Malayalam stand-up is gaining acceptance like never before in Kerala

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Stand-up shows on television and a comedy collective are popularising the genre in the State

Stand-up shows on television and a comedy collective are popularising the genre in the State

Move over mimicry and comedy skits. It is time to roll on the floor with laughter with a group of young stand-up comedians. Cochin Comedy Project’s (CCP) show ‘Sobha Chirikkunnille?’ (Sobha, aren’t you laughing?), a live ticketed show, is one of the performances that is going places.

Malayalam has perhaps one of the oldest, traditional versions of stand-up comedy in any language, Chakyarkoothu. The performer had the right to make fun of every person in the audience and neither King nor priest was spared. However, even as many forms of parody flourished in Kerala, the modern version of stand-up comedy never really caught on, as in metros such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Bengaluru. But, over the last two years, the genre has found many practitioners and takers.

While CCP, a collective of stand-up comedians, has a lot of shows lined up, the popularity of stand-up is mainly on account of two television shows, Funs Upon a Time on Amrita TV and Oru Chiri Iru Chiri Bumper Chiri on Mazhavil Manorama. People across age groups are making a beeline to do stand-up in these shows. In fact, members of CCP too have performed in these shows before they became part of the collective.

A recent example of stand-up going mainstream is a stand-up comedy competition organised by Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), in connection with its 65th anniversary celebrations. It was open to both the public and KSEB employees.

It has been only 10 years since stand-up comedy went professional in the country. But, in Kerala, stand-up could not edge out mimicry and comedy skits.

Deepak Mohan, founder of CCP, says: “When I found that there is a scope to develop Malayalam stand-up, I thought of exploring the scene. I did a live ticketed show in March 2021, ‘The Irony Man’.” He was later joined by Sabareesh Narayanan and they did the first show of ‘Sobha Chirikkunnille?’ in Kochi last November.

The other members of CCP are John Joe, Aneez M Latheef, Mahadevan AR and Arjun Sajikumar. “We have performed in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode. At each show, stand-up performers from those places join us on stage. There are 13 others who work with us now. We also do open mic shows in Kochi every week to test our content,” says Deepak.

Stand-up on television

On the small screen, Surya Comedy channel aired a stand-up show, Immini Balya Naavu, in 2020, which had to be discontinued when the pandemic broke out. BC Naufal, producer and coordinator of the show, says that the episodes were shot at a cafe in Kochi. “There has been no stand-up shows on Malayalam television till then. I was not keen about restarting it because by then other channels had launched their own shows,” he says.

Ramesh Pisharody, Guinness Pakru and Hari P Nair during the shoot of the show ‘Funs Upon A Time’ on Amrita TV
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Funs Upon… is produced by stand-up comic-actor-director Ramesh Pisharody. “One reason why stand-up didn’t become popular in Kerala is that the format works with only a small crowd and we comedians are used to performing for a large audience. It was the pandemic that created a scenario where we had to entertain a limited number of people,” says Ramesh.

The show is directed by Hari P Nair, who directed Smile Please, one of the earliest shows on Malayalam television (Asianet Plus, 2007) that had the “elements of stand-up”. Ramesh was the creative consultant for the show. “ Smile Please had ‘comedy monoacts’. Funs Upon… is a continuation of my experiments with comedy content all these years,” says Hari, adding that over 100 stand-up practitioners have been featured in the show.

Shajimon Vazhoor in 'Funs Upon A Time'

Shajimon Vazhoor in ‘Funs Upon A Time’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Oru Chiri…, which has both stand-up and skits, too was launched around the same time. “While the first phase had only video entries since lockdown restrictions were in place, we conducted an open audition last month for new contestants. Nearly 90% of them opted to do stand-up,” says Sruthi Pillai, show director. Over 200 performers have been part of the show, in the age group of three to 80-plus! “We had an episode featuring ‘chain stand-up’ where six of our top contestants performed together,” says Sruthi .

Groomed for the stage

Ramesh and Sruthi admit that contestants often need help with content and presentation and so they go through grooming sessions. “Firstly, we had to make them understand that stand-up is not mimicry. We asked them to tell us stories peppered with humour. They also did test shoots to analyse their performances,” explains Ramesh.

He adds that the Malayalam stand-up can’t emulate other languages. “We have to customise the content according to the audience. Moreover, there is a need to educate the audience about stand-up comedy in general,” says Ramesh.

Rajan Prabhu, 75, performing on 'Oru Chiri Iru Chiri Bumper Chiri'

Rajan Prabhu, 75, performing on ‘Oru Chiri Iru Chiri Bumper Chiri’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Actor-presenter Sabumon, one of the three judges on Oru Chiri…, adds that doing stand-up on television has its limitations. “For instance, they can’t use swear words to create humour, which might work in a live show. So the challenge lies in creating laughter with relatable content and clean humour. It was exciting to sit through performances by people from all walks of life — kids, youngsters, homemakers, daily wage labourers, senior citizens…. In spite of the fact that the contestants are groomed and moulded for the format, one has to credit them for their confidence,” says Sabu.

Mahadevan, who participated in both shows, says that he auditioned for Funs Upon… with the aim of getting into movies. “I had little idea about stand-up then. But having put up good performances on Oru Chiri… and in the live shows, I hope to pursue stand-up seriously,” says Mahadevan. John, who has gone viral with his acts, says that he is having a great time as a stand-up comic. “Some contestants are in it for instant fame or the cash prize or to get into movies. People even send requests on my Instagram page to help them get on the show and some expect me to provide the content! Nevertheless, I am buoyed by the reach that stand-up has got,” he says.

Chain stand-up comedy on 'Oru Chiri Iru Chiri Bumper Chiri' on Mazhavil Manorama

Chain stand-up comedy on ‘Oru Chiri Iru Chiri Bumper Chiri’ on Mazhavil Manorama
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There are several women also in the fray. “While it took several years for women to come into mimicry, the stand-up scene is different,” says Ramesh. Anitta Joshy, a graphic designer-turned-stand-up comic says that she decided to give a try in Oru Chiri… after she watched some performances. “Now I am always on the look out for content. My dream is to do a live show,” says Anitta.

Anitta Joshy

Anitta Joshy
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Live show is a different game altogether, say the stand-up comics. “It gives me a different high as you get immediate response from the audience,” says Mahadevan. John adds that getting the audience involved in the joke has a different vibe to it. “While certain words and usages are taboo on television there is no such restriction in a live show. That is why ‘Sobha Chirikkunnille?’ is for the 15-plus age group!” he says.

Nisha Achuthan in 'Funs Upon A Time'

Nisha Achuthan in ‘Funs Upon A Time’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Meanwhile, CCP is going all out to promote stand-up. “There isn’t enough Malayalam stand-up content on YouTube and social media. It is the experience of a live show that sells. So we are doing a show on April 23 in Kochi to shoot videos. Once they click with the viewers, we hope to do more live shows, podcasts, and even specials by individual performers,” Deepak says.

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