The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is among the most prestigious of its kind anywhere in the world. It is a sign of how much the Indian comedy scene has grown that they have been travelling to India with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow the last four-five years, and also actively scouting local talent to find acts to showcase back in Australia.
For the past few years, an Indian contingent has been travelling to the festival, and performing 20-25 shows over the course of a month, to appreciative audiences. Some of these performances are also filmed for Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC Television, which is why they’re available on YouTube.
For followers of the Indian scene, it’s instructive to see how comedians adapt their performance for an international audience. While we wait for this year’s batch to return, here are five videos of Indian comics who have killed at the Melbourne festival in the past.
5. Rohan Desai
Desai took a risk in his set at the festival, playing a fumbling, incompetent comic who is following written instructions on how to perform comedy. It paid off hugely—the audience was instantly on his side, and roared along with every nervous twitch.
4. Aditi Mittal
Mittal addresses stereotypes that exist about the “female comedian” in India, the unexpected wisdom she gets from a harrowing childhood tale and introduces Australian audiences to “bobs and vagene”. Of all the sets on the list, Mittal’s is the best received by the Australian audience, perhaps because her material taps into the global zietgeist more effectively than the others’.
3. Azeem Banatwalla
Banatwalla talks about Mumbai traffic, anti-smoking propaganda and crunches some numbers about smokers’ deaths. Although some of his premises and references are more immediately relatable to Indians, the comedian delivers a typically crisp set, carrying the audience with him as punches in and out of his jokes.
2. Daniel Fernandes
Fernandes went with some edgy material, including his reaction when he heard of a prospective landlord’s objections to Muslims and Catholics, German support for Syria, Israel and Palestine and school shootings. He had his audience squirming, and even groaning at some jokes, but Fernandes is such a consummate performer that it’s actually even a pleasure to watch him work a less than warm room.
1. Karunesh Talwar
Talwar opens by declaring that the best question he’s ever been asked if he’d like to get paid to come to Australia for a month. He then performs a set of which several jokes would be familiar to his Indian fans—but it’s fascinating to watch how adapting them to English affects the rhythm of the material.
Bonus: This delightful audio recording of Sumit Anand wasn’t recorded at the Melbourne festival, but is about performing (and struggling) at it. It’s a delight for fans of Anand’s laidback style, behind which lies some cracking writing and delivery.