Arts & Culture

College going stand-up comedians: How do they juggle between the two?

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Md. Anas, Kevin Sam, Subin Jacob and Mohak Arora are four of the many college going students who are trying it out in the stand up circuit. They have opened shows for several famous comedians like Biswa Kalyan Rath, Anirban Dasgupta, Shankar chughani, Rahul Dua, Nishant Suri and Aakash Gupta. Md. Anas is even producing his own show which comes out very soon! Hoping to make it big one day, it is almost a wonder how they are able to juggle between surviving college and building up their stand-up career.

Do you fear about not making it big as a comic? And do you have contingency plans if you don’t/are you seeking that security?

Md. Anas: The constant fear of not making it big enough is always there as the industry is still nascent and hasn’t really set footing. Being students is one thing elder comedians are jealous about as they think we have it good by not having to earn and rather have all the time to just do stand up. It is not entirely true since we have our own set of problems. Unlike them, if we fail to make a career out of this, we are done for good, since we tend to leave everything else for this. Worst case scenarios we are not getting any sort of jobs to earn out of. It is wise to seek that security in terms of how you plan on making it stable and big as long as it doesn’t sprout out of an insecurity of not being good enough to pursue stand-up as a career. It’s also a matter of what an individual comic wants, some tend to work hard towards a job or higher studies and perform as a hobby.

Audiences mostly go out to catch the bigger comedians who play the city which makes sense because you know what you are gonna get as a product. But as a consequence the local comedians find it really hard to fill even their free open mics! Even we do our own open mics, line up shows, solo shows which are kind of a big deal (at least for us, as artists). There is only so many people we can reach out to, to come to our shows. I started doing this when I was a fresher and am about to graduate and can still not take it up professionally because of the constant fear of not having a viewer base backing me up. But since life is all about leaps of faith, I am doing my one hour solo called Bolo Pencil on 6th March at Alliance Francaise Auditorium and hope that time will prove us wrong and we’ll have more people willing to come out of their homes to give amateurs a chance.

Is there any advantage of being a college going comic?

Kevin Sam: I don’t feel that there is any major advantage of being a college going comic. If anything it just adds to the negatives as some of our friends in the industry who are working, don’t take us very seriously. They think it’s like a hobby for us which makes our growth a bit slower than the others.

Also, we might not get many corporate shows because of lack of experience in life itself. But then this is how we grow. When we reach there, we will be more seasoned than our colleagues.
However, yes, definitely, we don’t have to worry about office timings to attend open mics or shows as college timings are convenient that way.

How do you juggle between studies and stand up? What’s the biggest point of struggle?

Subin Jacob:
Stand up is my main priority. College is secondary, honestly. I really want to be a stand up comedian and that is really my only goal. Studying is my back up and a way to convince my parents that I am not just wasting my time. This also saves me from my parent’s constant comparison of me with my friends who are in college even though they still do taunt me about my decisions. Luckily I chose a stream I am into and am comfortable with, which is English Honours.

I am planning to not end up working in a cubicle but if in case the stand up plan doesn’t work out, I would be depending on my degree to pay my bills.

It is difficult to manage studies and stand up as I generally come home late after open mics and shows and I only have a little time to focus on my studies. As chill as the life sounds, it gets difficult during exam season because I’m forced to take a break from stand up comedy. I relate to newbie gym goers better during this period of time; when they have to quit on their favorite meals just to get a muscular body. But then we’re here to eat and survive and a muscular body won’t matter when you’re 95. But then like every gym goer, I too have my cheat days, when I secretly go to open mics during my exams. Sue me.

The most difficult part of the struggle is to convince parents and oldies that hitting open mics isn’t useless and that IT IS a good career choice with as much scope as an English Honours degree. Luckily I am funny enough to nail a career out of this, I guess. But yes, my parents obviously do believe that I should be focusing more on my studies and not on what they believe is a hobby, or a phase, if you will. There are days when I actually feel like my parents might have a point but then getting on stage is actually way better than knowing what Shakespeare did in his chill time. And also guess who’s saving on therapist consultant fees by just blurting out their BTs in life on stage?

How huge a factor is money and gender for college going comics?

Md. Anas: Since we are students, money does not play a very huge part in deciding the number of gigs we go with, unless we are not from the city.
When I became a part of the circuit there were only a few college comics but the number has shot up in only 3 years since stand up got more popular online. Now a lot of college comics have emerged which is good for the scene as number of people equals more engagement as artists. At the same time it has given the audience too many options to choose from and sometimes college event organisers get comics for free too by promising exposure as stage time or opening for a big comedian.

It’s an issue if the comics are trying to take stand-up up professionally as the sternness for the business aspect of stand up seems casual coming from a college going comic. It comes across more as a hobby than a serious prospect so even big show producers end up treating it as buffer time for the comic.

Comedy producers barring a few generally go with big crowd puller names when they have to do shows so that there is a good revenue generated as local comics are a gamble not everyone wants to bet on.

Producing your own show is one such solution as if you are not getting enough stage time, you better create some. Therefore, I decided to produce my own show. It gives you the power to influence, control and the experience of managing an event on your own which is a gigantic task.
I saved some money from small writing jobs, college competition prizes, shows and events to invest in my own solo show’s production. I made a profit model, a revenue recovery model, marketing model for a single show and calculated worst and best case scenarios, pros, cons and efficiency.

Also to be a producer you need to know the market, trust the right kind of people and believe in your skills. There will be bad days, there will be losses but something stand-up has taught us is to keep bouncing back and do more and more!
As far as the gender is concerned, there’s no denying that the female representation is less than their male counterparts in comedy. However what’s truly encouraging is that most of the female comics from Delhi are either fresh graduates or college going students.

What’s your opinion about the “marks don’t matter” campaign?

Mohak Arora: Marks don’t matter is a campaign that was much needed given the ever-increasing suicide rates of students in India. We need to still spread the message more and help it reach the middle class parents who are still trying to force their kids into IITs. While, it has helped a lot of people out (see comments section of Vir Das’s first video on this), the campaign did not explore that a person needs more skills and work experience to make up for the lack of marks. I would have liked it if the comics emphasized a bit more on that.

What’s your opinion about the college audience? Comedian like Chris Rock believe that they can’t take a joke on sensitive issues. What are your views about that?

Kevin Sam: I don’t know what colleges Chris Rock has performed at obviously, but in India college audiences are much more supportive than that at a public show. They almost laugh at anything you say which is also somewhat a bad thing since if you killed at a college competition, that doesn’t mean it will be the same at a public show.

But at the same time there are some colleges that are totally against stand up. I remember going to a college competition where poetry, music and comedy were combined together into one competition. First of all, these three can never be judged together. And on top of that, the students had a preconceived notion that comics just abuse on stage. Now they might have had an experience where a new open micer got on stage and said some stuff that shouldn’t have been said, even in private. There are many people who do that. But then the colleges need to themselves weed out these people from the line up by doing some background and content checks. A seasoned comic would never give you such an experience.

And because of this preconceived notion, we had to faced a lot of unnecessary heckling and derogatory remarks from the students. A girl when asked by her own friend to not heckle said “Aree I’m just heckling na, he should know how to handle a heckler”.
Now how can we possibly perfom in front of people who don’t want us to perform.
But then again, there are just a few colleges that have such people in them. Other colleges are much more supportive than this.

Featured Image Credits- Photowale Bhaiya

Khyati Sanger
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Being a student of English Honours at Miranda House, Khyati is easily moved by words. She often writes advisory pieces and loves the investigation that goes into reporting. She worships Mark Manson and holds comedians in the highest esteem in her life. Puppies make her the happiest.

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