In a world where our attention spans are shrinking to dangerously low levels thanks to social media — hey, look a bird! — successful comedians who perform 30-minute sets, make reels, write books and host podcasts, have no choice but to demand all the space in your mind to ensure they are consumed.
Is that why they tend to make random statements and crack peculiar jokes to hold a rowdy crowd that is heckling, drifting away or incessantly doom-scrolling? Two of the three panellists — Anuradha Menon and Cyrus Broacha — who will be at The Hindu’s Lit Fest 2024 as part of the session May I Have Your Attention Please?: How To Hold An Audience on January 26 along with Kanan Gill, go into the details of how they compete with videos of slime that get over two million views.
“I like to say things which are close to the truth like ‘Can I go pee for two minutes?’ or ‘I think the police are here’. I feel like these kinds of things tend to keep audiences interested in the event,” says Cyrus Broacha, comedian, columnist and podcast host of Cyrus Says. He adds that being consistently in the loop with the feelings of the audience could sometimes hinder the creative process too. “This is why my marriage is the way it is. You have to be in the moment and stay connected. It is very simple actually. Of course, I may be wrong so don’t listen to me,” he says.
Anu Menon, easily among the most popular faces of the popular Channel [V] as Lola Kutty, says that she was recently told that the Reels on Instagram have increased their window to 90 seconds now but the audience’s attention span does not last longer than 30 seconds. “It is crazy to me. We must now think of what we must show in 30 seconds. We are essentially fighting time,” she says.
This is why several self-deprecatory jokes end up being part of her set. The first thing she tends to do after going up on stage is to get up and make a joke about herself to ease things. “I also make friends with an audience member. They don’t know it yet but I end up cutting to the bff (best friend forever) during the 30 minute set as it is good to keep the audience involved,” she says.
It also helps to have some background in drama, adds Anu. “You can write a really good joke but you also have to sell it well. My stand up style will always involve some big eyes and dramatics,” she says.
Anu’s most interesting observation is to ensure that the comic uses the least number of words to get to the punchline.
Has the influence of any pop culture personalities rubbed off on the two of them? Anu concludes with a simple “Not really” while Cyrus says that his influences date back to the likes of Genghis Khan, Darius I and Alexander the Great.
At the panel on January 26, Anu says that one can expect to see a parley between three comedians from three different generations about how their writing has evolved. “Three people will take you through time,” she says.
Cyrus adds that Kanan (Gill) will play the role of a pedagogic informer, Anu will be a poetic artist-cum-comedian who might paint on stage for no reason while he will be on stage, carrying the heavy burden of being a sex symbol.
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