Thursday, December 19, 2013

Making The World Laugh

Stand-up comedian Anuvab Pal, one of the best in India, gave a rousing performance at Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Last year, the Mumbai-based stand-up comedian Anuvab Pal received an offer to perform for a group of spare parts dealers in Baroda. The man who met him, Harish Parekh, said that the previous year a starlet had done an item number. Thereafter, she jumped into the crowd. “I don’t know much about stand-up comedy,” said Harish. “But would you be able to jump into the crowd?” With his tongue in his cheek, Anuvab said, “Do you want me to jump, before, during or after the show?” A serious Harish said, “Let me check with my seniors.” Anuvab bursts out laughing as he recounts the incident.

The Mumbai-based stand-up comedian was in Kochi recently to give a performance, ‘The Nation Wants To Know’, at the JT Performing Arts Theatre. He says, “If you are a Nepali and live in India, it does not matter whether you cured Aids or done something similar,” says Anuvab. “Someone will look at you and say, ‘Gaadi park karna (please park the car)’. And even if the Nepali says, ‘I am Dr. Shresthta, the people will say, ‘Oh lovely, gate bi band karna (please close the gate also).’”

Anuvab talks about his visit to the Gir Forest in Gujarat, which is the largest Asiatic lion reserve in the world. “I am on this jeep along with an elderly uncle,” he says. “We did not see a lion. Everybody said, ‘It is a big forest. Let us go back to the hotel.’ But this uncle said, ‘I am going to complain. I paid the full money and did not see a lion’.”

So, the group go to the office of the forest reserve officer. “I was thinking, ‘This is so embarrassing,'” says Anuvab. “In any other country can you do that? If you go to a whale-sighting trip in the US, and don’t see a whale, you cannot go to [President Barack] Obama and say, 'Why didn’t I see a whale?' But not in India. I expected the forest officer to say, ‘Get out of my office. It is a bloody jungle. What can I do if you cannot see a lion?’”
Instead, the officer said, “You did not see a lion. Come with me.”

They get back on the jeep and go to a clearing. The officer stands up and shouts, “Hey, lion, come out.”

And, astonishingly, the lion comes out. “Because only in India, the lion is thinking, ‘I don’t who he knows. Maybe he has connections. Maybe he might put me in jail. Maybe he knows somebody in the Aam Aadmi party. I could be eating a deer right now, but chalo I will make a roar’.”

The audience is in splits now. It is no surprise that Anuvab is regarded as one of the the best stand-up comedians in India. So far, he has done over a thousand shows in places like London, San Francisco, New York, Dubai, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai.

The job of a stand-up is not just to make people laugh but also make them think,” he says. “To do that, you need to think in terms of stories. However, your observation about a situation should be funny. My jokes are mostly about what I see in life.”

At Kochi, Anuvab spoke for 100 minutes, at a frenetic pace, the stories coming out one after the other, on subjects as varied as real estate, fashion, politics, teenagers, technology, the sexy figures on the outer wall of the Khajuraho temple and how customs officers played such an important role in the 1980s. “At the end, I feel physically and mentally exhausted,” says Anuvab.

Asked about the qualities needed to be a stand-up comedian, Anuvab says, “There has to be fearlessness. There can be so many ramifications to what you say. People may not find it funny, or get offended. They might not understand irony, wit or sarcasm.”

You also need sharp observation. “You have to perceive the world around you,” he says. “When you tell a story, people should think, 'I have been through that'.” Lastly, you need a 
sense of humour.”

Anuvab is multi-talented. He has written scripts for films like 'The President Is Coming' and 'Loins Of Punjab Presents', as well as articles and a book called '1-888-Dial-India'. He is also the first Indian to become a member of the Dramatists Guild of America.
Not surprisingly, the joke-teller also comes across people who crack jokes. Once, at a party, Anuvab met a safari-suited man, who said, “What did Bill Gates say to Monica Lewinsky?” His friends, who are standing around him are silent. So the man gives the punch line, “Baby, I want it Microsoft.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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