One of the great gifts from the world of entertainment is stand-up comedy. Going up on stage and trying to make people laugh and forget about whatever is bothering them for even a few minutes is tough. Yet stand up comics do it all the time. And they make it look effortless.
Now you might think that a predisposition to being ‘funny’ is really all it takes to become a stand-up comic. However, as someone who has wet my toes in the waters of open mics, let me tell you, being funny is just an entry-level requirement. Your success depends on how well you engage with and hold the attention of your audience throughout your piece, whether it’s a five-minute spot at an open mic or an hour-long Netflix special.
Of course, comedians use different styles of comedy and methods to make their words more effective. But one of the main skills they all have is speaking effectively. I have taken the liberty of reviewing three popular Indian comics and picking out what I feel makes their sets stand out.
1. Biswa Kalyan Rath
Biswa’s is the classic story of an engineer who became a stand-up comic, and of course, his clichéd background is the number one reason he is so popular. He’s always got funny observations and anecdotes that his audience can relate to. Biswa began his career as a comedian with a series of funny movie reviews that he and a friend would shoot at home. Now his special shows on OTT platforms and live gigs are sold-out events.
One thing that stands out is the way he has an idea of the kind of audience he has and uses this knowledge to poke fun at them and engage them. His audience largely comprises young people, so his punchlines on college life, engineering, childhood experiences really hit the mark. He also uses self-deprecating humor to evoke empathy amongst his audience. This works especially well when they too can relate to the experiences he jokes about.
For example, mid-way through his standup special Sushi, he directly addressed the audience and poked fun at them for spending a lot of time and money to attend his show and laugh at his jokes. Here he taps into the emotions of his audience while also poking fun at himself. He points out the desperate need for entertainment the audience feels, while also alluding to his own role in this set-up. Coming mid-way through his show, this segment proves a great way for him to show his audience that he understands them, and energizes the audience for the second half of the show.
2. Prashasti Singh
Ever since her turn on the first season of the stand-up comedy competition Comicstaan, Prashasti Singh has become a popular name in the comedy circuit. Her comedy relies heavily on the effective use of Aristotle’s three appeals—Logos, or logic, Ethos, or credibility, and Pathos, or emotional appeals. Her sets always have a strong structure and logical flow. Her stories have a clear start, setup, and punchline arranged in a logical manner. She speaks about growing up in Uttar Pradesh and her exploits in Mumbai enough to establish her credibility as a small-towner in the big city.
And finally, she’s great at portraying exactly what she felt at the moment when she narrates stories from her life. This appeals to the emotions of her audience—it often appeals to the emotion of shock and disgust at big city people, and sometimes feelings of excitement and pride, especially when she talks about her own pride at coming this far ahead in life. The best place to see this is her segment on Ladies Up, a stand-up special on Netflix featuring some of India’s brightest female comics.
3. Vir Das
Vir Das is India’s comedy name abroad. He has appeared on popular late-night talk shows and has three Netflix specials, all shot abroad. His jokes are often about his experience of growing up in India. He excels at keeping in mind the PAM or the Purpose, Audience and Message in all his shows. His primary purpose, like with all stand-up comics, is to make people laugh.
What makes his sets, especially his Netflix specials, different is that he performs them abroad, so oftentimes he needs to include more context to his jokes about India to make them land. He crafts his message so that his punchlines are appreciated by everyone, whether they grew up in India or not.
Every stand-up comic has their own personal style and many even work with a couple of styles that work for them. What makes them stand apart is how effectively they speak and hold the attention of their audience.
If you’re an aspiring stand-up comic, or just want to learn how to speak more impactfully at work or otherwise, check out Harappa’s Speaking Effectively course.
And if you think your jokes are funny and want to jump into the pond that is stand-up comedy, remember that the ability to crack jokes is only the first step. Speaking effectively is what will help you stand out.
Aishwarya Agarwal is an associate specialist in the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. She has studied History and Liberal Arts and moonlights as a stand-up comic. This was a well-kept secret…till her cover was blown.
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