New Delhi, Mar 25:
A cure for coronavirus may still take a while but armed with sharp jokes, quick rebuttals and topical observations, Indian stand-up comics are trying to calm and entertain people via social media in what appears to be a long period of self-isolation.
Comedians Karunesh Talwar, Neeti Palta, Sahil Shah, Sorabh Pant and Sumaira Shaikh, all known for their quick-witted, observational humour, are reconnecting with fans online to spread some much needed cheer in the time of COVID-19 outbreak.
Karunesh, who is selective about sharing content on social media, said the idea behind putting a ‘Random Jokes’ video on Monday was to do something instead of staying stuck at home.
“We don’t know when is the next time we get to go on the stage. I have a lot of new jokes and thoughts that I would rather put on YouTube because the quarantine came at a time that it didn’t allow us to shoot much,” he told PTI.
The comic said it was a “bummer” when the shoots were called off but the thought of not being able to perform for people, especially during such trying times, was unbearable.
“I thought I don’t know when I’ll get to interact with people again. But I had some footage from four old shows and I thought I’ve been too concerned with making everything as correct as possible. This time didn’t really take that pressure. People are like ‘give us something. Anything will work at this time’. People have their minds f***** right now. I’m like if you guys don’t care, I have lots to share’,” he added.
A cancellation of shootings was followed by stand-up gigs being called off, one after another.
The plug was pulled on over 1,000 shows in the comedy scene across the country, as per Karunesh.
“My tour, which was due to begin April 23, alone had 35 shows. That has been cancelled. There was a sponsorship deal I was considering with a brand that obviously suffered. So there was a lot of money that I would have loved to have to make. But it didn’t happen,” he added.
According to Neeti, women comedians suffered more as a lot of the shows they get during the Women’s Day week were cancelled because of the ongoing health crisis.
“On March 8 itself, I was supposed to have three shows. But I could only do one,” she said.
“I think (comic) Sumukhi Suresh also did an Instagram Live saying how this virus is patriarchal as it got so many of our shows cancelled,” Neeti quipped.
The comedian said she has been putting up new content everyday, ranging from washing hands to working from home, but in a fun way to encourage people to stay healthy and stay home.
But joking on coronavirus right now doesn’t always go down well with some people, the “Comicstaan 2” judge said.
“I put out some funny tweets on this and I got flak for that. The point was to laugh. I’m not making fun of those who are suffering, but people don’t get it. It’s better to joke about it now as it’s needed and as by the time this gets over, all the content will be passe and old,” she said, adding she ensures that she follows development around COVID-19 and asks people to not fall for fake news.
Sahil, best known for comic group East India Comedy, was planning to finally release his special, “Thak Life” after two years and go on tour. He has been doing live stand-up shows via Google Hangouts from home for past two weeks.
“I reached to my fans and asked them to post why they should be a part of this show. I then sent a mail to them, added 10-20 people and went ahead with it. It actually turned out to be way better than I expected. The 10 people who came on Hangouts sort of became friends, they even created a WhatsApp group.” But, the comic said there are a few challenges.
“I had to talk a little slower for my voice to reach to them and wait for them to laugh due to the transmission lag. It’s quiet weird waiting for the response.” “I timed one stand-up with the ‘Janata Curfew’ so that when my set got over, it was like all of them were clapping for me,” he said with a laugh.
Sahil wants to do such virtual shows more often and so does Sorabh.
Sorabh said with tours and shows gone for a toss for at least two months, doing some Instagram Live or releasing stand-up bits on YouTube is the way to go.
“I released one video recently, I’ll plan to put out stuff weekly. So this is a way in which we can make people happy. I’m also planning to do piece to camera stories on quarantine. I might also do one comedians open mic on YouTube live. We are just figuring out ways to get people to be happy,” he said.
The comedian said he is also doing things that he hasn’t done in a while.
“I’m writing my fourth book and penning random articles. I’m not saying no to any interviews, ‘Haan, haan, abhi toh time hai’,” he said.
Sumaira, who has served as writer on “Son of Abish”, said she keeps tweeting about coronavirus for fun as there is “no source of validation” available for comedians as of now.
“I’ll put a clip on YouTube and do something on Instagram. Everyone on social media is very overwhelmed at this time sitting at home. People are dealing with this crisis with jokes and podcasts right now,” she said.
“We are also using this time to develop long-term plans,” the “Pushpavalli” actor added.