Comedy can be tricky business, depending on the platform you use and the audience you address. The content is often a comment on society and its people, and there is a fine line between being funny and offensive. Stand-up comics in India say, while a live audience might be able to understand your context, the internet could be more sensitive to your opinions. Popular stand-ups Amit Tandon, Akash Gupta and Urooj Ashfaq, who have come together for Comedy Premium League on Netflix, talk about how they have to keep revising their content to keep it relevant.
“We always go back and keep rewriting our stuff time to time. My experience is that the live audience versus the internet audience, there’s a big difference. Live audience is way more accepting than the internet audience, where they would go back and comment on the smallest of things. The internet is a very interactive medium. So if we do something wrong, people will mention it. You don’t have to agree with everything, but some things might need to change, and you go back to ensure that it doesn’t happen,” says Amit.
Urooj explains further, “When you buy a ticket and come and sit in an auditorium, and we start the show and set a context to ourselves, people understand it’s a joke, you don’t really mean it. On the internet, it’s often taken out of context. Even if you put a full video, they can pick out a line or two – because some of the people are seeing you for the first time and they don’t know what kind of person you are – and they could get upset about something you’ve said. Sometimes they do have a point, and sometimes they don’t.
There is no dearth of comic content on the internet, anyone with a smartphone can make a funny video and put it up. But stand-up comedians say those short videos do not have the same impact as a full-blown show. Referring to whether these short forms of content can prove to be a competition to live shows, Akash says, “I think it’s just a different branch of comedy, there is no feeling of competition. For most of us, the internet is a secondary platform, because we prefer performing live on stage. The day that opens up, I will go back to live gigs. But the creators on Instagram or YouTube, the internet is their primary platform, so they should feel the competition that we have entered their field.”
It is obvious that stand-up comedians prefer a live audience more than any other platform, even though they continue to experiment with other formats as well. Besides social media, streaming platforms have opened up another format for them to experiment with. Comedy Premium League, which dropped on Netflix on August 20, has 16 stand-up comedians divided in four teams, fighting to prove who is the funniest. While OTT comes with its own restrictions, it also helps stand-up comedians with a bigger scope and budget for experiment.
“For independent creators like us, they’re giving us the budget now and letting us experiment with it. OTT platforms are ready to spend a certain amount of money. So I can have a larger stage, a prop, something to make it bigger, and experiment more. That you will see in Comedy Premiere League also,” says Amit. Urooj adds, “Yes the budgets are larger, but it also comes with a collective responsibility and certain regulations. I have to be mindful of the fact that it’s not my solo show, there are other people involved so the consequences of what I say or do are also divided. So the content goes through a certain amount of filtration, which I fully completely understand.”