Laughter is the best defence. When times go really bad, it becomes the best form of offence too. The powerful have hate it always. Which is why many call comedy -- one of the oldest drama art forms -- the most serious business humanity has ever come up with. Even though the explosion of Stand-up Comedy in the United States, one of the biggest markets for the genre, happened in the 1970s, similar art forms existed way back in the 1800s in Europe and even in India. In fact, Kerala’s own Chakyar Koothu, which is extremely popular even today, traces its origins as far back as in 2nd Century AD.
But in India, the comedy culture never went beyond the constraints of feudal patrons or street shows until a few daredevils gave it a spin just a few years ago. And that coincided with the boom in streaming services. Now, Stand-up is a booming business in India and we have our own bunch of creative, irreverent men and women, most of them are young, who produce shows, online and offline, that entertain a larger audience while forming the country’s best defence against misinformation, religious hatred and bigotry, political issues and more. From Kunal Kamra to Aditi Mittal, these comedians are, as George Carlin would put it, dutifully finding out where the line is drawn and are crossing it deliberately”
So, here we are once again, staring at yet another weekend and in this edition of What to Binge-Watch This weekend, we present you with great comedy shows you must not miss this weekend. Have a blast laughing, folks!
One Mic Stand, five episodes of 30 mins, Amazon Prime
The show is just out and the star is Shashi Tharoor. Yes, you’ve heard me. The parliamentarian and former UN top gun has done one of the five episodes of the show, hosted by comedian Sapan Varma and backed by some of the most interesting names in Indian stand-up comedy today, namely, Zakir Khan, Kunal Kamra, etc. The first season of One Mic Stand also features YouTube star Bhuvan Bam, actors Taapsee Pannu, Richa Chadha and singer Vishal Dadlani cracking jokes on almost everything under the sun. Tharoor’s short performance comes towards the end of the final episode and he takes a dig at the usual suspects. And his pet peeves include, yes, Prime Minister Modi, the British Raj and more. Obviously, the show would have you wanting more, especially from Tharoor; still, it’s worth your money and time. After all, you move 43 muscles when you laugh!
Biswa Kalyan Rath: Sushi, 1 hr, Amazon Prime
Biswa is already a stand-up star in India, thanks to his immensely popular show, Biswa Mast Aadmi. If you haven’t seen that already, go watch it on PrimeVideo. Biswa is now back with another 60-minute laugh riot and this time too it is spectacular. His histrionics has improved and the jokes sound organic and raw as usual. Directed by Siddharth Vasani, the show has all the right ingredients to lighten up a late weekend evening. Statutory warning: Don’t grab your popcorn cup while you’re watching Biswa, you may choke and hurt your humble trachea and the not-so-humble lungs.
Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable, 1hr+, Netflix
Several women have made their mark in the global stand-up market ever since pioneers such as Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers crackled up the scene in the 1960s and later. In fact, Amazon Prime has a hilarious show called The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for those who want to explore the role of women in stand-up comedy. The American period comedy-drama series stars Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a housewife who discovers her talent in stand-up comedy, way back in 1958’s New York City. The series ran for two seasons and a third is coming next month. Now, back to the show I want to recommend, Relatable is a 2018 stand-up comedy special by comedian and TV host Ellen DeGeneres. This was Ellen’s first stand-up special in 15 years. And what a comeback it is! Watch it to laugh, cry, get angry, agitated and laugh again. This is a fine and elegant piece of comedy. A treasure, ignore all the critics and trust me.
Richard Pryor, Live in Concert, 1hr 18 min, Netflix
If you have to know just one name in global stand-up comedy, it should be Richard Pryor, who, arguably, is the most popular Afro-American comedian the art for has ever seen. Pryor was one of the most successful entertainers of the 1970s and 1980s. Many of his shows are not available on legitimate streaming platforms. And that’s where this rare gem from Netflix makes a difference. It is quintessential Pryor; sharp, sarcastic to the core and political and personal. The show is a crash course into the political history of Blacks in America and elsewhere. If you’ve enjoyed it well, you may top up the feeling with a few shows of the current heartthrob of colour comedy in America, the cute and clever Trevor Noah -- also available on Netflix.
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, 26 episodes and counting, Netflix
For starters, Minhaj is a young American comedy star, who recently hogged headlines in India for all the wrong reasons after some of his remarks on the political climate in India irked a certain slice of the country’s population. His shows mix news, social affairs, politics and culture and this particular show has been on since October 2018, on Netflix. Produced by Minhaj and Prashanth Venkataramanujam, the show had hit five seasons by now and there are some 26 episodes for your to binge on. The show has won an Emmy, a Peabody Award, and two Webby Awards, in case you need more reasons to get started.