The first interview in the ‘Off the Stage’ series.
TEDx PSGTECH presented us with an opportunity to interview Mr Karthik Kumar, founder of Evam, standup comic and a “retired” actor. Below are the excerpts from the interview.
Rahul: Tell us the story of Evam.
Karthik: I studied engineering and during its latter days my classmate Sunil and I got a dreary feeling that we would also be part of the rat race after our graduation. So we decided that we would do this business venture on our own and if it failed, we would go back to our respective jobs. We took a shot and now we are here, 15 years later, making a living out of Evam, with its numerous subdivisions. Right now, we may not be the richest people from our batch, but we are definitely among the happier ones.
Rahul : In today’s scenario, politicians’ speeches are comical and comics’ works make more sense. What do you think of such an ironical reversal of roles?
Karthik: It’s a difficult situation to be in. Politicians are allowed to say anything they want and they end up being funnier. Comedians are trolled as well, but are also being censored too much. This also means that people take our work seriously to even scrutinise it. It may sound as a good place to be in, but I think comedians are given more importance than needed. Afterall, we are not looking to win any elections.
(Rahul: But don’t you think this puts a lot of responsibility on your shoulder? For example, a joke that is not sexist in nature may not be reflected the same way as intended everywhere, since you might have written that joke keeping in mind a particular audience, their sensibilities and their ability to see it as a joke)
People who get offended by our jokes usually brand us as bad people. But honestly, we never care about being the good people too. Again, we are not here to win elections, we just want to surprise you, make you laugh and if possible, make you think about it later. For a comedian, a joke works if it evokes laughter and if it does not, they rework it. That’s all there is to comedy. I see comedy as a means to make people think about something that they usually would not otherwise.
Rahul: What do you think about the roast culture that is slowly becoming mainstream in India? How does it fit in with the rigorous censorship faced by the media?
Karthik: We are not completely ready for it yet, but we are slowly getting there. I think we are making steady progress since I see people more willing to take jokes lightly than ever before. It’s very difficult for a person who has garnered respect all their life, even if undeserving, to suddenly see people making jokes about themselves. Unless you laugh at yourself, you can’t bear other people laughing at you. This is something that the younger generation understands. So with more young people in power, we will slowly get there.
(Rahul: Is the younger generation as open minded as you think, seeing that they were brought up by a conservative generation? What do you think the change should be?)
The change should begin with us not taking ourselves, our heroes, our politicians and other people seriously. This presents us with a variety of things to make fun of. But on the other hand, as long as there are people propping up others as Gods and doing paal-abhishegams, people will take offence at roasts. This is something that should change.
Rahul: You took on a new role this year with your book Don’t Startup. Tell us more about it.
Karthik: I just wanted to share the joys and despairs I had in my journey as an entrepreneur with budding entrepreneurs. When I founded Evam, there was no one in my family or in my circles to guide me with entrepreneurship. This is very commonplace with people who are just starting up and I wanted to help them.
Rahul: There are only a few celebrities here against whom criticism has never stopped and you are one of them. How do you handle it?
Karthik: My book is called Don’t Startup, right? It is called that because generally if you go up to an entrepreneurial person and tell him not to do something, he’ll definitely do it. This is how I take criticism. If someone is saying something, I try to do the thing they are criticising better, while taking into account where that criticism stemmed from. There are trolls and abusers too, but they will always be there. As a stand up comedian, people tell that “This guy is always shouting and saying machaan”, so I thought that even if my next show will be me sitting on a chair, I’ll still be getting jokes across.
(Rahul: Where did that machaan come from, now that you mentioned it?)
It is a bad habit. A very bad habit. Initially we used to perform a lot in Mumbai and there, people had catchphrases like this. Later, I subconsciously started using machaan as a filler and now I realize that it is a bad habit. It’s just something Chennai gave me.
Rahul: Would you ever be a part of Comicstaan?
Karthik: Definitely. The first season was done with people Amazon had easy access to, since the firm is based off Mumbai. When they make it open to the country in a larger scale, I would definitely like to be a part of it.
Rahul: What do you think about the comedy scene in Coimbatore?
Karthik: I think you guys had your first open mic recently here. Once that happens, college students will start picking it up and it will spread like fire. Unfortunately, comedy is not encouraged in colleges because students are always forced not to take things lightly.
(Rahul: What do you think about the audience for comedy in Coimbatore?)
Initially, maybe in 2011 – 2012, when performing in Coimbatore we only had the posh people coming to watch us. By 2014, students started coming and by 2016, it’s mostly just students. It is a very popular platform for talent here, I guess.
Rahul: Last question: What’s next for you?
Karthik: We’re now looking to produce original content for streaming and cinema in the drama or comedy space. So I will be a producer or a director soon and I am looking forward to making my next mistake.
(Rahul: So we can expect a Don’t…)
Sure. They told me not to direct so now I’ll become a director.
THE BRIDGE would like to thank Karthik Kumar for taking out his time for the interview. We’d also like to thank the folks at the Global Leaders’ Forum who made this possible.
‘Off the Stage’ is a compilation of THE BRIDGE’s interviews with the speakers of TEDxPSGTECH 2018. Keep following for the rest of the interviews.