In September 2020, Saurabh Andrade (27) was an attendee of an audio call in which he learned, along with 40 other co-workers, that he no longer had a job.

“How can they call 40 people over an audio call and sack them?” he says. “A private video call would have been better.” He had worked for BookMyShow, based in Andheri, for about four years.

The pandemic had put the organization, an online ticket booking entity, under enormous financial strain. The team had about 40 employees earlier and the business model was dependent on the sale of cinema tickets and other live events like standups and cricket matches.

Due to COVID19, all these venues shut down. The management decided it had to resort to a drastic measure to survive. Which was to sack 70% of their employees. After the bloodbath, only 4 or 5 people were retained.

“I got the call an hour before my shift,” he says. “I have never been kaam ka shaukeen, but that day I desperately wanted to be at work. Working. Having a job. Those unearthly hour shifts. Low pay and terrible employees. I hated my job, but at least I had some pay in my hands,” he says.  

He was shocked because during the initial stages of the lockdown, he was told that he wouldn’t be sacked. All the employees were told the same.

Following his sacking, Saurabh applied for several jobs in the e-commerce sector. After a few months, he got a call from AND Retails in Vasai east. It was a company that dealt in making and selling their own plastic products. It was a small company. The salary was mediocre. “The office resembled a dusty storage room. We were asked to sit in plastic chairs. This is not impressive for new employees like me.” says Saurabh.  

Saurabh lives in Vasai with his brother Kalpesh and his mischievous cat Thelma. When you enter his two-storey house, he greets you with his unwavering smile. He is the epitome of a poker face. Understandably these days, he has a dark view of the world but he infuses it with humor. He loves watching Shark Tank and stand-up comedy.

Apparently, those are the pre-requisites one has to meet before becoming a comedian. “An expressive or poker face, depressive past, singlehood and bankruptcy,” he laughs.

And a cat.

He has been suffering from anxiety for several years. He never sought any treatment.

“It got worse after my mom passed away due to a cardiac arrest in May, 2019.”  

In September 2019 his brother Kalpesh (26) was admitted in the hospital due to high fever. “I got my first anxiety attack at home,” he recalls.

Saurabh realised that he needed to seek help. Then his dad passed away in late November 2019, also due to a heart attack.

 “It was a horrible year for me and my brother,” he says.

His anxiety worsened. He had his first therapy session in December 2019. “It was a video call therapy organised for us by BookMyShow. They are good at interpreting the future,” he laughs. He also joined the Alcoholics Anonymous group which he found online while surfing the internet.

He had an anxiety attack on the day he lost his job in September. “I felt helpless. Everything was out of control,” he says.

“A man – I cannot recall his name- in the Alcoholics Anonymous group recommended the Talk-Life app,” he says. Saurabh started getting his anxiety under control since then.

 Talk-Life is a therapy app which connects people with depressive or anxiety disorders.

He learned to deal with his anxiety, and he started helping people through that app. “There are group sessions available. We can start or join a group and we can help people or seek help,” he says.

He befriended many people on that app. One of them was Namrata Khokhani, an engineer located in Chennai. “She is a great person and we are good friends. I told her about my plan to attempt stand-up comedy during the lockdown”. Her approval encouraged Saurabh to give standup a try. 

It is difficult to book a spot when a person is not famous. The producer doesn’t book a random person easily when it comes to performing in pubs. However, due to the lockdown, many spots opened up online.

Namrata was familiar with the online shows so she sent him some links. She also booked many spots for Saurabh. “I have been part of around 25-30 shows from October to January 2021. Some of the platform names I remember are ARTIST PLATFORM, COMEDY DOES, COMEDY LADDER, COMEDY SHOTS BANGALORE, SODIUM ATOM, COMEDY HIGHWAY RAIPUR.

“It is less intimidating than facing an audience on stage,” says Saurabh.

Comedy Show conducted on Zoom by Saurabh Andrade

Saurabh realised that despite his fear of public speaking whether online or offline, he was grateful to have a spot.

“I believe that the act of going on stage and talking to random strangers itself is an act of bravery and being an introvert doesn’t exactly help. In Zoom calls you have the liberty to sit in your place and surroundings in which you are comfortable and at peace. In pubs and hotels that is not the case. It is quite uncomfortable to perform before a live audience that only cares about food, dates and drinks rather than your jokes,” he says.  

Saurabh’s first act was in August, 2020. “It went well. I was glad I took the first step,” he says. Some topics he jokes about: Tinder. Virginity. Singlehood. Ghosts.

He wrote many jokes throughout the lockdown. “They got decent laughs,” he says. One day, shortly after he started doing shows, Saurabh entered what he thought was one such only to realize that it was an online Zoom party. He stayed at the party and met Comedian Neha Gera. Neha hails from Gujarat and is settled in Mumbai. “I told her that I wanted to attempt standup comedy and she agreed to guide me,” he says.

Neha is a content writer and has been pursuing comedy for more than a year. She taught him the various nuances in the comedy art form. “She has a busy schedule but she still attended my shows”, he recalls.

After attending one of my shows she said “Your jokes are too intelligent. Dumb it down, silly.”

“I never thought dumbness would be a necessity in any job. When did the world change? When did the universe decide to rotate in the opposite direction?” he says.

But how should Saurabh dumb down his act?

Initially, Saurabh’s jokes had predictable endings but Neha helped him fix it. “She also helped me to get over my failed acts,” he says.

Saurabh believes whatever the topic, a laughing audience is important. Shock value also matters to him. “Surprising the audience with something unexpected is also necessary,” he says.

He messes up but, he doesn’t let himself freeze or lose his flow. Afterward, he takes down notes about what worked and what didn’t. He improves. 

One more problem. Hecklers.

“It is irritating and demotivating. Every artist creates a space or a zone for himself when he is performing. That space is disrupted by heckling,” he remarks.

Some comedians ignore hecklers, while some get back at them.  

He talked about how Gera faced the problem.  When she was performing, a male comedian made sexist remarks about women comedians. He got no laughs. Neha’s slot came next. She performed and got a lot of laughs. “Someone was talking about how stupid women comedians are, and look — I got more laughs than that guy,” Neha said during that act.

The sexist guy left the meeting and never returned.

Hecklers interrupted Saurabh twice during his act. “The first time I did not answer back,” he says.

 A man performed horribly one day and decided to ruin other performers’ acts as well. “He started interrupting and picking on everyone. Then everyone started getting back at him and criticizing him. I did the same”, says Saurabh. The heckler stopped.

Apart from comedy, Saurabh plans to attempt to set up a business or get a job in the IT sector. He is still planning his career.

For now, he has found his passion.  Doing comedy and eating pork fried rice. He would really rather do both together, he says. “If my career takes off, I will still pursue stand-up comedy. If I don’t have enough time during the week, I will perform during the weekends,” he says.

Reacting to the question that people used to laugh at comedians and listen to politicians, but nowadays it’s the other way round, Saurabh says, “Politicians used to lie and they still lie. There is no evolution. Comedians are evolving. They are pointing out social and political issues through comedy. They are also pointing out personal issues. Catharsis. Comedy is therapy.”  

The poker face changes into a wide smile.

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