”Invest your time in open-mics. Fail, learn and grow” says stand-up comic Praveen Kumar!

Learning to be funny is no joke because comedy is a serious business. He just returns from back to back travels and a sold-out show in Singapore, yet he is power-packed and full of energy. He claims it to be the Biriyani effect. His words spun a tale of puns and left me crackling through the interview. Nominated for Forbes Top 100 celebrities in India in 2014, Meet Praveen Kumar, who talks to Chennai Insider about his stand-up comedy journey from Kancheepuram to Koramangala, his favourite artists, funny and tragic incidents and much more.

Tell us about yourself? Where did it all begin, when did you decide to be funny and be a pill to the ills?

I was born and brought up in Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu and did my schooling there till 10th standard and pursued Higher secondary education in Chennai. I surprisingly scored exceedingly well in 12th grade which led me to BITS Pilani. So, I would say it all began in college when I used to engage myself in a lot of mime shows and perform in front of crowds that were as high as 2000. It gave a huge grounding to discover myself and take inputs and feedback from others and most importantly enjoyed the process of making people laugh. I also used to write blogs and was very famous back then in Orkut. I had fan clubs which used to enjoy the jokes that I posted and that gave me a booster and self-validation.

What after the college days? Were you able to perform shows immediately after that?

After the college days, the group in which we used to perform the mime shows went on with their life in different directions and hence that was that. I did not get back to it as performing a mime required similar wavelength and finding that wasn’t easy.

Much later in 2008, I chanced upon an article about Papa CJ, a famous stand-up comedian, after which I got enlightened as to how different it was from a mime and required only myself and my written material to perform. I decided to jump the gun and perform for the college alumni in a slot of 10 minutes allocated to me. It was my comfort zone as I was to be performing for a known crowd. The MC roared with all the hype “Welcome the best stand-up comedian in India, Praveen Kumar’’.  The audience laughed..not at my jokes but at me. They had blank expressions. I bombed. So badly that I was told maybe I should try something different. It was an open mic, not for me but for the audience. All my friends lost hope. Somehow luckily, I did not and am glad I stuck to that ray of hope and trust in myself.

So, what did you do to take the scene forward with your belief? What were the reactions of your immediate circle when you decided to pursue it full-time?

I got married. (laughs). I was working in a company post my MBA in Bangalore. In 2009, the stand-up scene had hardly built strong roots in India which was when Vir Das came down to conduct open-mic competitions with slot of 2 minutes time on stage with Sorabh Pant hosting it. I managed to attend those open-mics along with office schedules for the sheer enthusiasm and passion to take this opportunity seriously. I won in a few and the prize for which was the increase from 2-minute slots to 5-minute slots. I hit badly, re-couped, refreshed and performed until I got it right. I lazily waited and waited for his visits to India until I realised it was time to create a stage for comics, ourselves. From mid of 2010, three of us comics got together (Sanjay, Sandeep and myself) and performed in over 1500 shows, of which over 400 were corporate shows. My parents were initially skeptical, but after they saw the reactions to my first solo show, ‘’The Tickle Minded’’ they gave a go-ahead. My wife was extremely supportive of my decision. And the next day, I resigned. That was the most liberating feeling ever.

How is performing for a corporate show different from a public show? Are corporate shows easier to impress?

I would say that each has got its own advantage and vices. For example, in a public show, people would be more judgemental and fuller of scrutiny as they have paid and come to watch the show and we got to deliver. Whereas a corporate show is easier that way. But if a corporate show goes wrong, the word of mouth is sure to spread. The dynamic of a corporate show is quite different and it took me time to understand.

Stand-up comedy as like any other profession sure does have its struggler days. If you were to name a tough show or incident what would it be?

Of course, it does and I sure have had terrible experiences of being mocked at. One such experience was at a corporate gig. My slot was post lunch. I had complete silence and blank faces for the first few minutes. Then I told myself that I can do it and conquer the show in the next part, but rather, the opposite happened. The front-row audience started blowing balloons in the air and later started clapping in the midst of my performance so that I would end the show. Then the MC took over, managed and ended the programme. I cried and cried. That day is unforgettable.

Let us talk about your style of comedy. You perform clean comedy mostly autobiographical and anecdotal. Is it a conscious effort? How do you manage to write autobiographically without alienating the audience?

Earlier it used to be conscious effort but now it has become a habit. I am a family man and I tend to observe and write content that revolve around day-to-day life. I try to make it relatable to all. I ensure it is relatable by test performances in open-mics and slots in live shows.

How long does it take to prepare the material? Are you nervous or scared of forgetting the material before shows?

Forgetting the material is the least priority, I am from TN Stateboard. (Laughs). The bigger challenge and fear is whether it would work with the audience.

It can take anywhere close to 6 months to come up with a fool-proof material that can work with audiences. It would undergo various draft changes depending on the reactions gauged from open-mics. It needs a whole lot of efforts to be invested on a single material so we perform them in as many cities as possible as long as the demand exists.

Do you have boundaries as to what should never be joked about?

I try to stay away from controversial topics, political innuendo and offensive statements. I ridicule myself and who can stand up against it except me?

What is the hardest part about being a stand-up comedian?

Immediate Feedback. In TV comedy shows, you get the reactions much later. Probably long after it is even forgotten. Here, you get instant feedback and response and that can determine how you take the show forward. It can make or break you. Also, another hard part is that no one takes you seriously. I posted on Twitter saying AirTel charged me 16,000 rupees erroneously and the world laughs. I genuinely wanted help. You just have to be funny all the time. It does help promoting the brand value but I want to be sane. (laughs)

What is the funniest advice you have ever received?

After the corporate show mishap that happened, the head of the group comes forward, reads a WhatsApp joke and says “That’s how a joke must be told’’. And while I was having dinner, a person walks up to me and says “Next time, use this joke. I won’t tell anyone’’. The concern is too comforting and disheartening at the same time.

 

Who is your favourite comedian of all time?

Goundamani for his performances and Crazy Mohan for his brilliant witty writing.

What you looking forward to, currently?

A lot of stand-up shows and open-mics. Catering the bigger audiences is the goal. I am also working on a script for a web-series.

What is your piece of advice to excited young aspiring stand-up comics?

Some people have stand-up comedy in their bucket lists. Like 10 things to do before I die. Do stand-up comedy before you die, and then they die on stage when they are bombed.

Some people perform a single slot and take a picture and post on their Tinder profiles.

Passion for stand-up comedy should go beyond these to consider it taking it up full-time. The scene is much bigger and more competitive now.

Don’t quit your day-time job until you see a good percentage of potential of your regular income through stand-up comedy. Invest your time in open-mics. Fail, learn and grow from strength to strength.

Anything else you would like to share?

Yes. Keep Calm and Love Biriyani!


For more dosage of laughter therapy, follow Praveen Kumar at

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/ComedianPraveenKumar/

Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/comedianpraveen/

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/Funny_Leone/


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