IN ON THE ACT
Stand-up comedy is a relative novelty in India, but it has caught on rapidly thanks to YouTube’s ability to dodge the censors, writes Penny Durham
The Daily Show cally in India,” Verma says in one, “we are more concerned about women entering temples without permission than about men entering women without permission.” It’s not the kind of thing you could say on television.
Verma says YouTube has been hugely important in India as a way of bypassing the censors and reaching a wide audience. “Within two to 2½ years of being on YouTube we saw a massive difference in our following,” he says. “Back in 2012-13 we were struggling to get 150-200 people for a gig. Since we have been on YouTube, we’re getting 800-1000 in any city.”
The Mumbai-based 27-year-old, who studied marketing and worked in advertising and as a TV scriptwriter, joined the embryonic comedy scene in 2010-11 and eventually went full-time. He and friends Sorabh Pant, Kunal Rao and Sahil Shah began performing live shows together. “East India Comedy” is a sly reference to the introduced nature of their style of comedy.
“We had to give ourselves a name, so we came up with this horrible pun on the East India Company: ‘We will import laughter into India and colonise the country with our jokes!’ ” he says. Other comics joined the group, they started putting videos on YouTube, and they now have writers, editors and a production team.
The clearest example of their influence is a video Verma made about student suicide. Competition for spots in a good medical or engineering college forces many students into exam-prep bootcamp, where the pressure overwhelms an alarming number of them. The video is jokey — “The only institution where