While in Mumbai I had the opportunity to attend my first stand-up comedy performances in India. Here below are five thoughts and memories from my 2+ hours at The Comedy Store in Mumbai.
1) The Comedy Store is a comedy club situated in a swanky mall in the Lower Parel neighborhood. It took me about an hour to get to it by Taxi from Colaba on a Saturday evening. I had tickets for the early show that started at 8 and made it with about 20 minutes to spare. The club is easy to spot once in the mall. You can reserve your seats online and the will-call window moves very quickly to help you get to the show easily once you are at the venue. Tickets went for about 11 USD per person. Once inside, there a cafe which serves finger foods and drinks. The cafe was very busy but efficient in fulfilling orders with about a five-minute turnaround time.
There is also a bar in the comedy store. However the day I chose to visit was one of Mumbai’s dry days which made for a mellow bar crowd that was getting its highs on Diet Pepsi!
2) The decor throughout the cafe and bar areas and the main performance hall is very reminiscent of comedy clubs I have been to in the U.S. There’s framed photos of famous performers and soft lighting. Once I had my food and water, I went to the main hall which has free seating. The hall is auditorium-style and no orders are taken during the performances. The acoustics are good but for some reason the songs played while there was no stand-up act on stage were blasted out really loud. The seating is uber-comfortable with leg-room the kinds of which is unheard of outside of business class on Virgin Air.
3) There’s three preconceived notions I went in to the stand-up acts with.
a) The acts wouldn’t start on time as this is India and all…
b) The acts would not be as uncensored and uncompromising what this being just one week after Bal Thackeray’s death and all….
c) The acts would include way too much Hindi what this being in Mumbai and all….
You will be glad to know I went 0 for 3 on my stereotyping.
4) The comedians for the day were Neville Shah, Kunal Rao and Tanmay Bhat. Each of these men had different styles in both choice of content and delivery. I enjoyed all 3 of them. Neville started off the show on time with a 20 minute blitzkrieg that skewered Bollywood, Mumbai and the unlucky front row-ers. Any fears I had that the acts would be censored and toned down were put to rest as soon as Neville went off on these sacred cows. Neville like many self-deprecating comedians has an interesting family background and went off on both sides of his family with gusto. Kunal is a retired chartered accountant and south Indian who went off on those very two things apart from giving a late-comer family the full shebang on punctuality and using one’s brains. Tanmay was the final act. And it was easy to see why. He is a big dude that oozes humor and sarcasm with every word while delivering laugh-a-second punchlines. Just like evryone else he was brutally uncensored and skewered people from every religion, race and gender.
5) I don’t want to play spoiler by revealing specific jokes or anything else about their acts but I want to reiterate that there was zero evidence of any censorship or restraint. This to me was the highlight of the night. To watch free speech in the manner of an unforgiving roast in Mumbai a week after the death of one of its most influential leaders was therapeutic and inspiring. I know this would not be possible in so many other places in the world. Thank you Comedy Store, Mumbai and India in that order!