Lalu Prasad Yadav is on a plane to Patna, when the airhostess says to him, “Laluji, are you vegetarian, or non-vegetarian?” Laluji, in his typical, sing-song voice, lisps, “Na main koi vegetarian, na main non-vegetarian… mai to Sagittarian, hoon, Sagittarian.” The nonplussed airhostess persists, “Nahi, Laluji, main puchh rahi thi ki aap shakahari ho, ya manshahari?” Laluji waves her aside once more, and says, “Na main shakahari, aur na main manshahari. Main to Bihari hoon, madam, Bihari…”
Many of you may remember these side-splitting lines by stand-up comedy veteran Shekhar Suman, a known Lalu-baiter, in a TV show hosted by ex-cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Well, StartComedy.com, which has become the talk of town has taken technology-aided stand-up comedy and training to another level and their stand-up comedies are instant hits everywhere…
This start-up is all about stand-up comedy and was founded by Shomprakash Sinha Roy, CEO, who had quit his job to focus on developing a sensible, just and profitable enterprise dedicated to the uplift of stand-up comedy and other performing arts. The company runs shows in Koramangala, the city’s start-up centre at York Street Café.
For the artistes, this open mic format is quite simple to perform. The performers have to pre-register for their slots and arrive an hour early at the venue to deliver their shows for diverse audiences and win their hearts. The amateur artistes just have to keep working until they improve their acts — with a ready stage to experiment on.
The objective of StartComedy.com, in the founder’s own words, is to “provide a one-stop solution for everyone linked to the comedy ecosystem in India.” Shom says, “We’re creating a never-before-seen interface, where audiences can take a dip into a whole new world of underground comedy artistes whom they’ve never met before. RecordMyShow.com’s powerful streaming interface also provides a binge experience that you cannot match with Amazon Prime or Netflix if you are a hardcore comedy fan. And, for the artistes, it is a boon because they can perform, learn from peers, get their videos done and get ready to become the next YouTube comedy sensation!”
Artistes from his gathering agree on the benefits. Saurabh Menon, one of the regulars, remarked that ‘performing for comics’ was a unique experience because it felt like bathroom singing — there was no pressure of facing a completely alien audience. The comedy room also has senior comedian Sanjay Manaktala as mentor-adviser.
StartComedy.com is now actively foraying into Judy Carter-themed comedy workshops, with its first edition of ‘Stand-Up Comedy Group Classes’ set to debut on May 12, 2019, in Koramangala. With TheTimesBlog.com as its media partner, RecordMyShow.com as its streaming service, WhatsApp as its social media outreach service, EventsHigh.com as its ticketing partner and Koramangala as its breeding ground, StartComedy.com is on its way to making a serious dent in the world of Indian underground stand-up comedy.
Comedy: A lucrative, new, risk-free investment sector?
It is common knowledge that politics of scale aside, consumption of positive content on the Internet is big business. The company is, consequently, at the focus of extensive venture capitalist (VC) interest, with many members of the Indian Angel Network and such funds as Chiratae (formerly IDG) having expressed interest in studying the streaming product (RecordMyShow.com) and the media outlet (TheTimesBlog.com).
Shom, however, maintains that the real revenue in this sector lies in profitable training, rather than monetization of streaming traffic. The company is not actively raising funds, but Shom says they are open to discussions with investors who understand scale and entertainment equally.
“We don’t want to scale up half-heartedly. The vision is in place and we’d much rather build this as a community — go organic and then wait for the likes of Ratan Tata or Anand Mahindra to sit up and take notice. Or else, we sustain this ourselves, which is not totally unheard of in the entertainment sector. It’s perfectly plausible,” remarks Shom.
Comedy & dissent demystified
Q: Why standup comedy, why now?
A: India is at the cultural crossroads. When we say we want to ‘disrupt’, we mean really disrupt… you know, ‘scare the hell out of everyone in the room’. Comedy lets us push India forward and get at least at par with the 1960s’ or 1970s’ US. The comic revolution was instrumental in liberalizing policy, government structures, and such people as Ellen Degeneres, Robin Williams, David Letterman and Ray Romano, besides countless others became public voices, thanks to the underground comedy rooms of the East Village. We had the right people, the right skills, the right reasons and the right brand name. So, we had to do it.
Q: Who has helped you along this journey?
A: Unlike my other decisions (dropping out of Engineering, writing books, quitting my job for start-up), the act of supporting comedy and dissent with technology was not received well by my parents. Back then, I was winning awards and being listed on Forbes and getting invited to speak at the IITs… now, I’m trying to support a community that doesn’t have the right voice or tools and I face constant criticism. I’d like to thank my girlfriend, Tanushree Saha, who has stood unwavering by my side on this journey, as she understands the perils and plight of independent artistes. I want to thank Shreekant and Karan, who started out at the club and then became immersed in the process of growing this community. Besides, there are the 100+ comics who keep this idea alive on WhatsApp; Sanjay Manaktala, who is a crisp mentor; and everyone out there who enjoys comedy. And, of course, Kunal Kamra.
Q: How does one get on these ‘Underground Comedy Room WhatsApp groups’? How does one join your ‘group classes’?
A: You’ll just have to show up at one of our shows at York Street Café, Koramangala. We’re there at 8 pm every Friday with two hours of fresh content. And someone will fill you in…