I’ll confess right up. I don’t go to comedy stand-up shows much. My friends invite me there, but Saturdays are days when I focus all my energies to do some ambitious and productive work. Sleep. Yup, I’m super lazy on the weekends, but hey who isn’t? But that’s not the point, I do keep it as a good habit, to stalk the local talents making waves in various genres of performing arts. As any avid reader of our platform would vouch, we take pride in picking these individual talents, approaching them for their story and presenting it in the most involving manner. That’s where we kind of acquire our pride from. It is also wonderful to see that people come out to us, suggesting to cover a particular person because of the sheer talent on display. One such person, rather suggestion, was of Manjusha Banerjee some 3 months back. We obviously took to see just what was so impeccable about this artist that every comedian vouched for her. And in three months, we found a thousand reasons why. It was imperative that we bug her for an interview, and our conversations came out wonderfully well. Go check it out…
So, then, A homemaker and a regularly performing stand-up comic is a rare combination to start off with. In that context, how difficult or easy is it to juggle these hats of running a family and perhaps working on new sets and quite recently even going for a YouTube channel, and let us not forget the techie aspect of your life?
Sometimes I do feel I have taken a lot on my plate without even realizing it. My main source of income still remains my day job in an IT company, so the rest of the things kind of revolve around it. It does get difficult at times, but at the core, comedy is just my hobby, so in certain ways not taking pressure about it helps. I try and write something every few days, it may go into a stand-up set or a video. The idea is to just keep my hobby alive.
In a traditional way, we ask our interviewees about their origin story, and hence we ask you the same. We are particularly interested in knowing your story cause we visited one of your shows, under Hyderabadass Comedy, and heard you say that you’ve been all over the country before settling here and taking up stand up comedy in a serious pursuit. How would you elaborate on that?
Well, I’m originally from Kolkata, did my engineering in Shantiniketan, Bolpur. Then for my job I moved to Bangalore. There I met my husband. In 2014, we moved to Hyderabad for his new job. In Hyderabad, I attended an Improv Comedy Workshop by Kaneez Surka and then tried my hand in stand up as well. Things organically took off from there.
Continuing the above thought further, you’ve recently started your channel with a fictitious Bengali character called Ruposhee. On an academic level, we are now seeing a trend picking up amongst comedy circuits of creating avatars and characters for their video presentations. Varun Thakur, Sanketh Bhosle and our Rambabu by Rajasekhar. How do you gauge the relevance of these characters in driving your comedy forward? Is it perhaps a more involving way of staying connected. Do let us know more about it.
I feel going into a character gives a person a wider range to express his or her ideas. If I want to crack jokes from a person’s perspective, it is always easier to “pretend” to be that someone else. For example, if I want to create something funny around an intrusive neighbourhood aunty, the audience will always feel more connected if it’s coming from that aunty herself. As comedians, it gives us a huge spectrum to try out newer content and drive our comedy forward.
We’ve been following the Hyderabad Comedy Scene for quite a while now, as you might’ve known. In this context, we must say that you have been one of the very few comedians who has managed to make a mark in the circuit and city, in a very short span of time. Looking back to your beginnings, where would you say that you really expanded your work and met with success?
Well, I do agree that things happened really fast and found a wide reach in a very short span of time. As I mentioned, it was just a hobby, and still is. But none of this would have been possible if my husband was not there. He is the primary inspiration and literally the “force” to make me keep writing. I am super lazy and get content with the slightest things. It’s mostly him who would push me to go to open mics and more recently to do videos. Also, the entire Hyderabad comedy scene has been super supportive as well. There is not any particular area where I have deliberately tried to expand, I enjoy Improv, Stand up and making videos equally, but the “Ruposhee Reviewing Game of Thrones” video suddenly received a massive response and got me a good visibility in the comedy scene. And talking of success, I think I am still a small-time comic who gets high on applause and likes, and whether its live audience or the followers on Facebook, people have been more than kind to me.
Today we have a considerable number of Female stand up comics across the country, both on a regional basis and on a national basis. However, correct me if we are wrong, it has been a rare career choice for someone from the Eastern parts of the country, more specifically Bengal, and the North Eastern territories. Could you help us understand why this could be and how do you see the future turning out within these brackets?
Actually quite a few of the successful comedians you see today never really started out their career with comedy. It was mostly something else that led them to this. People who perform stand up comedy or are a regular audience of this art are young urban professionals with a certain amount of disposable income. Not many have the guts to be jobless and jump into stand up comedy. And if you notice, the corporate culture or the IT boom is still eluding the eastern part of the country. At least for Kolkata, I can say most engineers have to move out of the city for job opportunities to cities like Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore. And these are the places where stand up scene is experiencing its maximum success. The young crowd needs to stay in a city for whichever reason to make this industry work, and I think if there is a boost in job opportunities and people from around the country start coming in the eastern and northeastern states, we can see more and more comics coming out from there as well.
Let’s talk inspirations. The obvious question is, who do you look up to in the field of comedy, both nationally and internationally. And if you had to analyse, what are the three things that given a chance you’d want to steal from your inspirations to make your career a bigger success?
Even before I had any clue about the Indian comedy scene I would love watching Robin Williams on screen. Also since my school days, Lisa Kudrow’s acting as Phoebe in FRIENDS was the funniest acting I had seen on TV. I have been following Saturday Night Live for a very long time. I absolutely love the writing and the performance of every cast member. I still hold a secret wish to be on the show someday. For the last few years, I have been following the works of Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon and hope to have their range and versatility some day. From the Indian scene, I admire Biswa Kalyan Rath for his ability to take up the most mundane things that we have all seen in our lives and give it the craziest yet most insightful twist to bring out comedy.
If I have to steal 3 things, I would want Kristen Wiig’s talent for mimicry, the writing prowess of David Crane and Martha Kauffman, the creators of FRIENDS, a show that consistently ran on the top of the charts for 10 seasons and still has followers. And to have some help with Stand Up, I would like to steal Biswa’s insight on the most regular things.
In our earlier conversation with comedians across the nation, we’ve observed that each one of them has a different way of preparing their sets. Some find humour in fictitious situations, some in very real ones. What is your play in that? Where do you derive your material from and what kind of measures do you take to actually make them click whilst in the show?
Most of my materials are from the situations I face in my daily life, that’s why the maximum of my stand-up sets are on marriage. The jokes are obviously exaggerated but the core is mostly stuff I have faced in real life. For stand up, the audience plays a huge role. So many times, we dynamically change the content during the show to make the audience feel more included, for me, in most of the cases people love it.
Lastly, for someone who wants to take up Standup comedy as a serious career option, what would your advice be to them? What are the Dos and Dont’s of getting famous in Comedy circuit?
My biggest advice would be: please don’t get into comedy to become famous. That’s the absolute worst intent one can have in this field. The sole intent should be to entertain people. If you are a good entertainer on stage, people will love you no matter what. Also, especially to the youngsters, stand up might seem like a super cool career, the absolute “in” thing, but please make sure you have a regular income or a stable financial source before you get into this. It takes months to create a good ten-minute set and years to build up a solid one hour set. Things might look all shiny and fancy from the outside, but there is a lot of struggle behind it. People may think, they will put up a 5-minute video, become viral and have a steady career, but remember, if people know your content from the video, no one will come to your shows unless you give them new sets. It’s a long, rigorous and time-consuming process. So be absolutely steady financially until you start getting into the big league, then you can jump with both feet in.
So that was Manjusha Banerjee and her take on Hyderabad’s hip and happening comedy circuit. She forms an enviable alliance with the best in the business like Rajasekhar and Hriday Ranjan to truly accentuate the comedy scene in the city, to a national wide repute. We wish her all the best.