Saikiran: Stand-up comedy is a performance art with rich history 

Saikiran draws from his experiences to remind us that in India, standup comedy has developed far more quickly than in other nations

“As a nerdy kid who wasn’t good at academics or sports, wit and humour became a defence mechanism. Sharpening that wit to appeal to a wider audience only began after I started doing standup comedy,” begins city-based comedian, Saikiran, on his humble emergence into storytelling. Ahead of his upcoming show in Hyderabad, Matrimania, a humorous take on the tremendous pressure society places on individuals in marriages, the stand-up comic tells us more about what the audience can expect. “Once you hit a certain age it seems like the only thing everyone around you seems to be obsessed about is finding out when you are going to get married and if not then why not?” He has been touring a number of shows, including the autobiographical Nearly Nice Guy and Pure Veg Jokes, which take the audience through different periods of his childhood. This time, Saikiran is performing a full solo act with Matrimania.

In performance
In performance

Perhaps the oldest, most widely used, fundamental, and profoundly significant type of humour is found in stand-up comedy. The purest form of shared comedic transmission, it serves the same social and cultural functions in almost every known community. An art aficionado and society cannot find a more telling indicator of its values, attitudes, dispositions, and concerns than laughter, and stand-up comedy is the most intriguing of all examples of humour in popular culture. Perhaps, because it is comparatively undervalued, as opposed to film comedy, sitcom, or a humorous piece of literature, to name a few. As exciting as the art form may seem, it is complicated to explain that one gets paid to tell jokes. We ask Saikiran how the people around him – his family, friends, and relatives react when he tells them about or describes to them what he does for a living. “Ten years ago, when I began nobody in my social circles would know what standup comedy is. But now the awareness is quite well spread given the huge explosion of standup comedy in India in various languages. But most people just see it as mere entertainment and don't understand that it’s a performance art with a rich history,” he tells us.

Crowd enjoying Saikiran's show
Crowd enjoying Saikiran's show

Humour is more than simply a means of amusement; it is more than just a way to pass the time of a week since our everyday lives are tied together with it. Comedy can be found anywhere, whether it's being told at a funeral or in the pub over a funny story. It can also be made when someone compliments you and you respond with a self-deprecating joke. But why is it necessary? Do our feelings, thoughts, or actions alter as a result of comedy? “I don’t think comedy can be disconnected from human emotions. The very idea of a joke comes from your emotion towards something and then just extending it till it becomes farcical,” Saikiran opines, adding, “The one thing that makes us human is our ability to laugh and standup comedy takes that one step ahead giving us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves. Few art forms can get such an instant and visceral reaction from the audience and laugh in a group with people over the same thing is just magical.” 

Interestingly, the incomparable Alexander Babu's Alex in Wonderland and Praveen Kumar's Kancheepuram Maapla, which was staged on just one day of his wedding, are two of his favourite specials of Indian standup comedians that he has seen live. One of the most original specials in recent memory, in his estimation, is Rajasekhar Mamidanna's Love Letter to Mom. “I thoroughly enjoyed Ashish Solanki’s Good Boy Better Show, which had brilliant writing. I also loved watching Nasty by Aakash Mehta, With Love by Jaspreet Singh and Polite Provocation by Anirban Dasgupta. These are just a few off the top of my head,” Saikiran tells us about his favourite stand-up specials. 

Similar to psychologists, comedians can help individuals survive challenging circumstances in their lives. Although primarily deadpan, Saikiran's comedic approach has developed over time. From his early days, when his ideas were primarily simple observations, social satire, and news-based material, to more recent times, his humour has evolved to become more autobiographical and absurdist. “It’s a mix of both and a few other things. Right now, my Instagram videos are very observational while my standup is more anecdotal. Once you are a professional comedian you are always mining for content. So, everything that I see or interact with could eventually be fodder for my writing. I always jot down something that strikes me as interesting and later refer back to those notes when writing and assess its comic potential and try to expand on it,” Saikiran tells us about his creative and brainstorming process. He realised that everything is interesting as he gained more expertise as a comedian. “If you look at anything long enough you can find comedy in everything. The challenge is not finding things that will be funny but gauging if the audience is ready to accept it as funny,” he adds. 

However, this is a type of art, and like all arts, it needs years of diligent practice and tenacity. One cannot rehearse this alone or behind closed doors, unlike many other art genres. “You need an audience to practice your comedy, not just perform it. So, it becomes important for the audience to come to open mics where every joke begins. The biggest challenge is always to get the audience to live shows, especially in a city obsessed with movies,” he tells us adding, “After almost a decade of performing, stage fright almost never happens anymore. But there will always be some nervousness before a show and that only dissipates after the first big wave of laughs from the audience hits you.”

Saikiran takes the stage for Matrimania from 6 PM on January 1. At Heart Cup Coffee in Jubilee Hills.


Twitter: @PaulChokita

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