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The new crop of comedy

Published : Oct 8, 2016, 11:22 pm IST
Updated : Oct 8, 2016, 11:22 pm IST

A new breed of funnymen (and women) across the country are showing why the likes of Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, Youtube and other social media favourites are giving them the one-up over the dominance of the idiot box.

Ssumier S. Pasricha has become an internet phenomenon with the character Pammi aunty.
 Ssumier S. Pasricha has become an internet phenomenon with the character Pammi aunty.

A new breed of funnymen (and women) across the country are showing why the likes of Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, Youtube and other social media favourites are giving them the one-up over the dominance of the idiot box.

Comedy’s on a new roll — it’s sharper, smarter, spiffier, bold and cocky, realistic and relatable, and it’s online. A new bunch of young comic artistes are drawing the laughs and earning stardom by skipping the television screen, and opting for online sketches, series and vlogs. The web is the future of entertainment, is their firm belief. And they are having the last laugh.

EASY ACCESS

Ssumier S. Pasricha has become an internet phenomenon with Pammi aunty, a Punjabi lady with rollers in her hair and a penchant for gossip. The actor, who has over 2,00,000 fans on Facebook, believes social media chose him. He says, “I never planned to post the Pammi aunty sketches. One day while watching television, my nephew introduced me to Snapchat and I just started ranting. Once I saw that people enjoyed it, I posted more. In 10 days, I went viral and in a month, Rishi Kapoor tweeted about me.”

Being an actor, he is involved in theatre productions, television shows and of course, online sketches. But it’s social media that is increasingly becoming a stronger medium because of its accessibility, he feels. “I think TV has its own set of audience but the Internet, be it Instagram, YouTube, Facebook or Snapchat, is incredibly easy to access. Even I don’t watch television a lot. The audience is smart and wants quality, in any form of media. They like Pammi aunty because she’s relatable. People now have a lot of choices so it doesn’t take long for them to switch a channel or unsubscribe.”

ROOM FOR RISKS

For Naveen Richards of Them Boxer Shorts, television was the first and obvious route to his hilarious series Better Life Foundation to its audience. “I did try to pitch it to television channels, but acceptance of English shows is far and few between. At that point, we were known in the industry but not to people and we were tired of having to prove ourselves.”

That’s when they decided to take their work to YouTube where it got the attention it deserved. “Until last year, I used to think that you haven’t made it till you’re on TV, but there are definitely a lot more people using the Net now. Television standards have dropped because there’s a lack of willingness to take risks. I was told that nobody watched smart content even if people in television tried, but social media has changed that. Even the money, especially for English content, is the same on the Internet as on television.”

ZERO EFFORT

Sahil Shah, one of the founding members of East India Comedy, has a huge fan following because of his endearing ‘Prashant the Gujju bee’ act using Snapchat. What started randomly using a bee filter, now has thousands of people waiting to watch what Prashant will explain next. He says he prefers the ease of the much-coveted app — “Snapchat is great. Zero effort. No editing. No work. Just sit and record. YouTube takes a lot of planning and Snapchat is just on the spot and it’s fantastic. Surprisingly, apps like Snapchat and Vine have already become a new medium for comedy. There are many Vine stars who upload their videos on Facebook and get millions of followers. It’s quite fascinating how you can become famous within 7 to 12 seconds. A case in point is the new Pen Pineapple Apple Pen phenomenon!” (laughs)

DIVERSE CONTENT

Yet, there is a case to be made for the sheer reach these artists gain through TV. Rajiv Rajaram of the Chennai-based comic collective Put Chutney that has given us gems like What if Batman was from Chennai, agrees with the fact that the Internet holds much more diverse content than what is available on TV but knows there is more exposure on television: “We decided on the Internet because the kind of scope and freedom you get digitally is mind-blowing. Even TV networks are trying to create a space online. The web acts as an equaliser — it is vast and caters to varied tastes... it’s definitely the future.”

He also feels no one should go into comedy for the virality of it. “If anybody says they want to make a viral video, it’s like saying you want to make a hit film. You can’t gauge that before you create the content itself. And you’ll have stiff competition from cats and babies, no one can be cuter than cats and babies! You should go into it with the aim to make relevant content that is worth sharing.”

SMART HUMOUR

Speaking of virality, the prime example of yet another Snapchat act that is immensely popular, is actor and comedian Varun Thakur’s Vicky Malhotra. The daily snaps, shared on all his social media portals, chronicle the life of a rich Delhi boy who has a penchant for strange women, leather jackets and is struggling to become an actor. This character, he says, had people telling him they knew a Vicky themselves. “I was trying to figure out why, despite having done TV shows, movies and YouTube, they weren’t as successful as I wanted them to be. That’s when I decided that I needed a character that I could portray with ease, and Vicky came to mind. I started doing the voice but I still felt like there was something missing. I then used the Faceswap feature using a photograph of a random model’s face and it just worked. I put it up on Snapchat and Vine, and got a lot of appreciation. I realised it was a hit only when my latest stand-up show got fully booked. All this time of struggling, and all I had to do was Google ‘Punjabi male model’,” he laughs.

“For those who have moved onto the Internet, TV isn’t giving them anything to come back. I can’t compare to comedy hosts on television but their jokes aren’t that great. Of course, they have restrictions of their own. We need to challenge audiences and not dumb down content because we do have great comedians. That’s what YouTube and other social media spaces give us — hilarious work with smart humour. Television now just has different versions of the same thing.”

INSTANT FANDOM

Mallika Dua’s Makeup Didi act on Snapchat and Instagram follows a firebrand woman’s failing attempts at achieving high fashion looks that she has little to no understanding of. The comedienne cussed her makeup lady, and we were instant fans. She tells us about how it all began, “I had never used Snapchat, but later discovered that it had strange filters. I studied theatre in college and during that time I learnt that many a times, getting into the garb of the character helps in fleshing it out more. One day, I just put on a filter and started ranting and once I put it up, I started getting hundreds of replies from people. I never thought it would be this huge.”

But for her, despite gathering a lot of traction online, she would love to experiment with traditional media as well. “I don’t think television is redundant because there is still an audience for it. In fact, nothing so far has the reach that TV does. Despite the writing not being great, there are still people who watch it. I moved to Mumbai to become an actor, so stand-up, television, theatre, comedy are all still things I’d love to do.”

VIRAL CRAZE

Saadiya Shireen, who worked on The Other Inbox comedy vlogs on YouTube, believes that viral craze is just part and parcel of the Internet. “It’s just the time we’re living in. Everything is fast, everyone gets bored easily, everyone wants to be constantly entertained. Some of the things that go viral make me worry about us as a species but hey, with a population of around 7 billion I’m just gonna go with the flow.”

The Chennai-based funnywoman, who started vlogging on YouTube because she believed it was a phenomenal outlet for beginners with the added bonus of freedom that television provides, doesn’t count television out just yet. “I think every comedian secretly or not so secretly (in my case) wants to have his or her own show on TV. Very honestly, if there’s one thing I really want it’s Jimmy Fallon’s job. Even in India, shows like Comedy Nights or even Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma have proved the power of comedy in television. Different people enjoy different things, there’s no need to label one better than the other,” she concludes.

Clearly, every type of comedy has an audience in the vast arena of the Internet. For performing artists in comedy, there was a time when television networks were the end-all to reach audiences and gain an ardent fan base. Not anymore. Laughter is now just a thumbnail away!