Personal Stories, Stand-up Comedy

Storytelling in Stand-up Comedy

There’s more to stand-up than just telling jokes. Besides one-liners, the most memorable jokes or sets are usually part of a story. You are always telling a story, no matter how big or small. For example, Russell Peters may have a lot of bits and sets about different people from all over the world. But, he’s basically narrating a really long story about his travels and experiences. The only jokes that don’t need stories and narration are memes and dad jokes. Good luck trying to make a career out of that.

Basic Story Structure

As a professional storyteller, I can’t even remember how many times I’ve heard what I’m about to tell you next: a story is a sequence of events. One thing leads to another. There is always a beginning, a middle, and an end. You can go ahead and exaggerate anything to fit your set, as long as you don’t digress or deviate into a whole different tangent. You’ll know you’ve done that when you suddenly realize you don’t know how to segue back into the original story you were narrating. If the middle of your story is too long and you don’t have a good enough pay-off by the end, you’ll lose your audience.

Specific to stand-up, storytelling might be difficult for someone who is used to writing small observational bits because there’s only so much you can do within the time-frame of the open mic slot. I’ll get to that in a bit.

How Do I Write/Tell A Funny Story?

The short answer is – you don’t. Unless you’re naturally funny, and I mean in conversation, it might be difficult for you to take a serious incident and make it stand-up worthy on your first try. Just like every joke, you have to start with actually writing things down.

When you want to narrate an incident, don’t feel the pressure to be funny just yet. Write your story down – don’t miss any details. Once you’ve written it down exactly as you remember, you can then go about figuring out where you can make it funny. Break it down scene by scene, frame by frame. Look for details to exploit. You can use analogies, puns, one-liners, or just act it out. It will take a while, but your patience will pay off. Just believe that your story is funny, and that’s why you want to tell it so badly.

How Do I Keep The Audience Hooked On?

It is true that quick jokes might seem like they get better response from the audience, compared to long-form jokes; which is why quick punchy bits are great to start your set off, especially if you’re doing anywhere between minimum 10 to 30 minutes. Once you’ve written your story down, figure out where you want to jump into it. You don’t always have to start at the beginning of the story. Unlike fiction, stand-up doesn’t require you to develop every character in your story. Pick the most interesting part of your story and use that as a hook, like “Have you ever…?”, “Has this happened to you?” “Don’t you just hate it when…?” These are just some basic examples, but I’m sure you can come up with your own stuff. Once you have the hook ready, launch into your story. By now, you should know where each punch lands. Make sure you have a good flow so you always keep the audience guessing about what’s going to happen next. Hit them with a misdirection, then land the punch. Ride the laughs and applause, then continue without missing a beat. If you structure your story well, you will be rewarded by the end of the story.

Why Should I Try Stories?

It’s not compulsory if you really don’t want to. But, here’s why you should try it – it’s more personal than observational quick jokes. When you narrate a story, you’re always the center of attention because you’re the storyteller. First person stories, if done right, strike a nerve. If your audience walks out of your show feeling like they know you, it’s the best feeling ever. Storytelling also helps you conserve material. If I’m doing a one hour set (Fizz Out! An Hour of Soda), it would be easier for me to put together a few stories and figure out how to connect them all, instead of going from one joke to another and losing my audience halfway. Yes, that last sentence might have been a shameless ad for my first solo stand-up show premiering in the last week of October.

Stories also have great call-back value. And, if you’ve been doing stand-up long enough, you know the feeling when the audience goes berserk at an unexpected reference to a previous joke.

The Wrap Up

  • Always write your story down, and then look for ways to make it funny
  • Don’t deviate from the story too much. The point is to pepper jokes into a story, not the other way around.
  • Do not abandon it halfway. If you think it’s not working, push through. Get used to telling the story on stage.
  • If you think you don’t have enough time to do the whole story in an open mic, break it into smaller bits that you can try separately. Then put it all together and see how it works.
  • Be patient. Don’t rush through it just to get to the jokes.
  • Beginning, middle, end = hook, set-up, punch (act-out, analogy, exaggeration, call-back)
  • Be open to feedback. Ask fellow comics to figure out if it was convincing enough, whether the jokes were obvious enough, and if they suggest tags, be your own judge.

I wrote this as a quick manual for fellow comics, because I can see a lot of people experimenting with storytelling. If you think I’ve left something out, or I’ve overlooked anything, feel free to have a conversation about it.

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Roasts and Toasts

The Roast of VIP 2

As I write this, I’m listening to the soundtrack of the first VIP to remind myself that I liked it, and I was an idiot to think the second one would match up. I feel like a parent who couldn’t keep it in his pants; who liked his first-born so much that he made another one and paid for it as well. I feel like Brad after Angelina went and brought home a second child from the same race. I had intended to watch this with a friend who dropped out at the last minute. Dear friend, I know you’ll laugh at me more than you’ll laugh at this post. But, it’s okay. Friendship is also about pointing and laughing.

The story of VIP 2 looks like it was outsourced to a desperate content writer who’s trying their best to get work done without being caught for plagiarism – same template, different characters, some glamour here and there so the audience thinks it’s a completely different product. The music is unforgettable; in the sense you can’t forget it, but can’t remember much of it either. Listening to the soundtrack is like riding a bike when it’s raining really hard. You can’t close your eyes, but you can’t keep them open either because it’s drizzling pins and needles.

For some reason, every song in this film has at least a hundred extra dancers in the background. Dhanush is hardly visible in a crowd, now you want me to play Where’s Wally/Waldo? The choreography of the opening song looks like it was done by the Loyola Dream Team – good enough to win college cultural meets, not that great to pay and watch on a big screen. We simply cannot digest Dhanush locking and popping, when we have already seen him kuth-ing like a bau5 in the first part. You simply cannot take our Dhandachor King and make him do hip hop.

The story takes place a year after the first one. Raghuvaran (Dhanush) has become the posterboy for modesty and hard work. He is the Aamir Khan of Engineering – he’s not interested in receiving awards. Even if he wins anything, someone else will accept it on his behalf. While at home, he is survived by his dad and brother, and threatened by his wife all the time. Amala Paul graduates from girlfriend next door to housewife by choice. Following her mother-in-law’s death, she has decided to become the woman of the house. If you listen closely, you can hear feminists laughing and crying at the same time. From loving girlfriend, it takes her less than a year to attain matriarch status. Everyone is afraid of her. Ha life, Ha rulz (her life, her rules). Raghuvaran complains about her every chance he gets, but does nothing to stand up to her. According to this movie, being married is like campus placement. You might get what you want, but one year into it, you will hate your life.

Samuthirakani as Raghuvaran’s dad is one of the saving graces. His character has developed so well, he looks fitter than he did last time. Raghuvaran and his dad bond over what it feels like to have a wife who’s nice on the inside, but tough on the outside. Raghuvaran rarely gets a chance to get inside his wife. Um, I mean experience her nice side. Hopefully, the next instalment won’t be named VIP 3: Vamsam Illa Pattadhaari.

Raghuvaran’s brother finally hits puberty and grows a thick mustache. That’s all.

Kajol plays the villainous MILF – Matriarch I’d Like to Fuck (over). She has a unibrow like the bridge Rama built to Lanka; you can only spot it from afar. She looks like she lives out of an H&M trial room, and has never known functional clothing in life. Her temper is shorter than her attention span, and she yells more than she breathes. It almost explains why Ajay Devgn still has a career, because he needs an excuse to get out of the house and get away from all that yelling. Also, a word to the Censor Board – it doesn’t matter if a character on screen says “fuck” to symbolize power, if you’re going to fucking mute the fucking fuck out of every fuck. What the actual fuck?

Vivek retains his role, but doesn’t add much value. His subtle humor style is riddled with predictability and has been exploited enough since Uthama Puthiran. Balaji Mohan does his first non-cameo debut in style. The film could’ve gone without his character, but it was a neglectable addition to the cast that didn’t do much damage.

I’m going to end this post abruptly, just like the movie.

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Roasts and Toasts

The Toast of Vikram Vedha

After Batman, Vikram Vedha has arguably the catchiest theme (TANA-NANA-NANA-NAA…. TANA-NANA-NANA-NAA). After Joker, Vedha is the next worst guy you’ll want to root for. This film is a delirious mix of Vikram Vethal and The Dark Knight. For the uninitiated, Vikram and Vethal, is the story of King Vikramaditya and his adventures with the Vethal (poltergeist/ghoul). Poltergeists are supposed to be noisy beings who damage property. Thala Ajith’s Vethalam was loosely based on this premise.

A sage asks King Vicky to go to the forbidden forest and bring back the Vethal. King Vicky says “Easy peasy lemon squeezy” and sets out. When he finally faces the Vethal, King Vicky realizes his adversary isn’t an easy target. The Vethal plays more hard to get than a Tinder match who holds strong ideals of feminism, independence, and has high standards. So, King Vicky instead turns the tables and says “only here for friendship”. This gets the Vethal talking. The Vethal promptly lays down some ground rules. The Vethal states that he will ride on King Vicky’s back, and as they make their way back to the sage, King Vicky will have to listen to a story. At the end of the story, Vethal will ask him a question in the form of a riddle. If King Vicky doesn’t know the answer, the Vethal will stay with him, answer the riddle, and move onto the next story. If King Vicky knows the answer and doesn’t respond, his head will explode. If King Vicky responds correctly, Vethal will fly back to his tree, because “if you know errthang, why you need me for, biatch?”

King Vicky agrees to all of the above while mumbling “this clingy bitch right here.” He also notes that if prenups had these clauses, divorce rates would drop steeply, because ain’t nobody getting married if they know exactly what they’re getting into. Now, back to Vikram Vedha.

Madhavan plays Vikram, an encounter specialist, with a broad frame and broader smile. He is headstrong and prides himself on knowing he is always on the right side of the law. He can come back home after a long day of feeding bullets to goons and sleep like a baby, because he knows he has never killed an innocent human being. Vikram is your happy-go-lucky death dealer. This is established in the opening sequence, where Vikram and his squad take a gang by storm. Vikram clocks the most kills, but spots a runner. Instead of chasing after him, Vikram takes a walk in the park while twirling his glock. When the rowdy hits a dead end, he turn around and surrenders, and this annoys Vikram. He responds with, “You could’ve surrendered back there. The fuck did you make me come after you? Okay, tell me a joke and I’ll let you live.” The felon cracks a below average pun. Vikram is not amused and shoots the kills. Lesson for budding comedians: it’s a kill or be killed world out there. Better be ready for the day a cop comes after you with a gun, and all you can do to save yourself is tell a good joke.

Vijay Sethupathi is the best buy one get one free deal in Kollywood. You sign him, you get his acting skills for free. Not for sale individually. His performance as Vedha will surprise audiences once again. Right from the start, it’s clear that Vedha isn’t evil incarnate. He is the bad guy, because the good guys wouldn’t have a job otherwise. He is in the logistics business, and people get hurt once in a while. Every time he faces off with Vikram, he distracts him and gets away; leaving Vikram with answers to find. He teaches Vikram to look at both sides of the coin, instead of simply stopping with calling heads or tails. The story ends with Vikram and Vedha fighting side by side – forced to be brothers in arms due to circumstances. Finally, Vikram and Vedha have a Mexican stand-off, and it’s Vikram’s turn to riddle Vedha – “Should I let you go because you fought by my side, or should I kill you right here because that’s my job? Which is right?”

THE END. The best cliffhanger ending I’ve ever witnessed in Kollywood yet.

The supporting cast has also done well. There are two female characters (Priya and Chandra), and no item songs. There’s also a strong sense of casual feminism.

Priya is Vikram’s wife. She has tattoos, a serious job, and doesn’t exist just to make her man feel better about himself. She is a lawyer who hates cops. Vikram is a cop who hates lawyers. This friction brings them together, and thus begins a flashback song montage of their courtship. There’s a lot of insinuated sex, and they go to bed wearing normal clothes. It is time we acknowledged that lingerie and lip-biting isn’t always part of foreplay. On their first night, Vikram and Priya take the couch and pass out. Again, it is time we acknowledged that the wedding ceremony takes a physical toll on the bride and groom, and they’re too tired to even think of sex. When Vikram realizes Priya is Vedha’s attorney, he tries to get her to drop the case. Priya responds with “Why don’t you drop the case? Your work is work, but mine isn’t?”

Chandra also has her moments – when she gets slapped, she slaps back; when someone tries to intimidate her, she puts them in their place.

The soundtrack is great, and the songs have replay value. Karuppu Vellai is the recurring theme, and Yaanji serves as the romantic montage number. Tasakku Tasakku is the actual item numbers, where the bad guys have some fun dancing to their own tunes with a side of booze. The rest of the songs seem like they were made by the music director simply because he got commissioned for the job – much like a content writer who has to meet deadlines because they got paid ahead of time in full. The movie has a lot of subtle humor peppered in the most intense scenes, but the grit and pace of the thriller is maintained. You can tell there’s a lot of tension in the movie simply by checking out Madhavan’s nipples. After Batman, his nipples are the sharpest. This might also explain why he never wears a bulletproof vest.

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Roasts and Toasts

The Toast of Baby Driver

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Right now, I gotta tell you about… the fabulous… most groovy… BABY DRIVER!

Days before watching this movie, I’d been listening to the soundtrack. If you have a car, and you’ve got an L board stuck on the back or front, this soundtrack is not for you. If you have a car, and are usually late to meetings, this soundtrack is definitely for you.

The trailer conveys just enough for you to buy the ticket. But, it’s more than just another fast and furious wannabe. This is a movie about love, music, cars, and cold blooded killers. The dialogues are well-written, with some seriously funny one liners being thrown around occasionally. The interesting thing about the story is there’s not much character development, outside of the title character Baby (Ansel Elgort). Everyone has code names, and Baby is no different. It is never really explained how or why these nicknames came up. Baby also doesn’t talk much, case in point, Buddy’s (Jon Hamm) explanation:

“You know why he’s called Baby? It’s because they’re still waiting on his first words.”

Baby Driver looks like Bo Burnham with a pair of shades and a driver’s license; with the musical humor intact. Throughout the film, Baby is always plugged into an iPod. Owing to a car crash where he lost both his parents as well as some of his hearing, he plays music to drown out his tinnitus. He’s a “good kid and a devil behind the wheel.

Kevin Spacey plays Doc. Doc is Frank Underwood on steroids, minus the politics and the fourth wall breaks. He is the mastermind behind each heist, and doesn’t work with the same crew twice. But, he does like to mix and match. My favorite Doc line is “He puts the Asian in home invasion.

Jon Hamm is Buddy. Buddy is what happens when Don Draper decides to act in the ads he pitches to clients. Buddy and his lady love Darling (Elza Gonzalez) are part of the first and third/final heist in the film. They’re a Mr and Mrs Smith, the outlaw version. 

Jamie “doesn’t give two” Foxx is a late but welcome addition to the cast. He shoots first, and asks questions later. Sometimes, he asks questions while shooting as well. He goes by Bats, and is Bats-hit crazy. Bats is Django Untethered. “I like the way you die, boy!”

Lily James plays Deborah, and serves as the cute waitress crush/love interest of the protagonist. She represents the normal life that Baby tries his hardest to hold onto. It is also noticeable that a lot of work has gone into Baby’s wardrobe. He looks like a date-able Levi’s store mannequin, wearing shades of grey that darken towards the end as he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, being dragged deeper into the world of crime and bloodshed.

The music is the most interesting part of the film. The first six minutes minutes has Baby Driver grooving to Bell Bottoms. This sequence is a tribute to the music video of Blue Song by Mint Royale (which was directed by Edgar Wright himself in 2003). The coffee run sequence where Baby walks to the coffee shop is also visually pleasing, with words and phrases from the song popping up in the scene as graffiti. Even the action sequences have been choreographed to music, with the bullets being shot in tandem to the beats of the track. But, Kamal Haasan already did that with Vishwaroopam’s trailer.

Overall, this is a movie you’ll definitely want to watch more than once. But, if you’re a struggling artist like myself, you’ll watch it in theaters the first time, and wait for a good print to watch online. Most if not all the stunts in the film are real, and more than 150 cars were reportedly used to make every scene come alive. The story also has a cause-and-effect method of storytelling, where the characters live to break the law and face the consequences, even if it is death.

The best part about watching this movie is when you pull into Satyam cinemas, and the guy asks you which movie you’re here to watch, and proceeds to yell, “BABY! BABY DRIVER! Park your Baby behind that car, sir.”

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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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