There was a girl, Vinay Menon begins with that most interesting first line. And then we broke up, he says after that. There is the trademark funniness in his voice as he tells the story. And with his slightly long hair, and the hint of a beard, Vinay could easily pass for what he is part of the time —a standup comedian. It is the other part people find unbelievable — that he is a professor of English at Cochin College. “College professor, you?” they ask.
But he is nothing like his standup comedian self in class. The funniness helps of course, like it does when he tells you about the breakup. “So then I had a lot of free time and I went for a two-day theatre class by EVAM theatre group in Bengaluru.”
If you want to make a dramatic intro here, you can write, and that’s what changed his life and made him the only English standup comedian living in Kerala. But in real life, things take a tad longer to happen. And here is how it did.
Vinay had become a software engineer like most others his age. Vinay went to Bengaluru, again, like most others. And he had wanted to leave IT, like them. Only they didn’t, and he did because of EVAM. He began visiting more venues and meeting people, and at one of these places, it was open mic night, which meant anyone could perform standup comedy.
Vinay had a week to prepare and went on stage and told some really bad jokes. “It was a ten minute show and I was done in two! Kind of like the opposite of Maggie noodles,” Vinay says now, humour a natural part of his vocabulary. You’d wonder how it took time for a guy like this to bring some laughs. But it took him his sixth show to get the first laugh. Because, quite ironically, standup comedy is no joke. It takes a lot of hard work.
Two minutes became four to seven, bigger comedians started taking him to corporate shows. One of them — Ahmed Shariff — was like a guide to him leading him to more shows. He found inspirations from Louis CK and George Carlin. You need comedy to tell some truths, he says, quoting George Carlin.
Vinay made videos on serious subjects including the Kiss of Love protest which went viral on Youtube. In 2012, he had to leave Bengaluru and come home to Kochi. That was the time he joined EVAM. In its core, EVAM is a theatre group, but they have a standup comedy wing. And this would take Vinay to shows in Chennai pretty often. In Bengaluru, he has a network of comedians to ask if there is a show on a weekend he is coming. “We have a closed Facebook group called Comedians Blacklist.”
In Kochi, the scene is slowly building up, thanks to the efforts of Vinay and others. He has tied up with Hijaz of ChaiCofi, a Kaloor-based café, to have a LOL Comedy Nite every month, and also an open mic show. “The first time I performed at ChaiCofi with Naveen Richard, hundred odd people had turned up. So we realised standup has potential here.”
They kept having a consistent audience. “We needed to advertise that this was happening, because there is very little promoting of standup comedy here.” Event managers are not sure where to place standup comedy. But with the monthly events, that is changing. Vinay is also trying to have regular open mic nights at two more cafes in Kochi. He has been bringing standup comics from other states the past few months.
“Open mic is to create a comedy scene. When people come for three such shows, they feel they could do this too, and some try out. Then their friends come, and so on.”And Kochi is even less conservative than you’d assume. “In fact the dirtiest jokes get the loudest laughs from middle-aged folks.”
Vinay’s mom too comes for his shows, and gives feedback, ‘it was good.’ His mom was incidentally a professor at St. Teresa’s. But Vinay had chosen to do a Masters in English Literature as one way to get out of IT. On becoming a professor however, he found the similarities with standup comedy. “You need to prepare for both, and stand up for both.” Right now he starts his shows with “I am Kerala’s No:1 comedian, because I am Kerala’s only standup comedian." But he sure hopes for the day that will change.