There’s nothing funny about lockdown but when life throws you lemons or lockdown, you can settle down with your lemonade and leave it to the comics to keep you diverted. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, Kolkata comedians took to virtual platforms to keep the art of stand-up comedy alive. In fact, the city’s comedy scene spread exponentially, almost like a new variant (some gallows humour for you). Stand-up artists not only continued to tickle funny bones from their homes but also connected with comedians across the country to provide audiences with a wider repertoire of jokes.
Online open mics
Tittle Open Mic, co-founded by three Kolkata comics, Aditya Giri, Abhinav Tewary and Vivek Gupta, is a prominent name in the circuit, and used to organise live open mics. It has moved online since the pandemic. “We have a WhatsApp group with all our performers. I ask them to register for the mic on a particular date, and based on the responses, I prepare a line-up of deserving people. I also keep four spots for new comics, and four more for experienced comics who have been performing for several years. Every online open mic is an hour-long show which helps prepare comics for podcasts, discussions and shows,” said Tewary.
Abhinav Tewary is a regular in the Kolkata comedy scene.Photo: Instagram
He said it is easier to test new material at online mics, even if only five people are in the audience. Tewary also expressed confidence in online mics continuing post the pandemic, with many new comics who had started performing during the pandemic finding it more comfortable to perform virtually than live.
Tewary added that online performances have brought comedians from around the country together. “This switch has allowed comics from every part of the country with their own comedy culture to connect easily. The other day, I was hosting an open mic and two comics from Chattisgarh joined us and told me about their city’s comedy scene,” he said.
Another group, Cushion Comedy, organises free open mics every Tuesday and Thursday, and paid line-up shows on Sunday. The group also organises improv shows. “As a comic, online mics are a good alternative when live shows aren’t there, and it really helps you build your material. Zoom has allowed many people from tier-2 cities to also try their hand at stand-up,” said Sahil Agarwal, who co-founded the group with Bangalore-based comic Chirag Shenoy.
Agarwal said online gigs give comics far more freedom to record and analyse their sets, along with more detailed feedback. Currently a producer in the scene, he first started performing comedy on Zoom in 2020. “It was easier for me to start on Zoom, and if I only had the option of performing live, I probably wouldn’t even have started. I practised a lot on Zoom before hitting live mics, and it really helped me with the transition,” he said.
Sahil Agarwal starting performing on Zoom in the pandemic.Photo: Instagram
Taking a troll
Online comedy often made Mumbai-based Srinidhi Kumar uncomfortable. She recounted instances when someone in the audience had gone from inappropriate behaviour to downright harassment. This prompted her to create a safe online space for female comedians. She co-founded Anxiously Yours with fellow comic Aditi Warrier.
Srinidhi Kumar co-founded Anxiously Yours to create a safe space online for female comics.Photo: Instagram
The mics not only provide more stage time to women, but also have a strict policy for hecklers to be removed immediately. Anxiously Yours collaborated with two other Zoom productions, Cocojumbo Comedy and Witches of Comedy to organise a Women’s Comedy Festival in March 2021, where the line-up had only women. “A major benefit of online mics is that we don’t have to spend four hours travelling to a venue, only to find that the event has been cancelled. By performing from home, you can hit multiple spots in a week,” said Kumar, who has brought comics from around the country, including Kolkata to her mics.