Being a standup comedian – beyond the humour

On career - Interviewing India

Cheerful, laidback, Akshay is calmness personified at first glance. It’s only when he lets you take a closer look at his life, that you get to know about the storms that he has weathered through over the past decade.
Maybe despite, maybe because of all the sorrows that he’s already had to embrace, Akshay, 24, believes that making people laugh is his single biggest obsession, and stand-up comedy is his calling for as long as he can see. 

 Akshay Laxman, 24 years, Standup Comedian, Bangalore

Interviewed by Chirantan Shah

Why did you decide to give us an interview on career?
I chose to speak on career, because that’s what is the most important aspect of my life. I have sacrificed a lot to pursue my career. There’s nothing other than standup comedy that I see myself doing, even 10-20 years down the line.

Was it always standup comedy that you wanted to pursue? Take us through the journey of your ambitions right since your childhood.
As a child, I derived great joy from making people laugh. Be it friends or relatives, there was nothing that would make me as happy as making people laugh. It was an obsession. There was nobody in my friend circle that I couldn’t make laugh. If someone didn’t laugh at my jokes, it was a challenge for me. I would corner them, and torture them with my jokes till I managed to draw at least a smirk.
It didn’t matter whether they laughed with me or at me, as long as they were laughing. Maybe it was their attention that I was seeking, something which I couldn’t get from my parents. My father was a busy man, and at the age of 10 I discovered that my mother had schizophrenia. This distanced us from her. Maybe I tried to compensate the lack of attention from my parents by seeking it from other people through comedy.

Would you like to elaborate?
When I was 12-13, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This is when sorrow first hit my life. It was hard to deal with, as a kid. My mother’s schizophrenia only made matters worse. My father died when I was 15. After that it was all downhill. My mother couldn’t handle the stress, and she would keep coming in and out of hospitals. It took us two years to cope with my dad’s loss and get back on track. We finally got my mom back on track, thanks to NIMHANS, and the treatment there.
By this point I was not interested in education. There was a lot on my mind, and I thought it was not possible for me to go through education.
The next few years were marred by binge drinking, smoking, girls and doing weed.

Standup quotes - Interviewing India

What happened next?
When I was 19, I went on a trip to Hampi to clear my mind and decide what I wanted to do with my life. While at Hampi, I asked myself, “What made me happy as a child?” Every time I thought about my childhood days, I realized that making people laugh is what I loved.
Watching Russell Peters at the age of 15 was my first stand-up experience. When I saw that, I was convinced that I could do this. Four years later this same thought stuck with me at Hampi.
Standup was my own choice and I had to make it work. It’s only after I started doing standup that the abuse subsided.

When was your first open mic experience?
The decision at Hampi led to my first open mic in Urban Solace in Bangalore. All the comedians who have made it big today, were there – Kanan Gill, Kenny Sebastian, Sanjay Manaktala. I had my material ready, but I just couldn’t gather the courage to go up on stage. This was on a Wednesday.
The next Monday, I had a slot for an open mic at Take 5. I had promised myself that it was going to be my first time that night. You have got to start somewhere, no matter how hard it may seem. I was very rusty, sweating profusely, the light was in my face, I didn’t know how to hold a mike. It was very difficult.  Believe it or not, it took me one full year to come back.

You didn’t perform for the next one year after you went up on stage that night?
I did not. It was so hard to cope with it. When you watch other comedians perform, it is very intimidating.
For a year I researched – I learned how to write, how to hold a mike, what stage presence is, how to do public speaking, how to come across as a likeable person, how to structure your jokes, what kind of comedy is my niche, what kind of messages I want to put out there, what one means by set-up, premise, etc. I saw a lot of stand-up specials during the year, which really helped.
I went back after a year. This was in 2013, I was 20. This time I was prepared. A little self-confidence can push you to a completely different level. This time I was not shaky, I was confident, I was sure about what I wanted to say. I got applauses and chuckles. I did it for three months straight, performing almost every night. It was very frightening initially. At that point in time, you don’t know where it is headed. I still didn’t know if I could make a career out of this.

Tell us something about your YouTube channel.
In 2014, I started my first Youtube channel – Humour Junkie, with two friends. We got busy with the shooting, editing, writing new scripts – we made a total of 9 videos over 1.5 years. Standup took the back seat during this period. The problem was, we couldn’t push content out regularly on the Youtube channel either. After about 1.5 years, in 2015, conflicts and disagreements hit Humour Junkie. The time, the money, the effort and the views all came to a naught.
This pushed me into a depression. I started binge eating, drinking and putting on a lot of weight. The way I dealt with depression was wrong. I tried to drink and sleep around my way out of it. It doesn’t help, it just makes the void inside you bigger. I was able to come out of the depression when my stand-up career got a boost. I had started performing five times a week.
Recently, I started my own channel again. It is okay to start from nothing. It is just an opportunity that shows how much the thing means to you. You need a reset button in life sometimes. Humour Junkie breaking off was exactly that for me.

On careers - Interviewing India

Take us through your daily routine.
A day in my life starts very late. Most of the work I have is in the night – I have to perform in the night. I wake up in the evening, go to an open mic, register myself, perform. Sometimes I have gigs, sometimes I don’t. It’s a tough field.
After the gig, I work out late in the night.  I want to stay fit, because it gives me clarity. Rest of the time is taken up by editing, shooting, writing.

How is being a standup comedian financially?
I’d suggest, don’t quit your job and try this out full-time. For the first few years, there is no guarantee that you will make any money at all. At the end of the day, it comes down to passion and perseverance. If you have these two things and you have the hunger for success, you can definitely go for it. But don’t really expect to make much money out of this.

Have you started seeing money yet?
No.

Does it get you through the day?
It doesn’t.

So you have to go back to your family?
Yes, I am using my family’s resources. I hope by the end of this year, I won’t have to any longer. I have never worked as hard as I am working right now.

All the best Akshay. The last question has nothing to do with the interview topic, but we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
This question boggles me too. I think there’s nothing that can unite humanity like love. Love is what keeps us together, and what keeps us going. You wouldn’t mind dying for someone or something that you love.

Meet the interviewer

Chirantan Shah

Chirantan loves listening to people’s life stories, even if they are all concocted. As an aspiring author, he firmly believes that he will find the right ingredients for his next best-selling fiction novel, from one of these interviews.He also believes that as a society we would evolve and move in the right direction only when we listen and learn from everyone’s personal experiences and life lessons, but that’s all gyaan for some other day.As an interviewer Chirantan feels that it is only when a person connects with someone that they spill out their deepest secrets. He aspires to make that connect with his interviewees.

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