From being laughed at, to making people laugh

I was born and brought up in Kancheepuram. I did my schooling there and later moved to do my graduation in BITS Pilani. I’ve always had a fascination about making people laugh. I developed interest towards “comedy” in college. But after college, all of us got in different directions.I came to Bangalore to do my MBA , participated in cultural activities, wrote some blogs etc. ; but there was something missing.

After MBA, I got into a marketing job and soon, got married. In 2008 , I read a newspaper article that Papa CJ was coming to Bangalore. This triggered me to start something. I thought this was probably that missing part. I told my friends that this was something I was interested in doing and that I could do it independently.

In December 2008, my friends told me that the college alumni night was coming and that they could hook me up with a spot to perform at the event, if I was interested. Of course I was interested! That was my “first gig”. It was terrible! I had prepared for a 30 minutes gig, but it all ended in 7–8 minutes. I tried everything- Bits pilani connect, internal jokes, things they would relate to- nothing helped.

People laughed at me. Not at my jokes...but at me!

The whole of 2009, I did 4 gigs. Kyra, in Bangalore, had the first open mic on Wednesdays. During that time, my office shift was from 1PM-10PM. I used to take half day off to go, watch, and eventually learn how to do this. My first corporate show was also during this time. I was supposed perform for 20 minutes, for Rs.12,000. This was in a resort in Bangalore and the timing was post lunch. First 5 minutes, things were okay. In the 6th minute, people started clapping- so that I would stop. 7th min, they started bursting balloons! 8th min, they clapped, but didn’t stop. I didn’t know what to do. I ran away from that place without taking my payment or stopping to talk to anyone. Luckily, I didn’t quit. My family was supportive and they told me that one show cannot be decisive of my future!

Then, Vir Das came to Bangalore to do an Open Mic for stand-up comedy. We had 2 minutes spot and the winner would get a 5 minutes for the next event by Vir Das in Bangalore. The scene wasn’t popular then, so he got a couple of guys from Bombay, as well. One of them won. The next time when he came down, I re-wrote my jokes. People could connect with it then and I won! Subsequently, in December, I got my 5 mins spot. It was a huge boost to my morale and confidence.

I decided this was my way to go. But then we couldn’t wait for Vir Das every time we needed a gig.

I later met Sanjay Manaktala at an open mic event. We had a good rapport and thought we should do something together. The subsequent week, Sanjay had met Sundeep Rao. I had met Sundeep during the Open mic’s with Vir Das. We started together, with the support from our friends. We booked Kyra and were doing professional shows and got a good number of people to come.

I started doing more shows after 2011. At one stage, I thought my job was not helping. It was difficult to manage two things and I knew I that it was time to pick one. In January 2014, I was doing a show called “Tickle minded”. I invited my parents for the show and they came to Bangalore all the way from Kancheepuram. The loved it and after the show, I told them that I’m quitting my job. I put down my papers the next day.

Comedy store opened their franchise in Bombay. That was the only comedy club in India. They brought standup comedy artists from the UK. We did unpaid gigs there and used to travel all the way to Bombay to do a 5 minute spot. The audience loved it when among all the English stuff, they had one local guy who come and talks about local stuff they could relate to. Slowly, we(Sanjay, Sandeep and I), moved to a paid spot.

One day, I was doing my last open spot at Comedy store and I had a great response from the audience. After the performance, the owner of Comedy store, who happened to be there during my show, called me for a chat. He said that he didn’t understand a word of what I said, but the audience seemed to be enjoying it. I had a thick South Indian accent. I was dejected, not at him, but at myself. How can accent be a barrier between me and my audience!? This was when I met Ashvin Mathew, who was doing corporate shows during that time. Ashvin told me “You are a tamilian and you should be a tamilian on stage!”. He made me realize that if people like my jokes, why should I bother to change! This changed my entire perspective. That evening, I had a show at Jagriti Theatre along with Sanjay and I felt that it was my best ever performance! I was my true self and I was proud of it. I’m from a small town where no one spoke English; not even my English teacher. My jokes are relatable to small town people. Cities have a lot of people who, like me, have migrated in.

From June 2010–11, we did around 300 shows, free of cost, wherever we got a slot. We kept doing it regularly because we wanted to popularise standup comedy. We started Open Mic Nights in Urban Solace and we’re proud to say that it’s still going on. More comedians came in, people started to know about this and a lot of talented individuals, like Kanan Gill, came from here. Back then, 4 of us did standup comedy and since then it has grown tremendously. I would say that the audience have evolved, as well. They are willing to spend more money to watch a live performance, than a movie. There was a time when there were 6 stand up events happening on 1 night in Bangalore- all of them were almost full.

Now there are more stand up comedians in Bangalore than speed breakers!

I’ve been doing stand up comedy full-time for 2.5 years now. Over these years, I’ve done over 400 corporate shows. I’m currently working with the awesome folks at Evam, a Chennai based stand up comedy/event group. They handle my event request and shows. My upcoming show is- Orthodoxically me. It would be a 60 minutes show where I’m gonna talk about stuff that I observe around me. For example, I don’t understand lingos by youngsters these days. I’m a teetotaller who only goes to pubs and bars for shows. I observe a lot of things around me and the show would be about my view points on all of these.

Praveen Kumar,
Stand up comedian

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