Five years ago, Nasif Akhtar had a dream of setting up a world-class comedy venue in Kolkata. He started by bringing his project, Mad Bee Comedy Club, to the city with open mics at Cafe Charcha in New Town. Over the years, Mad Bee tied up with several city cafes, but Akhtar was looking for something more. Launched this week, Mad Bee Comedy Club is finally a realisation of his dream of five years.
Creating a space for city’s stand-up comics
“During the lockdown, Nasif got into content creation in a big way, but his primary passion remained stand-up comedy. He was travelling around the country to do shows because he couldn’t find comedy-friendly rooms here in Kolkata. In order to rectify this, he wanted to create a room in this city that would allow comics to perform whenever they wanted to,” explained Pratik Saha, one of the founding members of the club.
While open mics did happen at many cafes, it was observed that most people were not interested in listening to the comics, rued Akhtar. “They got irritated, ignored the comics and some even walked out. It can get very difficult to perform in a scenario like this and we wanted to combat that. We wanted to create a space that would live up to international standards. While this project started out for my personal growth, it will also go on to help all comics in the city,” he added.
The club is sound-proof and equipped with a 4K multi-cam recording setup
Working around the concept began in early March, and it took shape in barely two weeks. “This space used to be a garage under a hotel in very bad condition, and we reconstructed it from scratch. We were inspired by comedy clubs in the UK and US, which have a very underground and cosy vibe. Since we wanted this to be ideal for recording, we sound proofed it and even installed a wooden door. The entire club sprang from individual investments, so we had to be selective about where we spent. We started with nothing, and honestly have no idea how we pulled it off,” said Saha.
Setting up a recording studio
Recording was perhaps the most important aspect, as many local comics usually travel to comedy clubs outside the city to film their material. With travel, food and accommodation added to the mix, the cost of a recording can go extremely high. “Even if four comics split the cost to go to Chandigarh or Mumbai for a recording, it will still cost at least Rs 30,000 per comic. And those 15 minutes of recording is a gamble, where the footage may or may not be good. If it's not good enough for YouTube, the comic will have to travel again for the recording. And this doesn’t discount the fact that one video is not enough to get traction,” explained Akhtar.
Local comic Pranay performed at the club’s first ever show. 'This is one of the most aesthetic comedy clubs I've performed in. The room is very intimate, perfect for doing trial shows and testing new material. It will definitely build a loyal audience for comedy in the coming days,' he said
With two 4K cameras, Mad Bee Comedy Club has cut all added expenses for city-based comics, who can now record their material in Newtown. “One camera covers the close-up and the other takes a wide-angle shot. We also have an HD sound setup for both the comics and the audience. Our setup is so seamless that if we just handover the video and audio footage, a non-editor can put it together,” Saha said, adding that this will also help the venue become perfect for recording podcasts.
Why New Town is an ideal location for comedy culture
The location was also a strategic choice. Akhtar and company noticed that the area around Axis Mall attracts many students and young working professionals, who come looking for a space to unwind after college or work. In the first week itself, their demographic has caught onto the club. “Even in Mumbai or Delhi, the IT sector makes up for a large chunk of the comedy audience, and I knew I wanted our club to be in Newtown. This has translated into an incredible response as we have young audiences who are not only willing to listen, but also liberal with their laughs.” In order to keep the energy cosy and intimate, the club restricts its seating capacity to 25 people with recording equipment, and 30 people without it.
Team Mad Bee Comedy Club: (L-R) Nasif Akhtar, Srishty Tiwari and Pratik Saha
This response has made Team Mad Bee increase their shows. Akhtar’s original plan was to have one open mic every day from 7.30pm but on the second day of the club’s launch, an impromptu mic at 10.30pm saw 17 people turn up, who stayed on till 12.30am. “Something like this was impossible to imagine here and we’ve decided to make it permanent. We will now have three open mics every day, with the timings being 7pm, 9pm and 11pm. I have a feeling, we’ll even manage to attract crowds at 2am,” he smiled.
Plan is afoot to get pan-India artistes for surprise acts
Audiences can find tickets for the shows at both BookMyShow and Paytm Insider, and Saha promises a diverse comedy experience in every show. “Since our Cafe Charcha days, our goal has been to give stage time to everyone, irrespective of how long they have been doing comedy. That’s how the scene will grow. The only way a newbie, who has no idea, can grow as a comedian is by doing open mics,” said Saha.
Since the club’s opening, Saha’s phone has been constantly busy, with excited comics from the city itching to get on stage. In order to keep surprising the audience, Mad Bee is also planning to get pan-India artistes for surprise acts. “I have been a producer in the stand-up comedy scene for six years now. But to date, setting up this Mad Bee Comedy Club is a project that has given me the most happiness,” Saha signed off.