• Tuesday, June 21, 2011
  • Urban Turban 2- my experiments with Indian stand-up

    Summer in India has kind of been what I was expecting it to be so far. Yes, it is very hot (but it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, because I can stay at home during the day instead of being out in college). Yes, it feels weird to be at loose ends with my free time (which makes me guilty, because I should be writing is a never-ending mantra that goes through my head). Yes, it does feel pretty bad to be suddenly disconnected from my life in L.A., the reassuring routine of classes, and my friends, and my house  and car and freedom.

    But it’s been all right. Of course I value all the time I get with my parents, and it’s wonderful to see my friends in Chennai. I’ve been going back to dance class which not only lets me work out but is giving me ideas for my next play. And thankfully for the past month, I’ve had Urban Turban 2 to keep me occupied, working, and having a lot of fun.

    I auditioned for Evam’s Urban Turban 2, their new format of stand-up comedy geared towards Indian audiences. Instead of a classic stand-up format, they invite personal stories with a humorous edge. I auditioned with my ‘Getting our daughters married’ piece, and my NRI mother character, and they asked me to rewrite it from ‘my’ perspective, as they wanted performers narrating pieces in their own personal voice.

    After a couple of rounds of auditions, and a few weeks of rehearsal, rewriting, and testing with preview audiences in Chennai, I found out that I would be in their premiere show in Bangalore on June 19. Super.

    I was very impressed with the way I was directed. Sunil and Bhargav, the directing team, were very clear and very precise in what they wanted, and good with communicating that as well. The script was meticulously pored over and rewritten many times. Every joke was analysed to see how we could punch it up the most. Every line that fell flat was removed. We had three test audiences. I know it’s ridiculous, but I’ve never worked so hard on a piece before. A 13 minute monologue! I should be carrying this over to my longer pieces as well. The same kind of exacting discipline to make it as flawless as possible.

    The shows in Bangalore were interesting. I haven’t been on stage in a while (in over a year, easily), so I was definitely nervous. And I’d heard from the Evam team that the audiences in Bangalore were generally far more enthusiastic than the ones in Chennai. Bangalore audiences come to have a good time. Chennai audiences come to see if they can get their money’s worth. Etc. Etc. Well, the audience was not what I was expecting, for either show. Jokes that killed with the Chennai test audiences fell completely flat, for both audiences, and I could tell that I needed to work much harder to get them to warm up to me, especially since my piece was quite different from the others’ (less stand-up, more personal monologue).

    The audience for the first show was great, in general. The house was about half full (good enough), and they were ‘there to have a good time’. They loved the first two performers, SA and Naveen, and they therefore made my job much easier even though I got off to a stumbling start. It was kind of a haze to me, but I have a video from the wings of the stage, and from it I could tell that I really did get good laughs and applause at the right time. After the first show, I promised myself that the next show would be better. Unfortunately, our second audience was tiny, and for some reason, simply didn’t latch on to the opening piece as well as they did for the first show. I was next, and even though I got the laughs at my ‘sure fire’ jokes, they could more accurately be described as ’ weak chuckles’.

    Another thing I’ve come to realise is that I’m not entirely sure if I can write for an Indian audience. I don’t think like one- I don’t find the same things funny as most Indians. But that’s a post for another time.

    So that was the premiere of Urban Turban 2, and this was purely an account of my performance. The other performers killed in both shows, and were a delight to see. The best part of this experience was easily getting to know and see SA, Rajiv, Yudi and Naveen perform, both on and off-stage. Funny people are funny. Period. 🙂

    Takeaways…

    1. Rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, testing, testing, testing. This isn’t an art. It’s a craft. It’s being objective and critical and working really hard.

    2. Never, ever, ever, anticipate the audience. Always assume that you will have to work your damned hardest to connect with them.

    3. Listen to the audience. If you need the house lights up next time to look at them, ask for it. Adjust to their tempo, their mood. Listen to what they need.

    4. Manage expectations. If a show is billed as a stand-up comedy event, stand-up is what they will expect.

    5. Just keep swimming. 🙂

    Here’s an interview with Sunil aka Shoosha, our director, and a Q&A with us performers.

    I got quoted in a preview piece that DNA India did for the show, and here’s a preview from the Times of India.

    Now to get back to writing. There’s no excuse for me not to. Much like in dance class, everything gets easier once I’m warmed up and in the flow. I just need to get over the initial resistance to not warm up. To not write. Everything is easier once you’re warmed up.