Says Deep Chhabria, stand up comedian and India’s youngest pro comedian. He is also a copywriter at Grey Worldwide
Stand Up comedy is never a first career option. Comedy is sacred. It touches with words. It lets you tell people what is wrong with them in the best possible way. You are not shouting at them so they won’t defy you, it’s not a speech so they won’t get bored. You’re mirroring their lives, making them laugh at it and leaving them with something to think about. Though that is at an expressive level, morally, it feels great to make people laugh. I make people forget their worries and just listen to what I have to say for a while. Same with advertising, if you can use a medium to leave someone with a smile or a thought, there is nothing else you need to do to feel better about your existence.
I am a BMM graduate from KC College. There are no defined training days in comedy. It’s not a job. It is tough initially. You have to learn to be genuinely funny on your own. You don’t have a boss. It’s training every time you get on stage. You try to be better than your last time, every time. In advertising, I’m still going through the infancy stage and it’s hard. Long hours, grueling deadlines and a pay check that’s funnier than any of my jokes. But it’s worth it. I think my life gets balanced somewhere between a carefree hobby that pays and a strict job that doesn’t.
The only investment you need is a lot of time and self-esteem. Comedy is free. There are no courses and no colleges that can teach you how to make people laugh. Comedy doesn’t pay initially, but that can change depending on how good you are. One or two years into comedy you can start earning Rs.15-20,000 on an average every month. Advertising pays anywhere close to the same when you start. There’s no definite time period to become a professional. The more you get on stage, the better you get. Though, according to me it takes at least 18 months to 2 years to become decent and fairly famous in comedy. To be a competent advertising professional, it’s said your struggle period is five years. I think 3 years or so gives you a complete sense of the industry. A pro comedian has no limit to stacking that cash. The more famous you get the more shows you bag. Comedy now is no more restricted to stand up. Comedy has branched out into sketches, YouTube, etc. Plus, being a corporate comedian pays more. Though, even if you are decently well-known anywhere around Rs. 1.5 - 2 lakhs per month is a normal phenomenon. Advertising in the higher stages can pay a creative director close to the same.
Comedy has its fair share of perks. No corporate slavery, no working 9-5 and definitely no boss to hold you by the collar. It lets you travel, mostly on other’s expenses, wear what you want, meet new people and interact with people from all walks of life. Your work becomes your identity and there is complete creative freedom, to think. India is still very sensitive about topics like religion, sex, communities, etc. The biggest advantage is you get direct appreciation and love from the people. There is a lot of fame, only if you are good. Advertising has no advantages except stability, a liberal fashion sense and a stream to vent out your inner creative persona.
Comedy is a very tough job. It is not easy to make people laugh. It takes a lot of trial and error and most of the times you miss than hit. It’s a struggle, observing, writing, rewriting, getting stage time and collecting cheques. It’s an art and at the end of the day, it’s subjective. A show gone bad, compulsorily does not mean you were bad. A lot of factors play in, the setup, the mood of the crowd, interest, etc. People take offense easily and there’s always a threat of situations going out of control. People are the only thing more sensitive than Dettol in India. Advertising also has its bag of thorns. Deadlines are unreasonable, even more are the clients. It is tough to get good work released and expecting a fat cheque is a sin right from the word please.
My advice to those who want to take up comedy is - Go ahead; do it. Humor is the strongest form of expression. It’s powerful without force and beautiful without condition. Go up on stage, even if you don’t end up pursuing it, you’ll learn how to fail with a smile; and that I think is the essence of life. Get in to express, enjoy and touch. Advertising on the other hand is probably more powerful than comedy. I believe, at least when it comes to reaching a larger number of people. Failing is inevitable, but not trying is idiotic. Just remember me the first time you see someone laughing because of something silly you said in the spotlight.
As told to Monarose Sheila Pereira