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Review: ‘Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa’ Both Entertains and Educates Its Audience

By Janardhanan Raghavan 27 October 2020

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After two successful seasons in Hindi, Comicstaan is back with another edition, now in Tamil. Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa is the Tamil spin-off of Amazon Prime Video’s popular comedy competition series, which brings together ten aspiring comics in a search for the next big Indian comedy star. The Tamil version has a shorter format with eight episodes and three judges— Karthik Kumar, Praveen Kumar and Rajmohan Arumugam—mentoring a team of six comics. 

The Tamil stand-up scene is still young, especially when compared with the long tradition of slapstick film comedy as performed by J P Chandrababu, Nagesh, T.S. Balliah et al, or the satirical theatre of Cho Ramaswamy, Y G Parthasarathy, and punster kingpin Crazy Mohan. Tamil comics have won a lot of accolades in comedy circles, but there’s still a lot of space for the scene and its audience to grow and evolve.

The producers of Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa may have been thinking along the same lines, because they designed a show that is less a comedy showcase than an education in the nuts and bolts of making people laugh, one that’s just as edifying for the audience as it is for the competitors. Syama Harini, Abhishek Kumar, Mayandi Karunanithi, Yogesh Jagannathan, Karthigeyan Durai and Anamalai Lakshmanan are put through their paces by the three mentors, who give them a crash course in various genres of comedy: sketch, anecdotal, topical, improv, and so on.

This means that you occasionally have to sit through some quite underwhelming performances, especially in the early episodes. But as the competitors learn the tricks of the trade and hit their stride, you can see that growth in the quality of their jokes. And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll leave a better judge of comedy too. A lot of the credit for that goes to Karthik, Praveen and Rajmohan, who freely offered their insights on the craft of comedy to these talented youngsters.

In its best moments, Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa featured an easy interplay of quick wit between the judges, the hosts and the competitors, such as the episode on topical comedy. With Karthik Kumar in the mentor’s post, the episode featured some very intelligent writing, such as Syama’s “Avanrombe Peter, vala nelaikkaadhu” (in reference to crushing on Spiderman) and Yogesh’s slick “Comedy eh kadan vaangi thaan panren” one-liner during his bit on living a middle-class life. Karthik Kumar’s theoretical musings on comedy were just as interesting as the jokes on offer.

Other highlights include episode six, which featured Praveen Kumar mentoring the contestants on anecdotal comedy, and Rajamohan helping the young comics add theatre and drama to their arsenal in the sketch comedy episode. The contestants up their game in all three sketches in this bomb of an episode.

But the contestants’ lack of experience can sometimes lead to painfully awkward performances when a performer finds themselves out of their depth. This is especially noticeable in the improv episode, where the lack of training—and perhaps Karthik Kumar’s limited improv experience—led to underwhelming performances by everyone bar Anamalai. Praveen Kumar’s “wife jokes” in episode two also left a bad taste, especially now that Indian comedy is finally moving away from those tired old gender tropes.

The best performances of the season were, predictably, reserved for episode 7, when all the contestants battled it out to secure a spot in the finale. Rajamohan guided the contestants through the process of creating their own characters, and all six comics hit it out of the park. In comparison, the actual finale was a somewhat looser and less entertaining affair, with the exception of eventual winner Abhishek Kumar, whose piece on GRE and MS in Engineering was a big hit with the audience.

English and Hindi standup has a head start on regional language comedy, so it would be unfair to judge Comicstaan Semma Comedy Pa by the standards of its larger cousin. But the show is taking the right steps towards building a structure and an audience for Tamil comedy. It’s a great start, and we can’t wait to see them do it even better in season 2.

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