industry. There’s no one size fits all. Something that you find funny might not make your friend laugh. So, my process involves coming up with stories that make me chuckle. Don’t write jokes. Some topics like politics are rife with absurdities and personalities, you can tell the story as it is, without the need to come up with a joke.
Karthik: Narrate a story with a setup. A back story about the relationship with the object/subject you’re talking about, helps. Let the audience relate to your character.
- What is the importance of open mic communities?
Vikram: An open mic is an environment where you’re allowed to fail and learn from it, without it becoming a fatal experience. It gives you the freedom to explore, build a momentum and figure out what is not working. Open mics are the most fun you will have in the field of comedy.
Kunal: Get on stage. Whether it’s a coffee shop or a bar, whether there are 6 people or 100 in the audience, purely for the stage time, just do it. Remember and follow the 10,000-Hour Rule.
Karthik: Open mics help you shape your on-stage personality and makes you feel supremely confident of your set. A democratic medium that let’s you be a part of something bigger is how I’d describe an open mic show.
- How to manufacture content when you don’t find any truth to talk about?
Kunal: When doing a tailor made corporate show, the truth lies in research. Spend time in analyzing simple day to day experiences. At some point if you don’t have experiences/truths to talk about in your life, make it happen for you. Be authentic, never fake. Try something new, big or small and then talk about that.
- How important is it for a comic to write his/her own content?
Vikram: Celebrities have writers at a stage when their personality and voice are already established and “out there”. Their writers probably don’t have so much fun writing because it’s not their truth. They are writing someone else’s story.
Kunal: You can tell me your story better than anyone else. What brings about a set is usually anger, confusion, passion. Find the emotion, find the opinion and then the “funny” will come. Be original. Be yourself.
Karthik: A 100%. When the audience tunes in with you and emotionally connects with you, the premise gets established. That’s your authenticity.
- When there’s a time restriction to my set, I tend to cut out parts thus making the punch weak. How do I improve that?
Karthik: Use the first few minutes to let the audience buy into “you”. No matter what the set is like, the audience must find you relatable immediately. They’ll connect with you and your content regardless of the punches.
Vikram: There’s always a beginning, middle and end to any set, whether it’s a 5 minute one or 30. Tweak your set, find the loose ends and eliminate them.
Kunal: Sometimes, shaving off your content is a great thing. How to keep the authenticity of the set? Use your expressions/body language instead of words and long sentences.
- Every famous comic has expressions/tools that click with the audience. Do you have such tools?
Kunal: I think I become creepy on stage and start hitting on anybody in the front row. I guess that’s my “tool”. But seriously, I’ve tried rehearsing every step I take, I’ve tried deadpan comedy (using nothing but my content minus expressions); just to find my stage personality. Just keep exploring. Every person has a varied set of personalities. Keep experimenting and find your style. You may choose to use a different set of tools for different kinds of audiences. Stop trying to limit yourself to doing just kind of thing on stage.
Vikram: Someone very famous said, “You’ve to sound like a lot of other people before you find your true voice”. When you admire someone, you tend to start talking like them. Keep experimenting and find your persona.
- Energy levels of a comic have an impact on the audience. How to increase/decrease it accordingly?
Karthik: In North India, S Aravind and I were told that we have “too much energy”! You wear your energy. Both high & low work depending on the audience you face. You learn that with practice. Keep doing more open mics.
Kunal: Sometimes, high energy puts off the audience. And sometimes, low energy is misunderstood as lack of confidence. Practice practice practice in front of a live audience.
- How important is rehearsing your set? Does surprising yourself/spontaneity on stage work better?
Kunal: Some people don’t need to memorize the set. But, rehearsing helps get clarity on your punches. The benefit of being a standup comic is that you get to prepare. If you want to try improv comedy, that’s different. Using improvisation as a writing technique is good. It’s also called the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique. For every one minute on stage, you require three minutes of prep. It’s a 5:1 ratio. That’s crucial.
Karthik: Preparing and rehearsing your set helps improvise better on stage. If you blank out during your act, acknowledge it. The audience will ROTFL with you. I believe that you need nine hours of prep (from thinking of a premise to figuring out your punches) for a 20 minutes set on stage.
- I love slapstick comedy. How do I apply that to stand up comedy?
Kunal: There are no rules in Standup Comedy. Musical comedy, poetry, “Mr. Bean” form of slapstick, if it works, go for it!
- How can I go about inculcating a culture/community & bring people together for stand up comedy within my educational institution?
Karthik: Start off an open mic event in your institution, anything that makes people laugh. We’ll help you organize it and then you can run it yourselves.
Kunal: If I want to run a car company, I need to know how to make a car. First things first, go to your canteen and talk to the audience like,”Hi guys, I’m ABC and this is want I want to do”. Just get up and do it. Take the initiative and people will follow. Inertia is our biggest problem.
Vikram: The best amateur comics I saw, were in your institution. You’re in a very fertile environment. Use it to your advantage. Build that audience and organize open mics.
- How do you make the process of writing interesting for yourself?
Karthik: If comedy is the end game, then writing is everything. If you’re not willing to love that pain of writing, you will never enjoy the benefits of comedy. If you want to be healthy, you have to hit the gym, right?
Kunal: Why don’t you like writing? That’s an important question you need to ask yourself. If you’re afraid of writing crap, then here’s the fact. Stop judging yourself. Never judge your first draft. Just start writing. Keep going and you will find your set as and how you keep rambling to that piece of paper.
- How much do stand up comics make?
Kunal: The moment you have 30 minutes of solid material, you can start getting paid. Try to get there as soon as you can. An average pub show will pay you 5-15k for that set, depending on their budget. For a Corporate show, on an average, you might get anywhere from 20k to 7 Lakhs. But it takes a really long time and hard work to get to that upper limit.
Vikram: When I became a full time comic, my biggest worry was if I would be able to make a living out of it. Presently, even though I don’t consider myself one of the top comics, that is not my worry anymore. My worry now is to get the right ideas because I know that if I’m good, I’ll make a ton of money.
Karthik: There’s good money out there to be made. There are many things you need to do to stay in the race like, releasing YouTube videos, having an active Twitter follower base growing over a period of time, doing X number of shows of a certan stature.
- What’s better – Being an independent comic or a part of a collective?
Kunal: I’m a part of a collective. A feeds off B’s popularity, C requires A’s administrative skills etc. It becomes like a company wherein you’re taking each other’s strengths and bringing it together. Most collectives work that way. Also, as a group you will always grow faster than as an individual. Finding the balance between creating your own persona and creating the company’s profile is important too. If everyone in the collective is bringing something to the table, everybody wins.
Karthik: For a rising comic, to form a group is like an entrepreneurial stint. But for a rising comic to join an existing collective that is doing well in the market is a no-brainer. Make sure you join a collective that’s open minded and knows the market.
Vikram: I’m the only one who is not a part of a collective in this panel. That is not because I don’t want to be a part of a collective. This is like being single. I’m looking out for people with the right vibes to connect with. Wavelength is so important.
- Do you guys see yourselves as a stand up comic, 20 years from now considering youth is the major consumer of standup comedy?
Karthik: Think about shelf life. A cricketer has 20 years, an actress 10 years etc. From that perspective, the answer is that I would really want to be in this space forever. My audience grows with me so I’m not worried about not appealing to the youth. Standup comedy appeals to those who relate to it, not just the youth.
Kunal: We’ll figure it out as and how we progress. No pressure. Mediums of comedy consumption will keep evolving and we’ll keep moving with the times.
Thank you for joining us today at the evam HQ. It was super fun hosting everyone.