The pandemic is testing the stand-up scene in Nepal

On Valentine’s Day last year, stand-up comedian Prasiddha Dawadi performed a 20-minute set to an audience of mostly young couples at a venue in Jhamsikhel, Lalitpur. Nepal had only one known case of covid-19 that day, but fear of the new infection was already prompting people to exercise caution and avoid crowded places.

After Dawadi finished his performance, he got a disturbing feeling that he wasn’t going to do any comedy shows for a while.

A little over a month later, on March 24, 2020, Nepal entered containment.

“Like most people, I thought that in a few months things would get back to normal. But I was so wrong. I haven’t done a single show in person for over 17 months now, ”explains Dawadi.

Before the pandemic took hold last year, Nepal’s stand-up culture was developing and becoming more and more popular. By the end of 2019, Kathmandu was hosting more comedy shows and open mics than ever before. The comics were also doing shows in cities such as Biratnagar, Butwal, Chitwan, Jhapa, Pokhara, etc. pandemic.

It was in 2018 when Dawadi started doing stand-up. Kathmandu’s stand-up culture was at a very nascent stage and comics like Dawadi were beginning to explore the possibilities and test the comedic waters.

“When I came on the scene, there were less than 10 stand-up comics. It was a very close-knit community and everyone knew each other personally, ”said Dawadi. “At the start of 2020, there were around 30 active standing comics and around 10 of them were doing just fine.”

Based on how 2019 has evolved for the stand-up scene in the country, 2020 definitely looked like another year of further growth for the stand-up scene, said Rajina Shrestha, who started doing the stand. -up in 2018 and is one of them. rare female comedians active in the country.

“I personally know of comics that were working on doing their own solo shows in 2020, and doing solo shows is a great thing,” Shrestha said. “Nepal’s stand-up culture has come a long way since its inception in 2018.”

Unlike countries that have dedicated comedy clubs that host comedy shows and provide a platform for promising new comics, the Kathmandu of 2018 had no platform for budding comics.

The community, Shrestha says, took it upon themselves to bring the stand-up comedy to people. At the time, many restaurants, pubs and bars in the city had live music performances to entertain and attract customers.

“So we started approaching restaurants, pubs and bars and asked them to put on stand-up comedy shows. But in 2018 and early 2019, stand-up comedy was not as well known as it is today, ”explains Dawadi. “A lot of restaurants didn’t really see stand-up comedy as a viable form of entertainment.”

A handful of restaurants, Shrestha says, have agreed to provide stand-up comics with a platform.

“Until mid-2019, the comics were performing in a few restaurants, pubs, and bars, and as payment, those establishments provided free food to the comics,” says Shrestha. “Around the same time, popular YouTube channels like The Storytellers, Nep-Gasm, Viewfinders also started providing a platform for comics and stand-up comedy started to gain attention. In the second half of 2019, restaurants, clubs, and bars were paying comics money to perform. ”

Dawadi fondly remembers his first paid stand-up concert.

“It was in 2018 and I had just started to take an interest in comedy. A recently opened restaurant in Dhumbarahi contacted me and asked me to play two sets. I was paid Rs 500. Even though the The amount was very low, this experience made me realize that you can make money with stand-up comedy, ”explains Dawadi, who now charges around Rs 8,000 per show.

Before the pandemic hit, Dawadi performed in open mics and did at least one comedy show a month.

“In comedy shows, people come especially for comedy and there is often an entrance fee,” explains Dawadi, who works as a full-time media creator. “But the open mics are mostly hosted by restaurants and pubs and the comics use the platform to test their new jokes and members of the public are mostly people who come into establishments to eat and drink.”

Before the pandemic took hold, Shrestha says, three restaurants hosted open microphones every week.

“’Beers n Cheers’ in Pulchowk, ‘Paral’ in Maitidevi and ‘Dancing Yak’ in Thamel hosted open mics once a week,” says Shrestha. “By the end of 2019, open mics were already very popular and there were people who came specifically to attend open mics. ”

But the pandemic, says Shrestha, has brought everything to a screeching halt.

In 2020, as the pandemic forced most parts of the world to come to a halt, comics around the world were forced to adapt to changing times and many began to do live virtual shows. Comics in Nepal have also followed suit, but the transition has been anything but smooth.

“As a comic, you feed off the energy of the audience. When you perform on a stage in front of a live audience you get instant feedback on your jokes and that is really important. You assess the public’s reaction and make changes accordingly, ”explains Dawadi. “But virtual shows are a whole different ball game and they come with their own challenges. With virtual shows, you don’t get instant feedback. And in a country like Nepal, where the internet connection is not the most reliable, there is a real risk that your audience will not understand your jokes due to internet latency issues. Audiences at virtual shows also often disrupt performances by talking and commenting in the middle of the show, and the comics can’t even turn off the mics of audience members because you can’t hear their laughter.

When putting on live comedy shows, the organizers, says Shrestha, focus a lot on the seating arrangement. “The seats are arranged so that people are seated next to each other so that they are influenced by the laughter of others,” says Shrestha. “But when it comes to virtual shows, it’s impossible.”

Another challenge of virtual shows in Nepal, says Shrestha, is the financial aspect.

“People here are not very willing to pay for virtual shows, unless it’s charity shows. Comics are still getting used to virtual shows and we’re always looking to make the most of them, ”says Shrestha. “Virtual platforms also offer immense opportunities. Yozana Thapa Magar, a stand-up comic, actually opened one of famous Indian comic Daniel Fernandes’ virtual shows, which is a big deal for a Nepalese stand-up comic.

After more than 10 months without in-person shows, in early 2021, as Nepal began to see a dramatic drop in the number of daily cases, people have started hosting comedy shows again.

“In January, a comedy show was organized in Birgunj, and in the weeks that followed, a few stand-up comedy shows were also organized in Kathmandu. I gave two shows in March, my first since February 2020, ”explains Shrestha. “Doing a live show after over a year was really overwhelming, and I almost forgot the thrill of seeing people laughing and enjoying my jokes. It was great to be back on stage.

But as things seemed to be heading towards normality, Nepal was hit by the second wave of the pandemic. In April, many parts of Nepal went into containment.

“Before the pandemic, there were a few comics that did shows regularly and were very successful. The pandemic has hit them the hardest. A lot of them are now doing podcasts, making YouTube videos and exploring other platforms to continue doing comedy, ”says Shrestha.

In June, the country began lifting the lockdown and a semblance of normalcy returned. But Dawadi, who hasn’t performed on stage to a live audience since February last year, says he’s cautious before performing again.

“I don’t think I’m ready to do live shows yet. Since the number of daily cases is still high, one cannot help but think of the health risks associated with live performances, ”explains Dawadi. “As a comic, one thing this pandemic made me realize is that I have to be prepared to play on any type of platform. Ultimately, as a stand-up comic you have to be a good performer and be able to make people laugh. As long as the comics can do that, things will work out. “

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