In his review of the second season of Comicstaan, Film Companion’s critic Aniruddho Chakraborthy called the Hindi version of Amazon Prime Video’s comedy special “the taking man’s Laughter Challenge”. A comparison to an older regional show is something even the creators of Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa seem to be facing, with viewers, especially on social media, trying to pit it against Vijay TV’s Kalakka Povathu Yaaru, despite the vast difference in terms of format, content and, naturally, it’s target audience.
In all fairness, anyone sitting down to binge on Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa expecting an eight-hour long laugh riot is likely to be disappointed. And that’s largely because of how the show positions itself — as a mentoring programme trying to give the six contestants a larger platform, along with the guidance of professionals such as Karthik Kumar, Rajmohan Arumugam and ‘family man’ Praveen Kumar. The show doesn’t even claim to be a showcase for polished, finished performers and that means that it’s best enjoyed with the nervousness you’d feel while watching a person mould clay for the first time, hoping it would end up looking like a pot.
And, like in any reality show, the enjoyment one gains from it is based on hitching your wagon to a horse, hoping it would go on to win big in the finale. But with Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa, it’s equally fun to see how you find yourself drawing up character arcs for each performer based on his/her strengths and weaknesses, because that’s almost a part of its design. Each round presents the performer with a new challenge/opportunity and while one round may seem most conducive for a particular talent, it might seem extremely hard for another despite a wider skillset.
For instance, one of the rounds includes the performer writing and creating a three-minute set by becoming a fictional character of choice. Karthikeyan Durai, who seemed out of place during the observational and anecdotal comedy rounds, really came into his own as he played a bunny-shaped garbage bin with a suspect mixed parentage. And during the improv round, where a topic and five random images are presented to the participant on-stage, the audience also feels the participant’s pressure to think on one’s feet and emerge with comedy gold.
While the topics covered generally stay clear of politics or any pressing issues, Syama Harini delivers a hilarious set poking fun at the names of sanitary napkin brands, choosing to rechristen them with more “realistic” names, taking us along with each joke.
But a problem you’re likely to face with this format is the waiting one has to go through before a truly entertaining set comes up on stage. At their level of mastery or the lack of it, it’s possible that you finish entire episodes without managing even a chuckle. But there’s always comedy technique and skill set one can learn even when a joke doesn’t land or when a performer bombs on stage.
This is because it’s a show that focusses a lot on the craftsmanship of standup comedy. The show accepts that the future audience for these performers are a combination of corporates and comedy clubs that serve a crowd, however small that crowd may be, which thinks and speaks in a mix of Tamil and English. And with that, it becomes clear for us too that the participants cannot go ahead and do or say just about anything to elicit laughter.
The craft matters too, and when there’s a pause during a set or when a “callback” doesn’t work like planned, the judge’s comments really help us understand the nature of a standup show; it’s more nuanced than feedback that something is good or bad.
The show does get flabby in parts, with certain episodes exceeding 50 minutes of runtime, and, at times, you do feel a mismatch between the comments of the judges and the marks they’re giving, but Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa offers more to learn than overall laughs per minute. Add a few unforgettable puns to the mix and a set of very likeable performers and you get a beta version show that could really prove seminal for the small but growing Tamil standup scene. It’s more a work in progress, but progress it certainly is.