I’ve been in this country for 8.5 years, and one of the first wave of stand up comedians who started taking this seriously in India. Two years ago I wrote about the mistakes I see Indian comics making all the time. While a lot of that stuff seemed obvious in 2016 to a comic in LA or NYC, it was received well here and I got tons of questions from comics all over the country. Hell, some of those same comics who emailed me then are now doing amazing things. Regardless, I was cleaning up my website and realized it’s been a while since I talked standup, what I’m seeing, what I think is happening and what my predictions will be. If you’re interested read on and I’m always more than happy to hear your feedback in the comments and/or social media.
As Indians, we sometimes have a build first, think later mentality. We see a formula for a movie or sketch and we copy it and assume it will work. With open mics, I’ve noticed (even by own advice) that the Book My Show listings have gotten out of hand. Everybody is listing an event…but to be honest, that’s ok. Comics need stage time and a normal byproduct of that is that audiences will naturally get confused. “This show is Rs.150, but this one is Rs. 499 and the same comic is on both. Wait, what?” Ahhh, finally we’ve arrived. This is a good problem to have.
As the years march on and comedy continues to grow, I hope people realize, as in Europe and the US, just having a show isn’t good enough. Invest in a brand, a property, differentiate your show, take good photos or videos of the crowd, build buzz, invite friends, whatever. If you build it they will still come but make sure you BUILD IT TO LAST. Nobody gives a shit that you got a coffee shop to give you a corner room. What are you doing to make it hip, are you not buying a coffee/beer and instead of putting that 200 in FB ads to promote it? I mean if you don’t take it seriously, how can the crowd?
I think most of us who started in the last eight years got a little lucky in that we got views on jokes which were probably not the most inventive, it’s just nobody had ever heard that stuff on stage before. Indian mothers (I’m guilty) are like this, Flying is like that, Punjabis and Gujus are this way, etc….. Now that the views have come and gone, you’re going to see that just putting a stand-up clip where you kill in a crowd isn’t enough. It has to offer a more personal point of view, more unique, AND crush as hard as the generosity of all the applause breaks of years passed. AND let’s be honest…do you really REALLY care that Delhi is so different from Mumbai? I’m not saying don’t talk about your Mom, I’m just saying tell us a story, make it specific, and really think about if anybody else could tell the same story.
Also, one thing I’ve learned watching those who have really done well digitally the last few years, you HAVE TO BE consistent. (I wish I followed my own advice). A million views on one video is actually worse than 250K views on 4 videos, 4 weeks in a row.
I know comics complain. Man, don’t we all. In a business where it’s just you up there, boy do we complain and compare…a LOT. If I could shake myself in 2010 I’d say just focus on what you’re doing, not checking Facebook to see who is doing what. I always tell people, “if comics wrote even 5% of the time they complained, they’d have nothing to complain about because that 5% would get them a new hour every year.” Instead of reading every tweet, or every insider blog or industry whispers….maybe, just maybe…spend that time hanging out with friends outside of comedy, go to the gym, take a walk…and just live your life. Your audience does, and they’re the one you need to relate to remember?
One thing even I’ve changed my viewpoint on, and maybe I’m channeling my inner Gary Vee, is that the industry has changed across the world. Going “Viral” in an age of constant scrolling doesn’t mean anything anymore. Hell, even this blog post might get a few head nods before the readers move on to something else. As comedians especially in India, I still see so many people spending 5 hours around attending an open mic (traffic, hanging out, performing, eating, going home) and that whole time was simply in service of 10 minutes on stage. WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO IN THOSE 5 HOURS? Were you learning video editing, PhotoShop, planning a podcast (and I mean actually scripting one), planning your social media posts for the week, writing a book maybe? I’m not saying you won’t get famous just off of stand up, but I’m saying for most of us, you really need to stretch your creative muscles far beyond what you’re currently doing. And you know I’m right. Everything you do should be in service of getting on stage, don’t get me wrong. The right clip or sketch or content gets you to the front of the line, but I wish comedians didn’t look down on social media people that are hustling in their own right. If you can figure out social, having a stand-up comedy background…the world is your oyster. A YouTuber can’t do Stand up, but a stand up who kills at YouTube has a very lucrative career. It’s almost 2019 and trust me things have changed. A lot of you have Instagrams and Facebook’s but don’t even have a website or a simple “Email me for Bookings” link. WHAT!?!?!
Any open mic in this country has comics discussing who got what show, what special, what deal, what video, etc… And let me tell you something. Even some of the comedians who have Amazon or Netflix specials might be broke (not just in India). And many comics who don’t are doing just fine. It’s nice to be in a group or in an agency, but ultimately, your value is not dictated by any organization. All you have to do is have some clever bits succeed (that’s the hard part) and then build a following online (that’s the harder part). Renting an auditorium or recording more sketches will come super easily once you’ve done that. Sure it’s nice to get on a show or be in front of a crowd but every single one of has performed for 5000 one night and 5 the next. You’re in it for the long haul right?
Some of my good friends and hilarious/viral comedians are absolutely horrible at being funny on Instagram. They can tell the jokes on stage, but beyond that they really don’t do much. And trust me, they’re not too busy to learn the other skills. They just are banking on stand up, and that’s fine. But at the same time, our industry in this country is putting its eggs in one basket. Comics across the world are minting money on writing for ads, doing podcasts, handling corporate training, running their own rooms (even after getting famous). Why aren’t we? You were 35 when you started doing stand up, now at 45 you can’t talk into a mic on your laptop to discuss a few things?
As stage time gets more scarce I hope I see my fellow older comics (many of whom are now much more successful than me) continue to mentor, to blog, to write, to fail publicly and do things other than protecting an image they don’t realize they once weren’t so protective of. I love watching old Bill Burr clips, of him, even after he made it driving around and just rambling and seeing it peak at 20K views. And you know what, he didn’t give a fU*k.
One of the worst parts about the comedy boom, or any boom, is a lot of people attribute having luck with having talent. I’m sure it was true for the Gold Rush or the Dot Com Boom, and I’m sure it’s true for our Indian comedy boom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m friends with all the comics we love and know, but I’ve had my own personal friends/colleagues act pricey with me for no reason. I even had a comic who I spent hours editing a video for, when he was fairly knew, then tell me years later he doesn’t want to do my podcast cause “he’s not doing podcast these days.” But that’s fine man. I learned many years ago that you shouldn’t expect anything from anyone and everybody is going through thier own struggles and way of doing things. So if you’re running a room and a lot of comics burn up your stage but never get YOU on another stage, that’s ok. Just keep doing you. If you helped somebody get famous, congratulations on guiding that person to whatever their destiny was meant to be. You’re lucky you’re in a country where even a shitty open mic gets 10 people, so just please count your blessings and keep moving forward. And if another 20 kids email you asking for advice…don’t be a dick, stop stalking that girl on Instagram and try to reply once in a while to people who can do nothing for you.
So yeah, that’s about it for now. I’m happy to see the market increasing, but I’m sure I speak for most comics when I say…all of us…beginner to veteran…could do a lot more than we’re currently doing.
So get to it.