Comedian-activist Rajmohan Arumugam discusses mentoring young comics for Tamil show ‘Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa’
Rajmohan Arumugam has had a productive lockdown; he launched his own YouTube channel addressing socially-relevant issues in a simple, conversational style, in the hope to make them comprehensible for college students.
He is one of the judges and mentors for the comedy hunt show, Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa, a spin on Comicstaan (Hindi) which was launched in 2018 and produced by Amazon Prime Video. While the format of the show largely remains the same, the Tamil version, according to Rajmohan, is even more culturally-specific.
He is unsure of the demography of audience consuming stand-up on OTT platforms, but is sure of the effect the pandemic has had on them. “Thanks to the lockdown, people are consuming a lot more content on digital platforms. I am in Karaikudi currently shooting for a web series and I met someone who was asking about Comicstaan Tamil. This means that digital penetration has already started,” says Rajmohan over a Zoom call. Excerpts from the conversation:
How did this offer come about? Have you been following Comicstaan?
Yes, I have. In Tamil cinema, there have been a range of comedians playing to their strengths, starting from NS Krishnan to the very recent Santhanam. But that only resulted in a mix bag of genres over the years. I always felt that original comedy needed a kalam (platform). Comicstaan provided that.
What has been your observation about comics, having interacted with them for the show?
That they are eager to learn and unlearn. For instance, we had some suggestions/comments for Abhishek (known for his Janaki teacher videos)… he immediately worked on those in his next act. Likewise, Annamalai is one comic who is quite conventional in his ideas. We changed his thought process. There is a female comic who is bold, modern and touches upon subjects that are usually brushed aside.
What specific genre did you train them in?
I have two acts on the show. Sketch comedy is one genre for which I mentored them; it is where they come together for a joint performance. We had several workshops, which were an ice-breaker for me and for them.
What is your equation with fellow mentors, Karthik Kumar and Praveen Kumar?
KK is like our ancestor (laughs). At a time when there was little to no awareness about stand-up, he was performing to a packed audience in Narada Gana Sabha for an hour. KK and I go back in time. He used to judge cultural events when I was in college. Later when I worked as an RJ, he came as guest on my show. He is still here and kicking. PK, on the other hand, is like biryani. Everyone likes him.
You are in a part journalist, part activist zone with your socially-relevant videos. Is there a dearth of political satire?
Absolutely. In first world countries, you can invite the President and roast him. Here, you cannot even make a joke about a Municipal counsellor (laughs). When the families of politicians consume comedy and take them lightly, everything is bound to change.
In today’s times, stand-up is mostly associated with a certain section of the audience, particularly the upper class. How do you hope to reach local talents, say someone from interior Tamil Nadu?
When we say Tamil Nadu, we invariably think only of Chennai. But that is not the case. There may be comics performing elsewhere. They might not know the aesthetics of a typical ‘stand-up’, but the fact that they exist is something we need to acknowledge. We have had talents coming from other parts of the State as well. But that wasn’t too big a number. I’m confident that Comicstaan Tamil will open doors and encourage more comics.
What next after Comicstaan?
I am directing a movie. It is a high-school subject and has KK playing a role. If things go well, it should be ready for release next summer.
Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa drops on Amazon Prime Video on September 11