Funny, sharp and fittingly quirky – meet Anirban Dasgupta, the crackerjack comic with roots in Kolkata. An engineer turned corporate guy; Anirban left his cushy job to pursue a far greater calling – comedy. With over 400 shows to his credit, Anirban has performed across the length of the country. He also regularly features at The Canvas Laugh Club and The Comedy Store, two of India’s most famous comedy clubs. In a free-wheeling chat, he talks about comedy, football and why Kolkata needs to catch up with the rapidly evolving comedy scene.
First of all, a hearty congratulations on your show ‘Polite Provocations’. If you would share some of the fun experiences you had during the gig.
Thank you. ‘Polite Provocations’ was my first solo, so it was quite special for me, and it went off great. It also happened to be the first special from a comedian coming out of the Kolkata scene. I did 70 mins on stage, good count in the audience and it was fun. My favorite part of the show was that I started off with an untested bit on Kolkata and my frustrations with the city which were from the heart and did very well. That set the tone for the show, and everything flowed smoothly after that.
- You worked in the corporate sector before foraying full time into comedy. What made you take the leap (How did comedy happen to you)?
I hated my job, but at the same time I learnt a lot. I loved comedy, used to write humor blogs for a few websites and watch stand-up clips from abroad on Youtube. There wasn’t any plan to get into stand-up. It happened by chance. I did an open mic in Kolkata, then kept on doing it, and when I was making decent money out of it and managing both became difficult, I took the obvious decision.
- What’s the stand-up comedy scene in India like?
The main centers are Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore. Apart from that, comedy is happening regularly in Kolkata, Gujarat, Hyderabad and a few other cities, and it’s the fastest growing form of entertainment currently. Youtube has helped it’s rise as well. It’s a great time for comedy here. The scene started in India around 6 years back, so everyone is still figuring things out. I believe becoming a good comedian takes a lot of time, and the process is very exciting. All of us are learning the craft, trying to find our voice, trying to get better all the time. Would be really interesting to see where we are five years from now.
- How important is the audience to a comedian? Does the script require tweaking according to the audience’s taste?
Yes, it does at times. It’s up to the comedian to gauge it. The room matters a lot too. If it’s a great room for comedy, with the audience focussed and have come for comedy, it becomes much easier. Sometimes, we perform at bars and cafes with really poor set up, so you have to adapt to it.
- Do you hit writer’s block? What do you do in such situations?
I enjoy the writing process a lot, so it hasn’t affected me in a major way yet.
- Tell us a little about ‘Comedified’ which you helped co-found.
‘Comedified’ is the local group in Kolkata with the best and most serious comics. Before ‘Comedified’, there were only one or two shows a month, and we weren’t happy with how those shows were produced, the lack of filter for quality, etc. In short, we didn’t have a scene which would breed serious comedians. ‘Comedified’ started the open mic culture in Kolkata, which is extremely important for new comics to come up, and for the existing comics to develop new material. We run 3 open mics a week and have feature shows in the weekends where our lineups are carefully curated and good comics do their best material.
- Your inspirations in life.
A lot of people.
- In a country where people so easily take offence, how difficult is it for comedians and satirists to do their craft?
Taking offense at jokes is a sign of stupidity and insecurity, so it’s not surprising when comedians are targeted. We can just hope that common sense prevails in the end. If we are put in a scenario where a comedian while writing a joke, dilutes it to make it safer, it won’t be as funny or impactful. So everyone loses.
- Comedy sans, what are your other interests?
Football mainly. Otherwise, I am quite obsessed with comedy.
- How well does Kolkata fare regarding appreciation of stand up when compared to other metros?
Bad. Kolkata is so much behind other cities in terms of awareness of comedy that it’s not even funny. Most people have no clue about the art form; they think it’s just a time pass thing. I know it’s a new thing, and it will take some time to develop, yet it’s super slow in Kolkata, which angers me so much because all you have to do to keep up with others in this regard is log on to Youtube. Not just the audience, even some new comics do comedy for their Facebook pictures and likes. It sucks. Honestly, we have come a long way in the last few years, but it’s very frustrating to do comedy in Kolkata.
- Your advice and message to aspiring comics and humorists.
Go up on stage as many times as you can. Don’t miss open mics. And watch a lot of comedy. Also, it’s important to pursue comedy for the right reasons.
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