She is also a self-taught rapper, drummer, actor, and singer. Active in the Pune comedy circuit, she has been a part of over a hundred shows.
Anamika in a tete-a-tete with A. Radhakrishnan.
When did you discover your passion for standup comedy?
Absorbed in stand-up comedy for quite a while, I signed up Pune Stand-up Group on Facebook for an open mic and wrote a set, showing up to a nice little art café in Pune. Two of my friends were sweet enough to show up and it’s been over two and half years now.
As someone who has always been involved in public speaking, theatre, cracking jokes and making friends laugh, it seemed like an intriguing idea to start a few months after my first job with a mobile network operator in Pune.
Difference between comedy and stand-up comedy?
Stand-up comedy is one art form under the vast umbrella that is comedy. Performed in front of a live audience, jokes are taken to the stage and tweaked, improved, changed, and discarded as we go along. It is also a craft, practiced and honed.
Comedians strive to improve a joke with each re-telling. A written joke can be considered comedy, but a joke only becomes a stand-up joke once it is taken to the stage.
Is defining funny hard?
Comedy is subjective. What I find funny, you may find bland; what you find funny, someone else may deem offensive.
There’s a saying that ‘everyone on this planet has twenty minutes of material’. If you look at your own life, I’m sure there are funny stories or observations that make you and your friends laugh out loud. How you tell the joke now may be very different from how you said it the first time. There’s no formula, it just gets better with practice.
Is there a certain structure to a joke that makes it funnier?
Typically, a joke has two main pillars: a set-up and a punch-line.
Almost every joke follows this basic format. The set-up is the premise of the joke: the build-up to the punch-line is the reveal. The unexpected turn a joke takes, leads to laughter.
Additionally, one can add a tag, which is a line after the punch line that adds to the joke. You can take this basic structure as a guideline to apply when re-telling your own stories and jokes. However, you can break any structure at any point if you think that’s funnier.
How is walking on stage and making people laugh and forgetting about your own issues for a while, an awesome job to have?
It’s amazing. The feeling of just focusing on your set, interacting with the audience, sharing your stories, some of which you may not have even told anyone about before, is very empowering. It’s amazing to know that what you feel resonates with people.
Talking about something automatically takes back the power it has over you. Laughing at it, even more so.
What platforms do you perform on? How do you do stand up in times of pandemic?
In the before times, we would actually go up on stage and interact with humans across various city venues. Now, it’s all on Zoom. The shows are typically listed in bookmyshow and insider and also on your local comedy venues’ social media handles.
One positive outcome is that geography no longer limits us. We can do shows with producers and venues based elsewhere. The audience also expands and we’re able to perform for a Bombay and Delhi audience in the same show.
We’ve also all upped our social media game, with comics releasing sketches and short sets on Instagram. So, if you are looking for new content, now would be a good time to follow smaller comedians and local performers.
How did you get over stage fright?
Thankfully, I have been fortunate enough to not experience this on a big scale. One helpful tip if you’re feeling nervous before a big show, is to do some dance moves or jump around back-stage. It might sound silly, but it gets the adrenaline going and you’ll end up pumped-up and excited.
What is it like to be a woman in comedy? Does gender matter?
This is a question all women in stand-up have been asked at least once in their career.
The fact is that we do live in a patriarchal society where most professions are male-dominated. A woman is more likely to have to overcome multiple hurdles to even do basic things like go to work. As a majority of shows happen in the evening or night, travel and safety become an issue. If you want to perform in a different city, this is also something that you tend to consider.
As for performing, audiences are nice and welcoming people, especially if you perform in more liberal/metropolitan cities, but that may not always be the case.
There is also a bias that women comedians only talk about a few limited subjects. People with these notions have not actually watched women perform either live or on video. Women comedians, just like their male counterparts, talk about a wide variety of subjects.
Is comedy a career good enough to pay all your bills?
Yes. As with any other art form, it takes time to hone it; so it may be a while before it becomes a full-time career, but yes. It is valued and a lot of big comedians make way more than they would in their previous jobs or a corporate career.
Is it true that comedians offstage are generally loners and fairly quiet?
Not really. Just like anyone else, we all have our moments of extroversion and introversion. This quiet loner notion probably stems from the fact that a lot of comedians view the audience as a whole, separate entity. It’s like Jerry Seinfeld once said, I can talk to all of you, but I can’t talk to any one of you.
Who are your influences?
I enjoy watching Norm MacDonald, with his long, shaggy dog style jokes; Daniel Sloss and his way of articulating himself with such a strong narrative; Ali Wong, with her hilarious observations and no holds barred anecdotes; James Acaster with his absurd yet somehow completely logical style, etc.
How does comedy function? What is the most important part(s) in telling a joke? Is a lot of comedy also the stuff you leave unsaid?
Comedy is about laughter, yes, but it is also about control. A good comic is able to control the reaction of their audience; it is about the ability to tighten and release the tension at will. It can definitely depend on the things you leave unsaid. Where you rely on implications for a joke, where you place a pause, all of these contribute to its impact.
What type of comedy do you do?
I find that my jokes tend to be anecdotal and observational and some of my content can be regarded as dark. I tend to write about my experiences and weird observations and commentary on society and my life with regard to it.
Sometimes, you get a thought and immediately want to write about it and these tend to be bits that do well quickly, because since you already find it funny, your conviction comes across when narrating it to an audience.
Most comics pre-write their jokes, but once on stage, the joke can become refined. What you see in YouTube videos and recorded performances though, is the culmination of that effort. Months and years go into seeing most of the stand-up content you see online, though it may look effortless.
Do you research first and incorporate it in your act?
The amount of research depends on the type of bit you are doing. If you’re into more topical comedy and political content, it is important to know your facts and present your informed view. Research also helps in observational bits as you may stumble upon new things about a subject that strengthens it.
Stand-up is about control and as you level up in your skill set, you’ll be able to prompt the reactions you want better.
How would you rate your audience today?
As stand-up evolves as an art form, so does the audience. Stand-up
comedy has only existed as a mainstream thing in India for about 15 years. When most of the current big names in the country started, this was not a full-time profession.
When the general public gets exposed to the concept longer, they pick up more on nuance and subtle jokes. This is why local talent should be supported, because it benefits not only the artiste, but the art form.
What defines you as a comedienne in front of an audience?
Of course we want laughter. That’s what we’re after. But comfort on stage, being able to address and bounce back if something’s not working and build if something is, are also important. Getting closer and closer to being who you are in front of an audience is something that we also strive towards as artistes.
Isn’t it a most brutal aspect of stand-up comedy that nobody really knows if a joke will work until they’ve told it on stage? Even if it works with that one audience, will it work with any other?
Yes. You never really know until you get on stage, but you learn to develop a thick skin and also learn to laugh at yourself. It is quite confrontational in a way. If something is not working, you’re presented with the reaction immediately and have to figure out how to win back the crowd.
The world is big and everyone can have an audience that understands them. In the meantime, just focus on improving.
Have you been afraid of failing or realise it is a part of the job. If only 4-5 people showed up for the show but you still had to do your act, is it a pretty bad scenario?
In the early days, bombing (read: doing badly) felt like the end of the world. You question everything about yourself and question whether you should be doing this at all. The next night, you might kill (read: do well) and feel like you’re the best ever. After a while, you realize that it is all part of the art. You’re able to bounce back more.
Let me tell you, four to five people is still a good number of audience members. There have been nights that ten comics on a line-up perform to one or two audience members. By the end of the show, we’re all best friends. We all hope to get to point where we cultivate a dedicated audience and a large one, so we can continue to work better on our jokes.
What do you feel about recent controversies abusing religion etc.?
Most people who take offence to these types of jokes are those who have just been influenced by a mob mentality, without actually understanding the subject matter of a joke. We need to understand freedom of speech and expression. As a country, we need to learn to be more accepting and laugh at ourselves more.
What are your plans for the future?
Well, given the current pandemic, a lot of us comics, in addition to doing online shows, are making our presence felt on social media. Many of us have started putting out digital content and that will definitely continue for the foreseeable future. We can’t wait until we’re able to perform in front of a live audience again, though.
You can follow Anamika on
Facebook: Anamika Haridas