There are so many standup shows happening across India these days that it’s difficult to keep of track of who’s performing where. Even trickier is figuring what kind of show you want to see. To help you navigate this muddle, we’ve made a list of the different kinds of standup shows that there are, so you can make an informed decision about what you’re really in the mood for when you’re booking tickets.
1. Open mics
Open mics are the foundation of any standup scene. They are where comics start out, fail, try new material, and shape it over weeks and months and years till they’re ready for bigger audiences. In its purest form, an open mic allows first timers and amateurs to test their skills without any prior experience. The venues can often be very barebones, so this may not feel like a fancy evening out. As we’ve argued here, these events should typically be free to attend.
- you’re a hardcore comedy enthusiast
- you don’t mind sitting through nine clunkers before coming across one unknown comic who has the beginnings of great talent
- you want to support the scene
2. Curated open mics
These are one tier above pure open mics, and involve a producer or curator selecting a lineup of comics, some or many of whom have a fair degree of experience. While they might try new jokes that bomb, they also have enough skill to win the audience back with more tested material. And since there are usually several comics on the lineup, the show keeps moving. So even if one or two of the less experienced acts bomb, you’re generally assured an evening of laughs.
- you’re a comedy fan, and one more more of the comics on the lineup have already caught your interest
- you’re excited by the idea of seeing comics with experience, working new material, which may not make it to bigger sets
- you want a fun show for not too much money
3. Comedy showcase
A comedy showcase features between two and seven comics performing extended bits of tight material, typically over 90 minutes. The venues hosting showcases are usually more established and the comics are seasoned, so these shows are a pretty safe bet for a great evening out with friends.
- you want to catch a combination of comics you aren’t otherwise likely to see performing together
- you want to see material that is tested and works
- you’re looking for a fun way to spend an evening
4. Trial shows
Trial shows are where big names work on their longer sets, chopping and changing material over months to perfect their full-length shows, which they can tour to bigger audiences, and perhaps film for release. It’s a great time for fans of particular comics to watch them in an intimate setting, and get a glimpse of the material that will go on to be widely seen. Trial shows are also usually affordable.
- you’re a diehard fan of a particular comedian
- you don’t mind watching jokes in their first few drafts
- you want to see their special take shape and be a part of the process
This is a stand-up show in its most developed form. It is usually around an hour long, and has been worked on and perfected over months or even years. The comedian has toiled to give it pace, rhythm and structure, and by the time she tours with it or films it, she knows the pieces of it so well that there is no chance of it bombing. It’s the show to go to if you want to see any comic in top form. This is also where you can catch upcoming comics, who open for headliners.
- you don’t have much patience or interest for comics testing jokes
- don’t mind paying a premium price for a finely honed hour
- you want an evening out
6. Solo Tour
Once the comic is satisfied with how a one-hour special has turned out, they set off on a solo tour, travelling with it in India and abroad, especially in cities that have a strong comedy following. This is also a great time to catch fresh upcoming talent, because the main comic is usually very careful about who opens for her/him on tour; they’re very unlikely to put on someone they’ve never seen before.
- you don’t mind paying a premium price for a finely honed hour
- you want to watch comedy only once it’s fully ready
- you’re excited to potentially discover the Next Big Thing through the opening act
7. Live Taping
Tapings are specials that are filmed for telecast. Once a Special has been extensively toured, a comic will choose a city they enjoy performing in the most to tape their show. So there’ll be lots of lights and other equipment, some audience briefing, lots of waiting around as the crew gets everything into place, and a general sense of excitement that the evening’s proceedings are going to be seen widely. Live tapings now also include comedy talk show formats (e.g. Abish Mathew’s Son of Abish).
- you love a particular comic so much that you don’t mind suffering through the organisational hassles that sometimes come with tapings
- you have ambitions of making it to the special in a reaction shot
- you’re not looking for a particularly intimate show
8. Improv & Improvised Standup
Improv comedy is unscripted mayhem. Part comedy-part theatre, games are played, and sketches, complete with plots and dialogues, are made up on the spot. Famous pairings here include Sumukhi Suresh and Naveen Richard, Kanan Gill and Kenny Sebastian, Aadar Malik and Brij Bhakta, as also Kaneez Surka’s concept show, The General Fun Game Show.
Improvised standup comedy is basically a whole show consisting of crowd work, instead of rehearsed jokes and material. This is relatively new in the Indian circuit, kickstarted with Daniel Fernandes’ Talk To Me and Rahul Subramanian’s The Crowd Work Show (Subramanian has recently released bits from his second crowd work show, You and Me, while Fernandes just dropped the country’s first crowd work special on YouTube), and Biswa Kalyan Rath’s Reverse Therapy. Both forms rely heavily on audience participation to keep the show going, so your investment as an audience member is higher here than with other shows.
- you want to get up close and very personal with your favourite comic
- you’re a first-row thrill-seeker
- you want to really be an integral part of the show and will participate
9. Comedy Festival
Comedy festivals in India are still few and far between, but basically you’re looking at 3-5 days of comedy across multiple venues in a single city, with multiple shows, concepts and lineups that you wouldn’t otherwise find together in one place. A comedy festival plays a huge role in introducing comedy as an art form to hitherto untapped audiences, hopefully reeling them in for the local shows that run through the rest of the year. Of course, when you have so many comedians hanging out together in one place, it’s basically one big party.
- you’re a comedy superfan
- you still have no idea what the whole fuss about standup comedy is
- you can handle a laugh marathon