'Stand-up comedy is extremely powerful when it's local': Karthik Kumar on Comicstaan's Tamil edition
Amazon Prime Video on Friday, released the Tamil spin-off of popular stand-up comedy competition, Comicstaan. The Tamil adaptation - Comictsaan Semma Comedy Pa - that released last Friday, comes after two successful editions in Hindi. Lasting eight episodes, the show that follows a similar format as its Hindi counterparts features popular stand up comics Praveen Kumar, Karthik Kumar and Rajmohan as judges, who will mentor the young comedians throughout the show as they find the next best Tamil stand-up comic.
We speak to Chennai-based stand-up comedian Karthik Kumar who has three stand-up specials - #PokeMe, Second Decoration and Blood Chutney - to his credit. Having performed over 1,000 shows across India, USA, Singapore, among other countries, the artiste, who is one of the three judges in the show, shares with us how important it is to have programs such as Comicstaan in regional languages, his biggest takeaway from being a mentor and the importance of working with a healthy yardstick while being presented alongside world-class comedians.
Excerpts from the interview:
How do you think Comicstaan's Tamil edition will be received by the viewers of the previous seasons?
I think as far as the viewers of Hindi/English editions are concerned, their expectation would be met but it would relate to them less, of course, because of the language barrier. But beyond the language, one thing Comictsaan has managed to do is create conversations amongst the audience to analyse, criticise, understand, and evaluate comedy and help themselves understand what they like and why they like it. In that sense, Comicstaan Tamil is replete with such conversations which deconstruct comedy and that is not something that would get lost in translation. The subtitles will do justice to that aspect of the show.
In the show, has there been a conscious effort to make the sets more universal?
It’s mostly young people who are participating, who come in the age group of 21 to 35. They are going to be talking about issues that are relevant to them- whether it's political, social or personal. So rather than a conscious attempt to make it universal, there has been a conscious attempt to make it more truthful to the artist that is performing and in that sense, the content is representative of young people all across India. Apart from the language that is regional, the content, I would say is kind universal, representative of the people of that age group.
At a time when people are more vocal about matters like Hindi imposition, how important is it to have mainstream shows in regional languages as well?
I don't think the topic of Hindi imposition is going to feature very significantly in the reception of Comictsaan Tamil. Tamil deserves its own comedy. Every regional language does. At the end of the day, stand up comedy is extremely powerful when it's local and local is best expressed in the local tongue. There is nothing as an 'Indian language', every language has a certain flavour and tonality to it. So may there be many Comicstaans and many such properties in every language.
What were you focusing on while training these young comedians?
Training the comedians was a very exciting exercise where we ensured that the intrinsic personality of the comedian came through. The issues they want to talk about, the flair and style with which they approach their craft. We didn’t want to change anything that they possessed. We were very careful not to impose our style on them. But helping them and guiding them through the last mile where they are able to translate that thought into a powerful show was our purpose. Also, helping them identify who they are, understand what’s special about them, what their strengths are - all those things that may not be entirely clear to them right now, was the purpose of the mentoring process.
With increased access to comedians across the globe and their specials, do you think the audience's taste for jokes has evolved over the recent years? How does one work to keep up with it?
Surely, the exposure to worldwide comedy increases the level of humour with which we need to sculpt and create our pieces. We sit on a menu along with the world’s greatest comedians on the homepage of an OTT platform. So I think there is an increased awareness and level of craft we have to elevate ourselves to. At the same time, it is unreasonable to expect that we will jump and evolve in leaps without taking the steps that are needed to get there. That would make us pure pretentious and that is not something that we ever want to be. We want to be truthful to the best version of ourselves today. So yeah, there is a healthy yardstick we have to be working with when we have to sit alongside the world’s best comedians on a platform.
What is your biggest takeaway from training these young comics in the show?
Biggest takeaway has been that the learning never stops. As we teach these comedians what we know, we also learn from them and the way they approach their craft. You learn the fact that you need to have pressure on yourselves. You feel the competitive heat from these youngsters because they are hungry to prove a point. And more established comedians have to feel the same and react to it because you gotta have something keeping you on your toes. I think that was the most exciting process, just working with younger comedians and seeing how they look at things.
Watch Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa on Amazon Prime Video