Comedy Festival 2014 (Review).

Colombo’s Comedy Festival at Park Street Mews this June was a really interesting event — Sri Lankan stand-up? Who woulda thunk it?

Some of the comedians that night

There have been a couple of stand-up comedy nights going on around Colombo for a while now, but this was the first official big event. The line-up (Shuhaib, Jayanga, Laksheta, Navin, JJ, Sacha and Sabreen) was a bunch of crazies, all very quirky – you have to be, at least a bit, to be nuts enough to get on stage and tell jokes – and most of them very hard to dislike.

Some jokes fell totally flat, others got a few chuckles, and a few of those on stage were lucky enough to get loud roars of laughter and applause. Park Street Mews was lit up and flooded with people excited to watch stand-up, a lot of aunties surprisingly, one kid in the front seat (awkward because 18+ humour), and the crowd wan’t a tough one, their laughter egged the comedians on.

Joking around is hard work

I know what most funny people are thinking – and what I thought too – ‘well, I could do that!’ It really isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s not actually enough to have a great sense of humour, it’s not even enough if you’re that one person who makes all your friends laugh. Watching these guys (and girl) get up on stage, hyperventilate a bit at first, and then put effort into keeping a room full of people entertained – for a good 15-20 minutes – just by talking about random shizzle that one hopes is funny — it’s a rare talent. And just putting yourself out there, hoping you’ve got that talent, takes balls of steel.

A Sri Lankan brand of funny

Some parts of the acts had themes obviously inspired by Russell Peters, Dave Chapelle and other popular comedians from the US and the UK that we here love to watch on YouTube. And that’s alright. But Sri Lanka itself has got loads to laugh about, and it was extra fun to listen to fresh jokes that made us laugh at our Sri Lankan idiosyncrasies – like our notoriously nosey Aunties, our explicit road rage and our local accents. Points for acts that mixed in Sinhala and Tamil funnies.

Butthurt

There needs to be a disclaimer at the entrance of comedic events: Stand-up comedy is not for the easily butthurt. So please leave your butthurt at the door. Everything goes, when you’re on stage and laughing at the world we live in and everyone in it. The point is: take nothing seriously.

Who nailed it and who missed the mark?

I won’t lie – a couple jokes that night made us cringe because they were either way too slapstick or just plain awkward. Yeah, some comedy works in a Lisa Lampanelli audience, but you’ve got to be wise when trying to directly apply them to one in Colombo that’s barely ever been exposed to live stand-up before. Burns and crudity can be hilarious – but it takes a connoisseur to make sure it isn’t overdone. There were still some solid comedians in the house – Shuhaib, Sabreen and Sacha impressed a lot of funny-bones in the audience.

Whether it was about sex, or traffic jams, or each other, the best jokes – we noticed – relied completely on the likability of the comedian. If you can’t get the audience to like you as a person, they’re not going to want to laugh with you. We’ve noticed self-deprecating humour helps. Also the occasional wacky facial expression or dorky punchline – some like Jayanga managed to get this right and make people laugh (btw, we saw him do voice impressions off stage before the show and we suggest he use some of that funny shizzle in his act next time). Animation is key to hold people’s attention, because people are tempted to lose interest when they’re forced to sit in one place and watch somebody talk – you can’t just tell jokes, you need to entertain.

Favourites

Most of the team enjoyed their own golden moments but we thought Sacha was the funniest. They left him for last and he wrapped the show up nicely. We gave him comedic brownie points for confidence (he seemed to adore being up on stage and entertaining us), for the neat trick he does with accents, and mostly for the ad lib. We don’t know whether it’s because of practice or just talent, but it works.

Conclusion

The Comedy Festival 2014 had its moments, some of it was meh, some of it really good — at the end of the day though, we think it’s a super project. Humour is important, and though we Sri Lankans seem so serious sometimes, deep down we’re very, very funny, silly people who love to laugh, and we need to create spaces to nurture that. Stand-up comedy is an amazing art on its own – stand-up comedy by Sri Lankans is even cooler, and we encourage the organizers to keep going at it till we have our own Russell Brands and Sarah Silvermans to set the mark.

Stay tuned on their Facebook page to watch out for upcoming comedy events.

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