A Night of Comedy in India

For me, there is nothing finer than the human spectacle that is an open mic night.  Especially ones at comedy clubs.  For some reason, people who decide to first perform standup at comedy club open mics are usually the craziest open mic performers I’ve ever seen.  And to their credit, they usually don’t last past the 1st year checkpoint to attain quasi-legitimate standup comedian status.

Last night, I performed standup at the Comedy Store in Mumbai.  I was trying to get a guest spot on the weekend, but they said they were full.  Fortunately, they were kind enough to at least put me on the open mic, which, in hindsight, I much preferred. Because I got this story to tell.

Before the show started, the host, Aditi Mittal, explained that this was going to be a competition (which I didn’t realize, so I don’t count this as violating my anti-competition boycott).  We had 4 minutes to perform, at 3:30 there will be a light, then at 4 minutes there will be this alarm noise that will force you to stop.  Interestingly, there was no punishment for going over, as more than half the performers went long.

I’ll say that most of the comedians on the show weren’t that terrible; however, I didn’t see any comedian that was particularly groundbreaking comedically.  I met this guy before the show named Abhimanyu (I think.  He told me his name, and I thought to myself, “I have no idea what word he just said”) who was really nice and friendly, and he was explaining his act is a lot of making fun of his family and the dumb things they say.  He has an aunt who says instead of “Bombay-ites” and “Delhi-ites”, “Bombay-titties” and “Delhi-titties”.  I wanted to press him and ask if that’s actually true, but I thought it’s far too early in the evening to be an asshole.  Abhimanyu, then tells me “you should do jokes about people from Delhi, nobody likes them”.  I asked why, and he said “People laugh at jokes about people from Delhi”.

I was astonished with the first performer who began his act by talking about the recent royal Jubilee, then said “To take from famed Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu, I wish that old bitch would stop wearing my grandmother’s jewelry”.  He is, I believe referring to this joke of Hari’s:

I have a powerpoint that I’ve done occasionally where I explain how to perform comedy, and one of my favorite bits from that is saying “It’s not joke theft, as long as you cite your sources.”  I never realized that that joke would become a reality.

The second comedian of note was introduced as “this man was a failed rapper”.  Before the show, we were all given sheets of paper for the host to read about us as an introduction.  I wrote, “I’m from Boston”, and “this is my first time performing comedy in India”.  One guy just wrote “No” for his introduction.  This guy used the tactic: “I’ll use my introduction to set up my act”.  A tactic, I believe, that 98% of standup hosts hate, especially when the act asks the host to make some joke, which the act then insults during their set.

Failed rapper guy really aught to have been introduced as “guy who’s cool with dropping N-bombs”.  He’s say things like “I don’t understand what the deal is with n*****s and their n***** music”, and “Jay-Z is one of those n*****s who just doesn’t appreciate how good he’s got it, being with Beyonce and all”.  Most Indians are pretty racist, but to their credit, the very warm and forgiving audience sort of quietly booed him as he kept dropping n-bombs.  It’s almost as if the guy came from 1930’s Alabama, and had never heard of “black” or “African-American” as preferential racial epithets.  I wonder if his fondness for hate speech might be why he failed as a rapper.

I went on after another guy who’s name was Harshit, who had a joke about how his name is “shitty” (which I saw coming a mile away).  Harshit kept trying to hit on women in the audience, asking one woman in the audience to hold his hand.  When she did he said, “Does that feel like boyfriend material?”  I sort of enjoyed that joke, even though it was a street joke. It always amuses me to watch new standups try to use the fact that they do comedy to get laid.  While my act has never gotten me laid (as they go part-and-parcel with my self-hatred), a homeless guy who used to attend the Sally O’Brien’s open mic told me he used my Pakistani jokes to get laid all the time.  So, I guess there’s that…

I then was on next, and I was very looking forward to have my name pronounced correctly for the first time, and was completely disheartened to hear the host say, instead of “\`raj\  \`shiv-a-rā-mā\” she said “\`raj\  \shīv-`ā-ra-mān\”.  My apologies, I don’t know how to write pronunciations, but hopefully it’s clear that she didn’t pronounce my name right.  And she’s Indian.  WTF?

I started off my set apologizing for my accent, which got a pretty good response, then tried out a new bit about how I don’t speak Hindi, but everybody expects that I do.  My joke about racism in America, and the metaphysical reality of nachos went over pretty well, then I got the red light, so I just got off after that.  I realized I don’t have a joke that is under 30 seconds that I would want to close my act with.  Which is unfortunate.

After me, there was a guy who was doing one-liners while playing a ukelele.  He destroyed.

Then there was a 15 minute intermission, where I got some food and a Pepsi.  I don’t know what it is, but soft drinks in India are so much better than in America.  I don’t think it’s the sugar vs. high-fructose corn syrup, either; I’ll take Indian Coke over Mexican Coke any day.  During the break, I was feeling pretty good, I had a couple of people come up to me saying I did well.  Then two women were talking to me, and the following exchange happened:

Woman 1: “My friend is doing this in August” (points to friend) “Do you have any advice?”

Me: “Has she ever done this before?”

Woman 1: “No.”

I thought about it for a moment, scratching my chin.

Me: “I’ll give you the best advice I’ve ever heard about standup comedy.”

Woman 1 and 2 are excited.

Me: “It’s two pieces of advice.  Number one, don’t listen to anything anyone tells you…”

Woman 1: (to Woman 2) “You can listen to me”

Me: “Number two. Quit comedy.”

Woman 1 and 2 look at me with disgust.

Woman 1: “It’s that bad, huh?”

Me: “No, you’ve got to put the two pieces of advice together, it makes sense…”

Woman 1 and 2 walk away angrily.

If there was any doubt I was going to come off not being an asshole that evening, that advice eradicated it.


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