Early birds get the juiciest of worms. Well, the rib-tickling, laughter-inducing, breathlessly-joke-cracking comic Atul Khatri is one of such early birds on the stand-up comedy scene in India. In fact Atul considers himself ‘ancient’. His early start perhaps is what has him cracking the juiciest and absolutely bang-on jokes. Most know him from East India Company’s comedy channel on Youtube, and many others as one of the funniest stand-up comedy artists in India.
Stage fright is always there and should remain. Every time performing with different audience, different place can be frightening. It still gets nerve-wrecking even today. Most of the comedians still have it.”
Atul started off his journey as a stand-up comic publically, when Facebook was launched in India 10 years ago. He was one of the first few adopters who recognized social media as the space for “self-expression”. And express he did, leading to him finally taking on the comic stage in 2012.
According to Atul he was quite senior when at the age of 44 he took the stage, and made his first joke on ‘the concept of 1 by 2 soup invented by the Sindhis’. The joke is still an audience favourite that he occasionally cracks. Despite his ‘senior’ years and experience of ‘age’; and 200-300 shows under his belt, he still has moments of jittery nervousness, dry throat, and stage fright. Who knew that such well known and stage versed comedians too have such feelings. Atul explains, “Stage fright is always there and should remain. Every time performing with different audience, different place can be frightening. It still gets nerve-wrecking even today. Most of the comedians still have it.”
Luck is what you make of it. And during his initial stand-up days Atul did own couple of his lucky charms hoping they would ensure a good show. However, now he has stopped depending on his lucky shoe or lucky shirt (also the lucky ones are now desperately worn and torn) because he prefers to be realistic and gets to his show early, takes the stage to get the feel of the surrounding and audience and run his whole joke set over before starting, instead of relying on ‘lucky charms’ as his back-up.
A lot of people think it’s very easy to make people laugh. For 30-40 seconds maybe. But to stand and keep pitching jokes for 45 minutes making hundreds of people laugh is a different challenge altogether.”
One would assume that big timers like Atul could not possibly have a bad show, dead wrong there. It was just recently when things went awry. Only 20 people from an expected audience of 200 showed up at an outdoor gig. This stand-up comedy profession, as Atul says, is no joke really. “It is a very serious profession. A lot of people think it’s very easy to make people laugh. For 30-40 seconds maybe. But to stand and keep pitching jokes for 45 minutes making hundreds of people laugh is a different challenge altogether.”
Watch plenty of home grown stand-ups. Watch live Indian stand-up more than Youtube ones to get the real feel of a stand-up and learn.”
Atul advises upcoming comedians to take the comic affair seriously and keep their set original, by doing plenty of open mics and stand-up shows, and going whenever and where ever there may be a chance. He says “Use the opportunity. Watch plenty of home grown stand-ups. Watch live Indian stand-up more than Youtube ones to get the real feel of a stand-up and learn.” He strongly urges them not to copy, and limit watching British and American comics, for their concepts and references are vastly different from India’s.
“I would listen to Johnny Lever jokes over and over again on cassettes. They have been a catalyst in helping me evolve. A lot goes in as inspiration, watching comedy movies, MAD Magazines, etc.”
Though stand-up comedy is televised and has been getting common over the past few years, it is still relatively new in India. Sharing his views on the subject, Atul says, “The jokes have to come with enough philosophical subtlety that they don’t seem too deep and preachy for the audience. The comics must rely on their instincts to crack jokes that have social relevance and not push it too hard to make the set funny. Time and a lot of practise hold the key. The audience too must grow with the comic standards. There is still hope and the days are still young in the stand-up stage.”
Before the audience hung on to every pun by artists like Vir Das, Sorabh Pant, Papa C, or Atul Khatri, there were greats like Mehmood, Kishore Kumar and Johnny Lever and MAD Magazine. Atul gets nostalgic as he talks about being inspired as a kid by funny movies of Mehmood, Kishore Kumar, Johnny Lever and comic magazines. “I would listen to Johnny Lever jokes over and over again on cassettes. They have been a catalyst in helping me evolve. A lot goes in as inspiration, watching comedy movies, MAD Magazines, etc.”
Despite his comic celebrity status Atul is as humble as they come. He is pleasantly surprised when people approach him for autographs and since he is not ‘young’, he doesn’t let the celebrity treatment go to his head or get carried away with such ‘celebrity moments’.
With respect to future ventures, Atul has an upcoming national and international comic tour, while also working on his own solo show in 2017.
Atul’s jokes are ever so relatable with his experience of ‘been-there and done-that’, that one can’t help but crack up listening to him. If anything can be learned from Atul Khatri other than keeping it light, it is to keep it young. Age is after all just a number as proved by Atul, over and over again. It is his young heart and bold attitude that make him really happy, which have helped him avoid the infamous ‘mid-life crisis’. We, the audience hope to see more bold and ‘experienced’ comics in the stand-up circles.