a comedy show for chairs never goes well…
Standup Comedy, the new rage. The world outside lives under the illusion that it’s a booming industry. Here is the truth… it indeed is. After being a comedian for seven years in the Indian scene, I’ve seen comics go from doing two mins of jokes at a comedy open mic to doing their one-hour specials on Amazon Prime. My comedian buddy, Kjeld once said, “Comedy is not a sprint, its a marathon. We are all running at our own pace”. Truer words have never been spoken. It’s a long, slow, painful race that you can only get ahead in with time and effort. What we cannot control as joke writers, is the spiralling-down-market.
Last 2016 and early 2017, I would call them my golden year for comedy production. Selling tickets was not a worry. I’ve even had my Monday comedy venue, Take 5 ( A jazz bar on the weekends) fill in with a 100 people. Then… there was a sudden lull. Shows with generic names and non-youtube comedians saw no audiences at all. A few days back, I learned from this publication by Devang Pathak, comedians in Mumbai are in the same swamp as us Bengaluru comics. Some opinions came to mind, and I have decided to put them here. Here is why (I think) the ticket sales are bad the last year or so…
Accessibility of free content:
Internet, that thing you are using right now is a leading cause. When there is so much content out there, why go out at all? We as a society have watered-down the meaning of “social interaction” to Netflix and chill. People would rather meet indoors and watch a TV show, than go out and watch one live. This is easier, cheaper and you don’t need to book a cab.
The comedic delusion:
Back when I started comedy, I needed to earn my spot. Attend an open mic, write good jokes and let producers who run comedy venues notice and give me paid shows. There was a system. Now, it’s rat race.
Comedians who have attended a whole of four open mics, book venues and do one-hour-long shows. Let’s assume you are the most gifted writer, who does not need an open mics. You were born to make people laugh. Yet, with four open mics of experience, you have barely scratched the surface of the artform. It’s unfair to put yourself on the lineup of a show, charge people for it. Never cheat an audience, make them pay good money to watch a sub-standard show. They are never going to buy tickets to a non-famous comedian’s show again.
Not enough comedians want to become good, everyone wants to become famous.
Packaging an open-mic as a feature show:
For the those of you who do not know the difference. An open mic, usually free for audience, are a platform to test new jokes. A feature show is when comedians put on their best jokes and you, as an audience pays for a good time. Desperation of stage time has made comedians package open mics as feature shows. How disappointed would an audience be to attend a ticketed show and find ten comedians abusing the spotlight to try half-baked jokes? I understand new jokes need an audience too. But you cannot expect your audience to see work-in-progress jokes for Rs.300 entry.
A complete disregard for technical setup:
With a comedy show, setup is half the battle. A good setup such as clear sound, good lights, stage and importantly a seated and informed audience is key. If attention is not given to the setup of a venue, the show is a disaster waiting to go south… real fast. An audience coming to a show are under the assumption the team setting up show know how to work tech. By putting the setup on the back-burner, we plant doubts in the minds of comedy goers. This can discourage them from giving new comedy venues (with good setups) a chance in the future.
Audiences trust famous comedians:
Nothing wrong with that. If I had a monthly budget for entertainment, I would spend it on people whose work I’m familiar with. A disadvantage the city of Bangalore has, we do not have enough comedians who can draw a crowd of their own. When audience pay to see a famous comedian, they are happy to see an upcoming talent on the show. A city like Mumbai has many comedians who can help drive the scene ahead. Comedians often ask: “What can we do to help the scene?”. Well… write good jokes, become great at your art and when you can draw a crowd, help the new guys out too.
There is no formula to solving this problem, but there is a need to address it. If you are a comedian; put quality over quantity, encourage new comics and don’t over-do anything. Your amazing jokes will not matter in the future, if there is no audience to watch it.