Hosted by late comedian Vivek and Shiva, LOL – Enga Siri Paappom feels like Vijay TV’s Adhu Idhu Edhu extended to a three-hour format. Ten film and standup comedians battle it out over six hours in a house to be the last person standing — when someone laughs they’re eliminated. The contestants have to just keep talking to each other and hope to get someone else to laugh without laughing themselves. The list of participants includes names like Satish (Kaththi, Tamizh Padam 2, Sulthan), Pugazh, Harathi, Maya S Krishnan, Abhishek Kumar and Premji Amaren. And at random intervals, participants also get a ‘Task,’ called ‘Showtime’ here where they put on an elaborate comic act for a few minutes. LOL – Enga Siri Paappom starts off as mediocre improv but gets better towards the end as the competition heats up.
Because it’s unscripted, the show has moments of genuine hilarity and also moments of unbearable ‘mokka’. But it helps that Vivek and Shiva set the expectation that mokka is going to be par for course. In fact, a running gag between them throughout is that Shiva is trying to tell Vivek a comic anecdote, only to be given the slip every time. And much of the commentary both by the contestants and the hosts are about how some of these jokes are terrible. The show’s self-awareness keeps it watchable.
There are unfunny skits in drag and other very low-lying comic fruit in dubious taste is picked. But once it becomes a contest between just the last few contestants, Pugazh, Satish and Abhishek cut loose. Pugazh, especially, is hilarious with his costumes and accents. It’s impossible to describe his jokes in text because unlike the comedy in films, here the jokes erupt suddenly from a contestant; it’s then picked up and made better by a couple of other contestants, before it all fizzes out into a ‘mokka’ (you’d expect that because it’s unscripted).
In every 20-minute or so episode you get a few ridiculously comic moments. For instance, the bit where Satish and Maya confuse Pughazh about the pronunciation of ‘contestant’ is a riot. Similarly, Pugazh’s seemingly-ordinary one-liners are insanely funny — in context — especially his bit with Harathi where he does a variation of the scene from Ullathai Allitha where Senthil calls Goundamani to negotiate a ransom after a kidnapping. It’s not just his dialogues, his comic expressions, especially when he tries to mimic MR Radha or plays a local Chennai character are comic in the way Vadivelu is — with his entire body language. Abhishek, too, is brilliant in his ‘showtime’ bits where he roasts the other contestants with his rap.
Satish ends up eliminating a majority of the contestants with his deadpan comic delivery: a mixture of the unfunny, funny and I’m-aware-that-i’m-unfunny kind of jokes. Haarathi and Maya play perfect comic foil to the other contestants but are eliminated near the end because they aren’t able to make anyone laugh. Rather than their own unfunniness, part of the show’s problem is that its format is random and biased towards dialogue-oriented comedians. Even though six hours are compressed into about three hours of 25-minute chunks, the show still feels like walking through a marriage hall hearing relatives take aimless jibes at each other to amuse themselves — passably funny if you feel indulgent, and irritating if you expected proper scripted comedy. The ‘showtimes’ are not fairly timed to give every participant a fair chance at making someone laugh (Maya is eliminated before she gets to perform), and interventions by Vivek and Shiva don’t really prevent people from adopting a defensive strategy of not laughing at any cost, even if they can’t get someone to laugh.
Pugazh gets to be far more funny in a show like Cooku With Comali because he’s being funny while he’s doing an activity. The activity — a cooking contest — has a well-defined end goal with the comedy being a bonus. Here, being funny for six hours is a goal in itself. The ten comics struggle to be consistently funny and are often self-conscious that they’re not funny enough. But what holds the show together is the banter and camaraderie between the contestants and hosts. Even if the format is scattershot and the contestants unsure about what exactly they’re doing sometimes, LOL – Enga Siri Paappom works for it’s unpredictable comedy, though it’s uneven. Even if you’re digging through the dirt for five minutes for just five seconds of comic gold, it feels worth it.