Praveen Kumar is an excellent teller of anecdotes. He meanders before swiftly delivering a punchline when you least expect it. He’s self-aware. He intentionally drops bad jokes and turns them into good ones by mocking himself. He is often a step ahead of the audience. He rescues many jokes by modifying them midway based on how the audience reacted to the build-up. So, there’s a lot to root for in Mr. Family Man, on Amazon Prime Video. Except for the material, which is — almost always — banal.
I was wondering what kind of comedy Praveen was going to craft with a title like Mr. Family Man. Was it going to mock the middle-class family man? Or was it going to probe deeper into what such a person goes through? Or, would it be an existentialist rant about being a family man, the meaning of it all? In the end, it turned out to be a trite (though partly funny) male-centric rant about how women, children, electricians, and teachers make the life of a family man difficult. Basically, a curated collection of WhatsApp jokes that you’re too tired to read, and would rather have a comic say it out for you with some embellishment.
Since there’s nothing fresh in the material or the treatment, Praveen relies entirely on his delivery. Mr. Family Man is never consistently funny, even for a few jokes at a stretch. That doesn’t mean that it is wholly boring otherwise. Praveen is funny in such a delightfully low-key manner in parts (when his material supports him) that the other parts feel like let-downs, even though they aren’t especially bad. The not-so-good parts feel unfunny due to the uneven nature of the writing.
Think of him as the stand-up comedy version of Santhanam, relying mainly on spur-of-the-moment wordplay or a funny twist to a familiar phrase. He doesn’t systematically build up comic tension. You don’t get a single joke that leaves you ROFLing. Praveen conforms to a comic average, never trying harder.
He starts off his act saying that a family man is a piteous being who has to make a lot of sacrifices and adjustments. We’ve all heard those rants — funny and unfunny — from grandfathers, fathers, uncles, and friends. We don’t need a stand-up comic to recount it for us, unless the material is going to be elevated into something beyond a basic rant. Praveen loses the element of surprise by picking such a banal topic. You can never predict what his next line will be, but you can often predict what his next joke will be.
The jokes about his wife and her friends are patently unfunny. Since they aren’t funny, they also seem overtly bad in taste. You begin to wonder if jokes that are bad in taste might actually be his thing. Thankfully, his set piece about taking his wife out to an anniversary dinner is brilliant, thanks to his way of telling a story that makes it hard to predict which way he will go with it.
He can sometimes be absurd, sometimes even surreal. He mimes with imaginary people and gets caught up in thought bubbles like cartoon characters. But, most of his gags become too narrow and specific after a point. His jokes are too literal. Many of them are simply aimed at a narrow demographic.
There’s nothing wrong in comedy that is rooted in a specific culture, sensibility, or even class. But, this material has to be generalised in some way to make it at least a bit more accessible — if not universal — for a ‘sequence of jokes’ to become ‘comedy’. It’s all good to make a joke about going out shopping with your wife. But, if that’s all there is to that joke, then a stand-up comic is merely reminding people of the mildly funny things in their own lives. You have to do something with it for it to be funny to a broader audience.
Praveen does sometimes look at things in an interesting way, but he’s more often content with merely reminding us of a few very specific things about middle-class life. It’s hit-and-miss. If you’ve actually experienced those things or heard of them from your friends, the jokes might work for you. If you haven’t, you just have to hope that his next joke works for you.