Stand-up Comedy

Let’s Make Rape Jokes

Rape is a heinous crime. It’s not fun. It’s definitely not funny. But, if you’re someone who believes in pushing the boundaries with humor, there are a few things you need to consider before getting on stage and spitting some R-rated lines.

  • Choose A Side

When talking about rape, if you’ve not been a victim, you’re automatically going to sound insensitive. The immediate argument will be “If you don’t know how it feels, you definitely cannot make fun of it. Remember, being molested is not the same as being raped. “I was once touched inappropriately. It felt wrong. I can definitely imagine what rape might feel like.” Wrong. That’s almost like saying “I’m a man, and most rapists are men. So, by extension, I can relate to them.” Just for the element of surprise, don’t try to shock your audience and call it dark humor. You have to make it explicitly clear – are you condemning the act or condoning it? There is no middle ground.

  • Make A Convincing Argument

Don’t wait till the audience asks you, “What’s your point?” Don’t make the rookie mistake of picking on a subject like rape because it’s an edgy topic, and people will pay attention to you. Especially if you’re not confident that they will laugh at the end. Don’t make a statement like “Rape is bad, guys! Don’t do it.” They don’t need to hear it from you. They already knew it. If you’re going to tell them what they want to hear, don’t be a comedian. Join politics. If you’re bold enough to argue that rape isn’t so bad after all, convince the audience beyond a doubt – to the point where they’ve becoming accomplices. It takes a special kind of genius to do that. Do not take it lightly. Off the top of my head, the best example I can quote is Bill Burr’s bit about hitting women. He says something along the lines of “You shouldn’t hit women. It’s not right. But, I don’t think there is no reason to hit a woman. Sometimes, they ask for it. Just don’t do it.” You should be able to find the clip online. Also remember, that’s Bill Burr. A lot of people pay good money to watch him. They will listen to anything he has to say. If you go on stage on your third open mic and crack jokes about rape, the first thing I’d think is, “Who the fuck is this? What do they know about rape? BOOOOOO!”

  • Always Punch Up

The definition of punching up is pretty easy. Never make it look like it’s the victim’s fault. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. But, it takes some getting used to. When you punch up, you should steer clear of stereotypical mumbo-jumbo. It’s common sense. Do not trivialize the issue. If you’re going to start your set with “I don’t get what’s the big deal about rape”, stop; go kill yourself.

  • Rape Has Nothing To Do With Sex

This is the first thing you need to understand. Rape is more than just nonconsensual sex. It’s not an extreme state of horniness. Rape is a display of power. It’s psychological. The size of a rapist’s penis has nothing to do with it.

 

While it is true that stand-up comedy is about upsetting balances, challenging ideologies, and calling out bullshit, don’t take it too far. It doesn’t matter if they’re laughing with you or at you. It’s your duty to make sure they laugh for the right reasons. There are a lot of rape jokes online. Everyone laughs it off, because they don’t attach a person or voice to it. Stand-up isn’t just telling jokes. You’re sugarcoating an uncomfortable truth. One joke isn’t worth being branded an insensitive asshole. Always ask yourself: what do I stand(up) for?

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Offensive Personal Opinions, Stand-up Comedy

Sincere Apology

Let me tell you what happened today. But, before we begin, you need to know something – I am the villain in this story.

It was a Tuesday, and I was at the open mic I run. I was waiting to go up; I was last. There were about four comics left before the end of the show, and the host was doing a brilliant job. This was happening in Nanganallur AKA boot camp Mylapore. Not much happens in Nanganallur, which why Nanganallur doesn’t rhyme with fun.

During the open mic, there was an elderly man and a young lady who stayed for the first half, and they enjoyed themselves despite the occasional fucks being flung around. They left a while later. Not because they weren’t having fun, but because they had a life. A little later, a family of four walked in. Father, mother, son, and daughter-in-law. They left soon after, because they didn’t realize the open mic was happening, and had come to the restaurant to talk family matters.  Yes, they were so progressive, they got dressed up to go to the nearest youth hangout spot to talk about personal stuff. My deductive skills told me they were probably a nuclear family sharing the house with every other surviving relative who was really old, but just didn’t know when to die.

Then, four fresh-out-of-school kids walked in. Two boys, two girls. I give you this detail so you know that our nation’s sex ratio is progressing, even if the economy isn’t. They sat down at a table just next to the performance area. The girls sat huddled together (because traditional values dictated so), one guy sat indecisively facing the comic at a 45° angle. He was trying to be cool with one elbow propped on the table, and trying to lean back while also awkwardly making sure his legs weren’t spread out too wide (because traditional values dictated so). The fourth thought he would sit with his back to the performer as a display of dominance. He was definitely the prepubescent alpha male of the group. He had a gym bag on, which he refused to take off. My deductive skills told me he was trying to build muscles to overcompensate for the one tiny mass of muscle that wasn’t as endowed as he would’ve liked it to be. Whenever the host would try to talk to him, he would just stretch his neck up, and talk out of a lopsided mouth like a rejected extra from a Japanese horror flick.

The host spoke to each one of them, explained what was happening, and went on to introduce the next performer. With each passing minute, the kids kept getting louder. The performers were trying to be nice by talking to whoever else was listening. But, let me tell you from experience, when kids want to be loud, there’s nothing you can do to drown it out. Well, you could drown them, but that depends on whether you really want to put so much effort into killing a bunch of educated retards you’ve just met by coincidence. They got busy with their phones, clicking selfies and trying to pass snide remarks about the performer, fully aware that everyone could hear them. The alpha male, with his back to the performers the entire time, was trying to be funny to his group of friends. If there’s one thing a comedian hates, it’s another comedian without a mic.

Finally, it was my turn. I was the last performer, and I was going to close the show. What happened next was not something I planned. I tried my best to tune these loudmouths out and power through my set. But, you can’t always have what you want. There was another snide remark that was passed, and I lost my shit.

I addressed these attention whores, and asked them if they understood what was going on. The indecisive little shit responded with a “Should we?” and that just made it worse. I spoke to them for a few seconds, just long enough to make it awkward for everyone. The room went silent. I had singlehandedly brought the energy down. It was not a great show, but I made it worse. There was no coming back from that. The kids left right after that, and I went back to finish my set like nothing happened. I was still shaking, and I knew I had done something terrible. I tried to save the show by talking to a couple of guys who had walked in, just in time to witness the verbal homicide of the evening. I got a few laughs, apologized, and closed the show. I also apologized to the venue owners, who were sweet enough to not yell at me.

It was my fault. It was the most unprofessional thing I could’ve done. If we lose this venue, it will be on me. I vowed to be nicer next time. I was clearly in the wrong.
But, here’s what really annoyed me – “They’re just kids. They don’t know.” The saving grace was nobody said “It’s not their fault.” But, they’re just kids? Really?

When we started the open mic, there was this lady with her child. They were accompanied by who looked to be the granddad of the kid. The mother ordered a burger with fries, and sat at a table with the cute and cuddly little one plonked on the table in front of her. The kid tried to grab at one of the French fries with her stubby little teeny weeny fingers, but just couldn’t manage it. The mother picked up a piece, and handed it to this little innocent creature. The baby then proceeded to munch-munch-munch on the fry like a baby squirrel who has no clue about the evil world out there with the kill or be killed, survival of the fittest mentality. THAT IS A KID. THAT KID DOESN’T KNOW. If that kid had interrupted the open mic, there is nothing I could’ve done. I’d have probably lifted her up, sat her on my shoulder and taken her on a tour of the wonderful place that is Nanganallur. The child was on mute throughout, and I don’t think that’s owing to a disability.

I wasn’t angry because I had a few unruly audience members. I’m angry that these were a bunch of assholes who’d seemingly learnt nothing despite being through thirteen consecutive years in the Indian education system. They’re old enough to drive, but not old enough to be decent? Explain that to me, please. I would like to know exactly at what point in human evolution did manners become an optional gene. I refuse to believe that a seventeen year old is still a kid. Just because they were born later, doesn’t make them kids for life.

Yes, I could’ve been nice. I could’ve said, “Please shut the fuck up.” But, I chose not to please them. I chose to demonstrate cause and effect. I took it upon myself to show them that actions have consequences, even if you are just a kid.

I do not need anyone’s approval. I’m not looking for “It’s not your fault, dude. It had to be done.” because it will not make me feel better about it. I feel really bad about what I did. But, what I don’t feel bad about, is there’s little decency left in kids these days, and someone has to keep them in check once in a while. Today, was that once-in-a-while.
I will try to be nicer next time (if there ever is a next time). But, I also promise to not take shit from kids who know nothing.

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Offensive Personal Opinions, Stand-up Comedy

Open Mic Etiquette

What’s this about?
This is not an “Open Mic For Dummies” instruction manual. It’s about what you need to know and do if you don’t want to be an open mic dummy.

Who am I?

My name is Sudarsan Ramamurthy. In the Chennai comedy circuit, I’m known as Soda. I’ve been pursuing stand-up comedy for more than two years now. My first open mic was in October 2014. I run Chennai Comedy. You can look it up here.

How do I qualify to talk about open mics?
I wouldn’t be bragging if I said I’ve done the most open mics amongst all the comedians in the Chennai circuit. But, let’s just say that if you’re an open micer/comedian from Chennai, there is no way I haven’t heard of you.

What is the difference between an open micer and a stand-up comedian?
Every stand-up comedian is an open micer. But, every open micer is not a stand-up comedian. Not unless he/she has performed in multiple non-open mic shows (ticketed shows, auditoriums, corporate and private events) without having to blow or kiss someone’s unmentionables.
The most important and obvious difference is: all stand-up comedians are funny; all open micers are not.
It takes anywhere from six months to a year (subject to consistency, perseverance, luck, and size of balls) for an open micer to become a stand-up comedian. Just because you got to perform for five minutes in a ticketed show – even if you’ve done less than five open mics – doesn’t make you a comedian. It just means the scene is growing, there are more shows happening, ergo more slots to fill. Pure and simple.

What is an open mic?
An open mic is an event, usually held in an indoor space where anyone can get on stage and try their luck with whatever talent they possess. In a stand-up comedy open mic, it is strictly for people to test and/or practice their jokes in front of an audience who hasn’t paid too much to watch them and therefore isn’t judging them. Or, that’s what we all think.

Rules of Engagement

⦁ Registration
Anyone who has to perform, must register themselves before the open mic. The registration may be done at the venue right before the open mic, or interested parties may have to call/message to a given number. It is important to find out which one of the aforementioned protocols need to be followed.

⦁ Time Slots and Content Restriction
Each performer is given a maximum of 4-5 minutes of stage time. There’s usually no content restriction, so swearing and offensive language isn’t a problem. But, that doesn’t mean you say “Fuck” for four minutes. It’s also obvious that your material has to be 100% original. If you’re going to come and recite internet jokes, stay home and use those to pick up bots on Tinder. Don’t copy other comedians, either. We will know. We will find you. We will roast you.

Basic Open Mic/Stand-up Comedy Jargon

⦁ Host
A host is the anchor/presenter of the show. But, do not mistake the host for an MC. The host of an open mic or stand-up comedy show is usually a comedian. They keep the night going and perform their jokes to keep the energy up between performers. There are two kinds of hosts: a) ones who are so funny, it doesn’t matter if the other comics aren’t. The crowd already loves the host. b) Ones who are so bad, the audience will definitely find the others funny.

⦁ Slot/Spot
The duration of one’s performance is called a slot. Typically, open mic spots are 4-5 minutes long. A guest spot is usually slightly longer (8-10 minutes). Guest Spot is also code for “You’re not getting paid, but we’ll let you perform in our show.” A headliner spot is at least 25 minutes long.

⦁ Headliner
The headliner is touted to be the main event, the star performer, the guy whose face you put on the poster because you know people will jizz cash to see him on stage. So, if someone says they’ve got multiple headliners in one show, they don’t really know what they’re doing. The headliner must perform last. The main reason is, you don’t want people to leave right after he/she is done performing. There has to be a build up to the final act. You cannot have multiple finishing acts. That’s a premature ejaculator’s excuse.

⦁ Time Out
A nicer way of saying “You’re done. Get the fuck off the stage.” It may be a light flashing, someone holding their hands up in a T, or just flipping you off until you get the message.
For The Audience
As someone who has come to watch a comedy gig (free or paid entry), there are some things you need to keep in mind, if you don’t want to end up making a fool of yourself.

⦁ Offensive Content
Censorship and stand-up comedy don’t always go together. So, expect to be offended. Accept the fact that this show isn’t about you. Yes, you may have paid for the ticket and therefore might feel entitled. You are entitled to a seat, and some humor. That’s it. Don’t try to call attention to yourself, unless the performer picks (on) you. There will be swearing. Your mother, father, family, relatives living and dead will be referred to. Don’t take it personally. Laugh it off. Go home. Tell you friends about it.
Here’s how a stand-up comedy show’s disclaimer would read:
IF IT’S FUNNY, TAKE IT AND FUCK OFF. IF IT’S NOT FUNNY, TAKE IT AND FUCK OFF ANYWAY.

⦁ Picking On Audience Member(s)
As the phrase goes, “picking on” someone seems to have some negative connotations. That’s not always the case with stand-up comedy. When someone picks on you, it need not be with the express intent of shaming you or making you look stupid in front of a live audience. It could also be just to get to know you better. Yes, some comedians are nice like that. They care about who has paid to watch them and how they can make you come back each time. Bottom-line: The front row isn’t as dangerous as you think it is.

⦁ Heckling
It is important for an audience member to understand the stand-up comedy interpretation of the word “heckling”. It means any verbal interruption that is not part of the script. It doesn’t matter if you’re agreeing to what is being said, or aggressively trying to throw the performer off – you’re heckling. Different comedians have different ways of dealing with hecklers. Some ignore them, some entertain them, and some will slaughter and destroy the very soul of this imbecile mortal who thought they’d get away with a heckle.

⦁ Laugh, Clap, Cheer, Make Some Noise
While there are some ground rules and guidelines to keep in mind, a comedy show is after all about having fun. So, when you are asked to make some noise, don’t fucking raise your hand like someone is taking a roll call. Okay? Good.

⦁ Phones, Chitchat, Babies
Turn them all to silent or vibrate, whatever tickles your fancies. I have had shows where the audience was so enthusiastic, they’d laugh at the first joke, and start discussing it WHILE I’M STILL PERFORMING! Just laugh and/or clap, and we’ll know you’re enjoying the show. Nothing more, nothing less.

For Open Micers

Behave Yourselves

⦁ Before The Open Mic
Be there on time. Register. Take your seat, or walk around, or do whatever it is you do before a show. Don’t stand around in groups and indulge in chitchat like it’s a school reunion – unless there’s no space inside, and you’re going to go in just to perform and get out. If that’s the case, keep your voice low and don’t let the audience feel what’s happening outside is more fun than the actual open mic.

⦁ Preference of Slot
Unless you’re a pro, you don’t get to choose what slot you get. “I’m bringing friends. They are on the way. Please slot me somewhere in the middle.” Fuck you. Your friends should’ve been here. If they’re not, their loss. It’s not a private show where you’re performing just for your friends. Even if there’s no audience at all, perform to the other comics. Respect the stage. Respect the people who will share it with you. Respect the audience.
Even pro comics register in advance and ask nicely. If you’re going to throw your weight around, it means you’re not serious about sticking around for long.

⦁ Heckling
Here’s something that I’ve seen a lot of new guys do. They think just because they’re watching someone else, they can fuck with the performer’s flow. Motherfucker, you just forgot your jokes when you were on stage a minute ago. It’s like whipping your dick out before your balls have even dropped. Don’t heckle someone if you don’t have the skill to back it up. Let’s see how you feel when you’re up there trying out a set for the first time and someone thinks it’s fun to steal the show.
Compete outside, collaborate inside.

⦁ First In Last Out
Get to the open mic as early as possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re the first ever. There’s a lot to be learnt. Help the producers set up the sound system. Figure out how a mic works. Do sound checks. Ask questions. That’s how you earn friends. You earn friends, you earn favors. Favors can get you slots. Slots gets you stage time. Stage time is what makes you a comedian. Get on stage as much as possible.
Unless there’s an emergency, or a flight/train/bus to catch, stay until the end. Talk to the comics. Build your network. Be an open mic whore; to the point where your face is cemented in their memory and they feel like something’s off when there’s an open mic and you’re not there. That’s how I’ve started, and I’m still an open mic whore. Maybe an open mic escort, at this point.

⦁ Don’t Hold Grudges
Artists, especially stand-up comedians, aren’t the easiest people to work with. Difference in opinion, perception, and beliefs is the fundamental birthplace of stand-up comedy. Open mics will expose you to all kinds of people – performers and audience alike. If you really want to trash talk about someone, make it funny. That’s how roasts were born.

⦁ You Are Not Entitled
Get it into your head. The open mic is not a stepping stone to get shows. The open mic is where you keep coming back to hone your skill. “Bro, I’ve been doing open mics for five months. I’m not getting any shows. That other guy started after me, he’s done two shows already! Fuck it. I’ll start my own thing, and produce my own shows. One day, I’ll run the scene and show these motherfuckers how it’s done.” If that’s how you’re going to be, then fuck you. You didn’t get shows because you’re not funny yet. That other guy is. Put your head down, get funny, and there’s no reason why you won’t get shows after that.
It’s not a job. It’s a career. You build it in your own time. You are not entitled to anything. Doing a lot of shows isn’t the mark of a comedian. Being funny is. Performing in a show because you’re producing it, is like masturbating – you might have a mind blowing orgasm, but you’re giving it to yourself because no one else will.
⦁ Respect The Venue
Start on time. End on time. Do not give the venue any reason to complain. There is literally no reason why anyone should let you do something as unpredictable as stand-up comedy in their place of business. So, be grateful to that and make sure you give back. Encourage the audience and comics to order food and drinks. Make sure you give them good visibility and branding. These little niceties will go a long way.

⦁ Don’t Piss Off The Audience
Especially at an open mic, it’s important that you don’t scar the audience with something that’s not funny and therefore unnecessary. If you’ve picked on someone, acknowledge that they’ve been a good sport, or speak to them after the show to make sure they didn’t take it the wrong way. These are the same people who might one day buy tickets to your show and make you rich. Don’t fuck with them too much.
The open mic is a great place to watch comedy happen. The expectations are low, so you get to push yourself and experiment as much as you want. You also get to witness so many different styles, so you won’t latch onto one person and end up imitating or emulating them. Always give back to the scene. Remember, you wouldn’t exist if there was no platform to start with.
If you have any more questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to get in touch.

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Stand-up Comedy

Besant Nagar to Bay 146

August 31, 2014: I signed up for a Comedy Writing Workshop at Ashvita Nirvana, Besant Nagar. I didn’t know it was about standup comedy. The writer and the insufferable humorist in me thought this would be something I could try my hand at. The other reason I was here was, I had paid 300 bucks as registration fee. While I was walking into the venue, I saw two gentlemen getting out of a car across the road. One was a lean, lanky lad who looked like he was born to rock the T-shirt and Chino ensemble. The other was a respectable looking elderly. He reminded me of that one relative we all have – he keeps to himself, but when given the opportunity, would drop a pun and watch everyone take the Lord’s name in vain (ranging from Ayyo (said to be wife of Yama) to Eeshvara, Bahavaane, Narayana, and anyone else available on call). He had the perfect balding head to match with the masculine moustache that rendered him incapable of any evil. Until, of course, the puns came out.

I went into Ashvita Nirvana, and the guys at the desk directed me upstairs. I walked into a space that could inhabit a nuclear family in Mumbai, and a joint family in Kolkata. A Chennai resident would call it a furnished kitchenette. There, I saw a shorter dude with shiny shoes and half bleached hair. I began to wonder if he was Toni or Guy. I later found out he was neither.

There were a few others with me. They had also signed up for the workshop, and looked almost as clueless as me. Cluelessness is always a good way to start any workshop, or any work for that matter.

In walked the lean and lanky lad, and pun uncle. They introduced themselves as Deepu and Praveen Kumar, respectively. My confusion with Toni or Guy was also cleared. His name was Ash. He had neither cap, nor Pikachu.

The workshop started with some awkward silence. Each of us began delivering brief, concise, short, introductions of ourselves. Yes, I know I used three words that mean the same thing in place of just one. That was exactly how our introductions were – verbose, and sometimes so roundabout that the Kathipara flyover would have taken offense. We were all seated in a somewhat circular pattern, and Deepu took the opportunity to break the ice with “It’s like we’re having an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, man! Yeah? Yeah?”

In my later interactions with Deepu, I would learn that “Yeah? Yeah?” was his own patented punctuation. If you wanted to wait until he was done talking because you don’t want to interrupt him, listen for the double yeahs.

The moment Ash said his first words, it was a culture shock. Imagine a shorter, thinner version of Sanjay Dutt, with the voice and poise of Salman Khan (minus the road rage, of course), speaking with a British-American accent. If you could racially profile this guy, you could work for the United Nations; because, here’s the catch, he’s from MRC Nagar.

Deepu, Ash, and a couple of others by the name of Aamer and Suraj formed the Burma Bazaar Conspiracy – BBC for short. I’m sure the guys thought this name out knowing such questions like “What? BBC is doing stand-up comedy ah?” would be thrown around. BBC was running open mics at the Ashvita Bistro in Alwarpet every second Tuesday of the month at the time. The workshop was not only to introduce people to stand-up comedy, but also to get them to come and try their jokes at the open mics.

Once the workshop started, there was a PowerPoint presentation on the basics of comedy, or joke writing, if you will. This is when I realized something as abstract as stand-up comedy could be approached from a scientific angle. I was quick to take pictures and notes which are still with me to this day, thanks to Google Keep. About a half hour later, another figure walked in and grabbed a seat. As soon as he walked in, Deepu and Ash showed signs of recognition in the form of “Eyy, Baggy!” If you haven’t met Bhargav Ramakrishnan, you may wonder why his name is Baggy. If you have met him, you will notice he does not have any bags on him. In his introduction, he also mentioned he works for Evam, and manages comedians.

The last session of the workshop involved each of us writing a short set and performing it in front of the others. Let’s just say all of us were doing it for the first time, and you don’t really want to know how it went. Deepu made an announcement that Praveen Kumar’s solo “The Tickle Minded” was happening that night and he had two couple passes for whoever was interested. Just before shuffling out of the kitchenette, I met Lakshman Balaji – a fast talking dentist in the making, who would later become my first open mic buddy. He would also go on to become a great sketch artist, and once in a while incorporate my humble puns in his cartoons.

After the workshop, I began visiting the open mics. The first time I was at Ashvita Bistro, I was merely scoping out the audience, and didn’t really go up and grab the mic. The second time, I signed up and hence began my journey as a comedian. I would regularly run into a few of the people I met at the workshop, and even had the chance to have a few words with Praveen Kumar when he visited the open mic once (right after finishing a Ted Talk and before getting on a night bus back to Bangalore). Deepu has always been a ready mentor, and the one time I won a stand-up comedy contest, Ash was there to present me with the prize.

April 16, 2016: 1 year, 7 months, and 16 days later, I’m going to be sharing the stage with Praveen Kumar and Baggy at Bay 146 on April 17, 2016 (Sunday) as part of Praveen Kumar’s second special Kancheepuram to Koramangala (BookMyShow link here: http://bit.ly/1SIrsu4)

Looking back, I constantly remind myself how I went from inadvertently stumbling onto stand-up comedy, to being an open mic whore, to managing the open mics themselves. Somewhere in the middle, Sudarsan Ramamurthy became Soda. This journey has been Soda-mn great (come on, you really thought I wouldn’t go for it?) and there’s only more to experience, accomplish, and most importantly – learn.

This was totally not meant as a plug-in for the show tomorrow. On a completely unrelated note, open mics happen in Chennai every week. Follow Chennai Comedy on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates on the scene.

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