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Rahul Subramanian: Is This Even Comedy? - MICF Review

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by Aridhi Anderson (subscribe)
Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
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Cheeky and very entertaining stand up comedy
Comedians are known to run into trouble from time to time for joking about sensitive topics: religion, politics, controversial things. Rahul Subramanian, however, is in the unique position of having received death threats for making jokes about ... DJs. If you're baffled but also a little bit intrigued, book into Subramanian's Comedy Festival show Is This Even Comedy? and hear this and other crazy stories straight from the horse's mouth.



Rahul Subramanian is a Mumbai-based comedian, one among a number of Indian comedians presenting at the Comedy Festival this year. He performed his show in Hinglish (a combination of Hindi and English, if it wasn't obvious) from 9-14 April, and is performing it in English from 16-21 April at the Chinese Museum. I attended both versions of his show, and I'm very glad I did because they were two very different experiences, and not just because of the language.

Is This Even Comedy? is a pleasant, insightful and genuinely entertaining show that celebrates the plain art of stand up comedy sans gimmicks, sans subtext (and I mean this as a compliment). Subramanian is a cheeky, laid-back, and charismatic performer with impeccable comic timing. He crafts his humour to avoid and not invite trouble (even if that sometimes backfires, such as in the case of the belligerent DJs). He is tuned in to what his audience wants, which is evidenced not only by the fact that he crafted two versions of his show for them, but also by the effectiveness of the different versions.

Subramanian's Hinglish show was designed mainly with an Indian audience in mind. The show was predominantly in English, but accentuated with Hindi punchlines, phrases or references at key moments to invoke nostalgia or emotional reactions that drove his point home in ways that would be relatable to his audience. It worked like magic - his audience absolutely soaked up his subtle references to Indian politics, to places and transport, to the cultural rivalry between North and South India, to jokes about going to school in India, and even jokes about his name, Rahul. He had the room squealing with laughter as he made art out of our shared experiences, and left me wondering how this show would be received by a more diverse audience, with punchlines translated into English.

I was more than a little impressed to discover that I'd underestimated his plans for his English show. It wasn't just the translated punchlines that were different, but entire sets, and also in subtle ways, the delivery (without compromising his natural persona or comedic style in the least). He dropped all obscure references (to Indian politics, actors, etc) so that the show wouldn't feel like one long inside joke. He turned a reference to a haathi-cheenti joke (an elephant and ant joke, a staple in Indian humour) into a why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-road joke, and you wouldn't have known that it was a translation. He entirely dropped his set about school life in India (which was honestly one of my favourite bits in his Hinglish show, but I can see why it wouldn't be as relatable to a more diverse audience). He added two new sets for his English show - a set about his father's Facebook habits, and a set about cricket and Sachin Tendulkar - both of which had broad appeal and were received with enthusiasm (the Hinglish audience missed out!). His other sets, about DJ-ing, corporate life, YouTube comments, etc, were already pretty universally relatable, and brilliantly done in both versions. The English show had a lot less coarse language (none of the swearing in Hindi that added so much to his Hinglish show), and some of his other jokes were watered down in other ways, but none of that was a huge loss to the show overall.

Rahul Subramanian is a very gifted and supremely likeable performer, and this show is one of my top picks for stand up comedy at the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. If you're into stand up shows that have strong content, minimal audience interaction and genuinely help you unwind at the end of a long day, go check out this show before it closes on 21 April.
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Why? Cheeky and very entertaining stand up comedy
When: 9 - 21 April 2019
Where: Chinese Museum - Silk Room, 22 Cohen Pl, Melbourne
Cost: $24-$33.50
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