“Comedy is much more difficult than tragedy-and a much better training, I think. It’s much easier to make people cry than to make them laugh.”
Yes. Comedy is difficult. Perhaps that’s why many actors and writers shun this genre or do not justify it completely. Stand up comedy is regarded as the most difficult gig in the show business as stand up comedians have to understand how people think to grab their attention.
Sorabh Pant is one of the best English stand up comedians in the country, who has done more than 250 shows in over 17 cities. Hrithik found him “the funniest guy on stage” and Sorabh was listed #1 in the 30 most interesting Twitter users in India.
Apart from cracking hysterically hilarious jokes, Sorabh also takes delight in writing and released his debut novel ‘The Wednesday Soul’ in December 2011 which is a comic take on life after death. In the year 2012, he founded The East India Co.medy which offers standup comedy shows, scriptwriting solutions and comedy workshops all across the country.
As intriguing as it sounds, here’s a sneak peek into his stand up comedy career and what’s in store for East India Co.medy:
It is possibly the greatest company in human history since Google. It has changed the world. It brought forth magical inventions.
Either that or it’s just a bunch of professional Indian comedians bringing Indian comedy all over India and beyond. Whether on stage, corporate events, online, radio or elsewhere, sometimes even in your house – if the price is right.
Tell us about your background and the path that ultimately led you towards East India Co.medy.
I was fat and bloated as a kid. This led to me getting little positive attention. It was the summer of 1992. Maybe I’m going too far back.
I was a TV writer, occasional TV anchor and an unpublished author till 2008. Then I stumbled upon stand-up comedy back when such a vocation was scoffed as a mere ‘hobby’ by most. Kept at it for years and years. Got my own comedy special, Pant on Fire, to tour the country and 5 countries abroad. And, got published as an author! In the midst of this, I found 3 fellow comedians with similar interests and attitudes – most prime among them being the fantastic Kunal Rao. In 2012, we decided to take this to the next step and start EIC.
It was natural to want to take it to the next level. Over a 100 shows for the company and each comedian now averaging 150+ shows annually and having performed in over 30 cities in 7 countries – I think it may be working!
Why the name ‘East India Co.medy’?
The British took our spices and freedom. So, here we’re giving something back to India – laughs, hopefully. Also, I’m obsessed with the British and the Chinese – our future rulers!
Could you tell us something about the team?
We currently have a core team of 6 comedians. The man who does most of the work is Kunal Rao – hilarious comedian and very patient in all the runnings of the company. There’s Sahil Shah – India’s youngest professional comedian – who plunged into stand-up right after graduation and is just off centre and bizarre, damn funny. Sapan Verma – who is a good looking comedian and a very driven guy who takes responsibility far beyond his years. There are also our new entrants – Azeem Banatwalla who quit Engineering and then his career as a travel journalist to do stand-up and of course, Atul Khatri – who at 44 switched from running his business to doing comedy and running his business.
A very fun bunch of people and just awesome to work with.
How many shows has East India Co.medy done till date?
We’ve done about 50 public shows, 40 corporate shows and about 10 – 12 shows in colleges. So, it runs at about a 100 right now. As individuals the numbers are even higher as we believe in a non-exclusive policy – and our comedians do shows for other places freely as well.
The belief of the company is simple: you think of a show idea – we help you execute it superbly. In the last year, we’ve tried out 9 different specials out of which Traveling Pants has now done almost 25 shows in 8 cities. Comedy News Network is also hitting similar numbers shortly. Then there is Men Are From Bars, a show about relationships and Backbenchers which is a show about college life. There is also United States of India – a show about simply loving India.
Have you got the response you expected since launch?
Yes. I was very sceptical about this working out and was persuaded by Kunal, Sahil & Sapan to start it off. We have a horde of shows, a massive YouTube plan, we’re on the radio, we’re doing newspaper columns, we’re writing films, we’re writing events, working with celebrities and actors we admire. And, we’ve now got a core team of 6 comedians, another team of 6 Lordlings i.e. young comedians who we’re grooming for the future and much, much more. It’s all going to plan! Now, let’s hope there’s no Zombie Apocalypse.
What is the hardest part about your job?
You don’t get sleep sometimes. You’re constantly organizing shows. You’re working constantly especially since we’ve got a finger in every pie and believe in executing each different mode of comedy to our best abilities.
Last week we shot 2 days, had 3 corporates, 2 brand new shows launching and radio. In the midst of this I was coming back from shows in Singapore and finalizing my second novel. But the best part is that every moment is amazing. I wouldn’t want to do a single other thing!
What is one mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?
I think I initially suffered from thinking we were bigger than we were. We did a couple of shows where we tried to sell out 900 seater auditoriums. However, it takes a while before doing that. Now, we’re doing about 4 shows a month in Mumbai – average turnout 200, and about 4 shows outside Mumbai – average turnout 250 – so we understand the market better.
How important is the role of Social Media in the life of a stand up comedian?
It is insanely important. Here’s the biggest problem in India – you aren’t allowed to say 99% of things that are fun. Everyone is so damn sensitive and immature about anything. It’s best to try and zoom into a bunch of people who understand that you’re joking. Educated, urbane or at least those who are young and not senile – which half the country seems to be.
That’s where Twitter, FB, YouTube etc. really help out. It’s mostly the young crowd who are familiar with comedy and jokes or it’s an educated, older crowd that is just so supportive of our silliness.
What is next on the radar for East India Co.medy?
YouTube is going to be huge. It’s the next logical step. We’re already pushing ourselves there. Live Comedy specials are also going to be huge. We’re planning 3 new shows for 2014 and thus far each of them have worked, which is amazing.
There’s also bringing stand-up to brand new cities and countries – we just did Singapore and now we’re doing Nepal and I should be heading back to the US shortly. Along with that we’re doing shows in Shillong, Guwahati, Gangtok, Chandigarh amongst many others. We want to spread our message and bring it to the people who need the laughs.
What startup related advice would you like to give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Understand your worth. Don’t over-inflate or under-inflate. Realize the market trend as well as what your potential target group is. Love your family. Learn how to fly. Don’t give up. Give 105% and other such platitudes. I’m going to stop talking before I start talking like Arindam Chaudhuri!
English Stand up comedy in India is at a nascent stage but where do you think is the future of such kind of comedy in the country?
As I said – it’s online. TV is just dead for English comedy. People are so damn sensitive and channels are understandably petrified of pissing off some dude in Raipur who thinks you offended his sensibilities.
Films are doing some really nice off-centre comedy. That’s something we’re aiming for. But, YouTube, live shows and investing in young comedy is the current plan. But, it’s always about live shows. That’s our big plan and we’re sticking to it because it works.
Would you like to share a parting joke with our readers?
Did any of them give me money yet? I don’t do jokes for free. Actually, some who come for my shows might also say that I don’t do jokes even when I’m paid for it! Come for our shows and here the jokes live – because written jokes don’t have the same gravitas, which is why Shakespeare never tried stand-up.
Call us for your corporate show – we need your big bucks so we can spend it on doing other stuff which is for chindi people!