Standing Up, Reminisces After a 100 Shows of Comedy

Anuvab Pal , 16 Sep 2012

Anuvab is possibly one of the funniest people I know and I know this because I watched Loins of Punjab twice. He’s now coming to a stage in a mall near you. Don’t miss it!

Anuvab Pal
Anuvab Pal

After I finished a 100 shows of stand-up comedy, there are few things I’ve realized. The first one has to do with fitness. Stand up, like being the lead singer in a rock band, has to do with being young.
And having hope.
Hope about one’s possibilities, the future, and experiences, et al. A general awe about what is to come.
It also has to do with strong legs. Not like a giraffe, but like a human being who can have a conversation for 30 minutes without needing a wheel chair. For me, being on the wrong side of a 30, with a troublesome back and a couple of decades in the corporate world, and a decade writing plays, novels and films, hope is, as Woody Allen said, “not that thing with feathers but, it turns out, my annoying nephew”.

I’ve interpreted that to mean if you are stand-up comic in my age bracket, what one needs, much more than audience love, is a nice back ointment and a shred of belief that you won’t die mid-set.
That doesn’t come from pessimism as much as the practical reality that you are working in a mall or a café or a corporate retreat while your college and school friends, who are now vice presidents of this or that, or owners of public limited companies, or fathers of nine, look at you with a mixture of “this can’t be your real job” and pity.
The other thing that has to do with questions one is asked.

I was asked once, “So, as a comedian, what is funny man?” I’ve always found that question to be a bit like “What is God?” There is no right answer. You can’t say, God is everything, too vague, nor can you say, God is Sujatha, too specific. Humor, to me, like a murder, is always circumstantial. So much matters on context, timing.

To the question, if one answers, “I don’t know”, then the answer is always, “How can you not know? You’re a comic?” If one answers, “Eleven naked dwarves” the answer is, “How is that funny?” so it is a lose lose situation.

In no other profession, does one have to prove their credentials on the spot. A neurosurgeon isn’t asked, “Oh, you’re a brain doctor. Here, this is my cook Bhola, operate”.
A comedian once said to me, after a show, “I have found out everything that is funny.”
“Everything?” I asked.
“Yes. There is nothing funny left to know”
I thought that was a wonderful place to be. A kind of Buddha of comedy. A higher being of laughter.
It is a place I’d like to be, I thought.

Us being a trading-minded people, the idea of comedy, if it cannot be financially quantified, is difficult to grasp. I remember being asked, “So if you do half an hour of comedy, and you charge x, could you say you do 15 jokes? ” “Um, I don’t really calculate like that” I responded. “Look” he continued, “I will pay you half of x, can you do 7.5 jokes?”
I remember a real estate broker telling me, “Boss, you should charge at least eight hundred rupees for each joke. Just don’t open your mouth for free.”

I found that fascinating. The idea of assembly line funny. Jokes, like Ford cars, heading out of the factory to the public at large.
I wondered if that meant I had the right to go on strike against myself.

Speaking of cars, the greatest request I received had to do with a corporate event. Corporates are quite active in employing comedians for a variety of their events – awards, celebrations, launches etc. This had to do with a car spare parts dealership in Baroda. “Sir, you do comedy and all no” was the question. “Yes I do comedy and all” I responded in a cheeky but deferential manner. “Sir, we are
having an event. But after your comedy, we were hoping you could just dive into the crowd.” I was quiet for a few seconds. “Um. What would be the point of that?”
I asked. “Special effects sir.”
Realizing, that jumping into a collective of Baroda based spare parts dealers was not my ultimate ambition or something I’ve always wanted to do, I thought I’d be a bit of a prick and asked, “Instead of jumping from the stage into the crowd, could the crowd jump on me?” He paused for a second and said, “I’ll speak to my senior and get back to you”.

Anuvab Pal’s new show, The Nation Wants To Know, starts at The Comedy Store, this Wednesday, April 19th.

Tickets at

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