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HAPPIER HOURS

Instead of getting their ears blasted by loud music at a bar, Delhi-NCR audiences are warming up to stand-up comics with their risqué jokes

A city that laughs together stays together. No wonder, stand-up comedy is replacing Parliament sessions as a mode of entertainment. Papa CJ – winner of Asia’s best stand-up comedian award in 2014 – believes it’s to do with the relaxed environment of stand-up shows, where people “don’t need to dress up”. You can show up in a t-shirt and shorts, and laugh till you fall, without choking on your tight collar.

It is perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy your evening, laughing away the troubles of a bad day at work, be it hand-in-hand with a pint of beer or just an iced-tea – whatever floats your boat. It is part of the alternative entertainment that Delhi is embracing, instead of spending their evenings dominated by loud electronic music, available at every other bar in the city.

CJ believes that in an age of limited attention spans, a comedian gives a punchline every 15 seconds, which is why comedy has become such an important medium of entertainment. Seeing it online, on a digital platform is not the same as watching it live: “The magic lies in what you see in the room when a comedian is in the moment and interacts with audiences spontaneously.” He has been doing stand-up full-time for 10 years after quitting his corporate career, “It’s a guy on stage having fun and being paid to do so…how can anyone not be pulled towards it!”

So, who is giving the newbies a chance? Priya Sharma, co-founder of Playground Comedy Studio, says they open their stage to new talent. It has stand-up every day of the week in its studio, and reserves the 4 pm “Trial Room” slot for new comics who would want to test out their jokes. This is also a good time for students looking for free entertainment to come around as there is no entry fee. Tickets for the 6 pm show (only on weekends) and 8 pm show start from Rs 299 and can go up to Rs 499.

At its maximum price, many may find the shows a tad expensive, but Sharma believes that Delhi has the spending power. She gives the examples of PVR Director’s Cut cinema hall which always is “booked to capacity”. Even at their venue, weekends are mostly sold out; she admits their location (SDA Market) may have something to do with the crowd, as it’s quite “niche”.

Playground’s stage is open to seasoned and new comics (Photo: Priya Sharma)

Caution: they only serve coke and popcorn. But with many restaurants in the vicinity, you’ll find a watering hole and a bite to eat within a minute. The limited menu is perhaps intentional as Sharma talks about the space for comedians that currently exists in Delhi. The city, she says, “has a lot to offer. It has cafes, restaurants and theatres but it lacks an alternative space for different activities. Cafes in Delhi don’t give the right space. Audience is busy eating and the artist is not given the attention he/she deserves.” They instead call themselves a “mini theatre”, where they also run Playground Creative House, which caters to puppet shows, theatre, and soon, poetry recitations.

The next question is, what makes Delhi tickle? CJ loves the audiences in Delhi, “They don’t hold back the laughs and if you know how to get them, you can take them anywhere.” But to get inside someone’s head, one must see what makes them laugh, and the city’s brain is pretty obvious. It loves sexual jokes and innuendos. So much so, CJ says he would like to see the perception of the English language stand-up change, “Not all of it is about being vulgar or abusive. It can be intelligent, personal and thought-provoking too.”

Sharma agrees that “people like sex jokes and sex comedy”, but adds that there’s a line drawn to that as well, “People get creeped out if it turns into something offensive.” While an “un-feminist joke” spells sure failure for the comic.

In Delhi, the other venues for stand-up include Ghalib auditorium in Mata Sundari college which has stand-up every now and then and even Akshara theatre. The NCR region is however booming. The Canvas Laugh Club, also present in Mumbai, has its wings covering the Noida and Gurgaon areas. On a weekend, its venue in Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub (The people & company) is filled to the brim, with a good line-up of comics. But beware, one must buy the tickets online, a good few hours before as the management can make up its mind to increase the price by one-third, a couple of hours before the show.

But even if you do pay the extra price, once inside your anger will decimate, if you have someone like Sumit Anand on stage.  His puns on love, life and people are all delivered hilariously well, with a sort of nonchalance.