A group of South Asian stand-up comedians are gearing up to entertain audiences across North America through a virtual show this Saturday. Titled “Hasya,” the show is presented by Manan Singh Katohora, a Washington, D.C.-based entrepreneur, film producer and show promoter. Featured comics include Amamah Sardar, Badar Tareen, Prathaviraj Purohit, Sonya Vai and Zahra Ali.
Katohora, the go-to person for promoting marketing events to the large South Asian American community, hosted his first virtual comedy event — “Hasna,” on May 30 featuring Sonya Vai, Ali Mehedi, Kasha Patel and Rajiv Satyal. “It was a huge success,” Katohora says, alluding to how audiences are welcoming the new medium in which comedy is presented.
Comedians featured on the July 25 event say the audience will be treated to a lot of desi and brown content which is inspred by their unique experiences. There will be a dose of culture, politics, as well as South Asian American experiences, which drew most of them to the genre.
Badal Tareen, a Pakistani American who grew up in a small town in North Dakota, says it is family, relations and politics that drives his content. “What I see and experience forms a large part of my stand-up routine,” he says, adding that his humor is “pretty clean.”
For comedian, writer, actress, Zahra Ali, it is “the ability to be honest and unfiltered, which aunties and our South Asian culture frown upon. There is always something to draw from, because people will never disappoint you in being completely ridiculous.”
For Sonya Vai, comedy is very personal “I draw my inspiration from my experiences, specifically the tragic ones,” she says. “As they say, comedy equals tragedy plus time!”
Ever since the lockdown and shelter-in-place orders have taken effect since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, comedians across the world are switching their performances to virtual platforms. Many say how they miss the interaction of the live audience, the audible, reflexive laughter that are the backbone of their performances.
So how has the global health crisis forced these South Asian comedians to adapt? How has it changed the way they perform? And what are some of the challenges?
“It’s completely changed how we all perform,” says Amamah Sardar, a New York-based standup comedian, storyteller, and writer. “Virtual shows can be great but it’s not like you can do crowd work or connect with the audience at an intimate level the way you can in person.” And to accommodate the new situation, Amamah says she has included more material about virtual connections. “I think with any major change in the world, it’s important to address it in your set.”
Sonya Vai agrees. She says although she hasn’t changed her material too much to adapt to the online platform, she has “incorporated jokes about living during the age of Corona.”
Like Sonya, Prathaviraj Purohit’s material remains the same, but he “slightly modifies” it’s delivery. There’s also space constraints. “You have to be peering into a screen rather than moving around, the Mumbai-born stand-up comedian says. “There is less room for physical expression.”
Meanwhile, Zahra Ali is of the opinion that material has to be reflective of the medium it’s presented on. “Certain jokes only work on stage or during a live show, and they often crash and burn on virtual shows.”
However, one of the things they miss the most in the interaction with the audience.
Despite the challenges and the adjustments, there’s no compromise on the humor factor. “When performing virtually, I don’t always get to hear or see the crowd so it feels like I’m staring into a mirror and talking to myself,” Sonya says. “I imagine this is what it’s like to be a senile comedian, unless I’ve actually become one. I don’t know what’s real anymore!”
Other challenges of an online performance are network lags, poor wifi connections and a technologically challenged audience. “The laughs are not that loud,” says Prathaviraj. “Laughs act as a catalyst to keep going from one joke to the next,” he says. “Network lag is also a pain. Even a one second interruption can cause your audience to miss a key punch word, thus ruining the experience.”
An online event enables a person to log in to a show from anywhere in the world. While it widens the comedian’s reach, there are certain challenges, nonetheless. “There’s always someone who can’t figure out how to mute when they need to,” Zahra Ali notes. “Some people are still too shy to engage, or will mute themselves and not show themselves on camera,” she says. “Stand-up comedy is like a conversation, which relies on the audience’s reaction. If the comic cannot hear or see your reaction, we don’t know if our material is working for you.” And the events which don’t let the comedian see the audience, it gets more daunting. “In some cases, if everyone is on mute, it’s hard to gauge what works and what doesn’t” Sardar says.
Of course there are a few perks to the virtual platform, as Sonya points out: “Covid-19 has changed how I do comedy radically. Now for every show I do online, I go pantless, and I’m hoping to keep that up once live comedy returns.”
“Hasya” will be held on Saturday, July 25 at 9:00 p.m. EST. The event is open to everyone in the U.S., 18 years and up. For tickets, visit https://Sulekha.com/HASYA, https://HASYA.Eventbrite.com – https://HASYA.Eventcombo.com– https://www.HungamaCity.com/HASYA
This show will be presented using the CROWDCAST live video platform. Ticketholders will be sent an e-mail 60 minutes before showtime with instructions (Event Link and Password) on how to log in to watch the show.
Bhargavi immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and has worked with Indian American media since then in various capacities. She has a degree in English literature and French. Through an opportunity from Alliance Française de New York, Bhargavi taught French at Baruch college for over a year. After taking a break and two kids later, she went back to work in the Desi media. An adventure sport enthusiast, in her free time, she likes to cook, bake or go for hikes, biking and long walks.