Indian comics have the last laugh at Melbourne Comedy Festival

Three of India’s top stand-ups give us a peek into their bag of comic tricks

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Laughter, they say, has no foreign accent. And among all the comics celebrating the universal appeal of humour at the 31st Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2018 are our very own Sorabh Pant, Aditi Mittal and Azeem Banatwalla.

Aditi Mittal

We spoke to the three stand-ups who enjoy an enormous fan following back home and will surely make some new ones here in Australia. Aditi tells us that as a first-time visitor to Australia cuddling a koala is her top priority. “One of my doubts in life is: if koalas only eat eucalyptus leaf all day, does that mean their breath stays really fresh?” she wonders. A good question, and one that we can’t admit has crossed our minds.

Since all three of them are on virgin territory as far as the Australian audience is concerned, do they have a specific plan of action? “I do not like playing on stereotypes,” says Azeem, who quit a lucrative travel writing job to perform as a stand-up full time.

Azeem Banatwalla

“I prefer to report the truth of the matter. For instance, I could talk about how the Australian Government has a huge focus on cracking down on cigarette smoking in terms of price and taxes and it’s great to see them look at health at such a microscopic level.

“In India, however, we have different priorities, we are still trying to get a toilets in people’s houses” he adds.

Aditi, who recently performed at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, says Indian stereotypes are similar around the world. “Comedy has helped me set my own position in a room full of foreigners. I can easily joke on where I come from and still feel a sense of belonging that reflects on my content. Our generation of comedians have this in common that we all are in love with where we come from and we are willing to make fun of it,” she says.

Sorabh intends to bypass a lot of the Indian stereotypes and would rather talk about his take on world politics and other subjects, including Trump, from the perspective of a modern, urban Indian who travels a lot.

Sorabh Pant

They all concur that social media exposure comes with its pros and cons as far as their comedy careers are concerned. Azeem shares a recent experience in Melbourne where he walked into a Woolworths store and the attendant from an Indian background recognised him.

“Social media is one of the reasons we are famous. Sure, it is getting increasingly ugly and toxic, and we comedians do have to put up with a lot of flak on social media,” says Aditi.

Sorabh agrees. “Everything gets exacerbated on social media. I got a lot of hate from Salman Khan’s fans for joking about his recent arrest. But I am not going to complain because most of our careers took off because of social media. You got to take the good with the bad,” he says.

One thing we tend to notice a lot these days among stand-ups is the use of expletives. Can comics be funny without using them? Sorabh claims he may have used the F-word a lot in the beginning, but not anymore, because it could subconsciously turn into a crutch.

Azeem, on the other hand, says it all depends on the emotion in that moment. “I do not add it consciously to my script but it can happen if I want to keep it natural. Most people tend to use some sort of profanity in their normal conversations if they feel strongly about anything.”

Aditi thinks one of the hallmarks of comedy is to say what is on your mind. So if that means using an expletive now and then, it’s fine. “If you use it to establish a connection in a normal conversation that’s acceptable. But don’t use it as a filler,” she says.

Azeem performs in both Comedy Zone Asia and The Indian All-Star Comedy Showcase.
Aditi performs in The Indian All-Star Comedy Showcase.
Sorabh performs in The Indian All-Star Comedy Showcase and his solo show, ‘Make Indian Great Again!’

OUR TAKE

It was fun for the broadminded at the Indian All-Star Comedy Showcase hosted recently by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF).

Integrating their niche experiences with the wider world, four Indian standup comedians prompted numerous laughs and a few guffaws over the hour-long show.

The spotlight was on religion, sex and the mundane, and the comedians deftly delivered their punches scoring comedic bullseyes.

Aditi Mittal as the hostess of the showcase cavorted about the stage telling her stories with unabashed glee. The content of her show was nowhere as animated as her personality.

Aditi called out sexism and championed feminism with her jokes, and although there were a hit and miss, she revved up the crowd with every appearance.

Sorabh Pant delivered an assured combination of insightful punches and easy laughs. The overall energy was surprisingly low but his life observations helped him construct a polished 15 minutes segment.

Rahul Subramanian ruled the comedic roost with his timing. His jokes were served with a deadpan followed often by an imaginative pause that kept the audience suitably intrigued.

Masking his satirical sights under goofiness Rahul jumped from one unrelated topic to another. Anecdotes of driving with his wife took up bulk of his entertaining segment.

A memorable bit was when Rahul got the men in the house to give him a cheer and the women in the house to give him a cheer. When they did, enthusiastically, he blamed them for ‘being sexist’ because why should women be in the house?

The last 15 minutes were taken up by Azeem Banatwalla as he touched interestingly on being a Muslim and provocatively tackled the idea of joking about his religion.

“If I said these things in India I would be bombed,” he claimed, as he remarked on the freedom of joking about Islam without raising bedlam, thanks to his broadminded audience.

The audience had more of a good chuckle than constant stitches and the hour passed too quickly.