Meet the funnies

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Alys Francis profiles the ‘ones to watch’ at the Melbourne Comedy Festival

‘Real comedy is about the truth

Sameena Zehra, comedian, storyteller

Why did you get into comedy?

I started doing comedy about three and a half years ago, after having been an actor for fifteen years. I loved being an actor, but I wanted a change, and something that allowed me to have creative control of my process.

The thought of doing comedy petrified me slightly, so obviously, that was the thing I chose!

I did a short course with Tony Allen, considered the godfather of alternative comedy in the UK, and, at the end of 2010, did my first five minutes of stand-up in a room above a pub in West London. The minute I got on that stage, it felt like coming home. I loved it, and I haven’t looked back.

What can people expect to see at your show?

I’m a storyteller comedian. Telling stories is what I like doing. So far, audiences seem to like it as well, which is useful! There is something atavistic about the human need to sit around a fire to tell, and be told, stories. My comedy is just my take on the world, and it comes from being a cultural nomad, and having lived on two different continents with very different cultures.

This show is the story of how I ended up having tea with some terrorists in Kashmir. But it’s also about my belief that joy is essential, and fear is redundant. Somebody once described it as a ‘bedtime story for adults’, which made me smile. Audiences generally recognise the characters and some of the situations in the stories, and often, I end up chatting with some of them after the show, sharing their stories as well. That’s great fun.

What do you love about comedy and what it can give audiences?

I think comedy is powerful. It allows us to say things we may not otherwise be able to say. It allows us challenge, catharsis, transformation. To me, the best comedy — real comedy — is about the truth. Not necessarily about the facts, but always – always — about the truth.

‘This could be a disaster or I might be elected king of Australia’

Nishant Kumar, 28, from London

Why did you decide to get into comedy?

At university when I was busy neglecting my degree, I started performing in a sketch group. We went up to the Edinburgh Festival, and from there I started stand up.

What style of comedy do you do?

It’s mainly stories from my life. The show I’m doing in Melbourne centres on something that happened to me in 2012. A picture of me was taken without my knowledge and turned into a meme called the “Confused Muslim”. I’m not a Muslim but I certainly was confused.

Do you think multiculturalism provides good material for comics?

I think it’s an interesting area, because people who come from similar backgrounds relate to what you’re saying and connect with the material. The people that don’t are interested by it, because any experience that is different from your own is fascinating. Ultimately whatever you talk about it needs to be funny. You could have lived the most interesting life but if the jokes aren’t up to scratch people will get bored.

Do you find it difficult performing overseas?

This is my first time performing outside the UK. So I have absolutely no idea. This could be a total disaster or I might be elected king of Australia. I refuse to believe there will be any middle ground.

Have you had any really difficult audiences?

I’ve had many difficult audiences. I’ve had hecklers, I’ve had people talking through my shows and been chased offstage by a heavy metal band. You learn different coping strategies, initially to try being friendly with these people and dealing with it in that way. If it keeps going then you have to be more assertive. If a heavy metal band chases you, there’s only really one course of action — run.

What do you want people to get out of your show?

I want them to think it is the greatest thing that they have ever seen. Or failing that, a nice hour of funny jokes by a well read young man.

‘I do enjoy playing an overly sexual Spanish guy’

Neel Kolhatkar, 19, from Sydney, ‘YouTube celebrity’

Why did you decide to get into comedy?

When I was 15, I did a MICF competition called ‘Class Clowns’ and was lucky enough to win that.

What’s the weirdest feedback you’ve got from your YouTube videos?

I’ve had death threats because to some I am that unfunny.

What’s your favourite character that you perform and why? 

I do enjoy playing an overly sexual Spanish guy I call ‘Fernando Sanchez’ I created him when I was like 13 too. He however does not appear in my MICF show which is rather my stand-up.

What have been the highlights of your comedy career?

I had a viral hit ‘Australia in 2 minutes’ about a year ago. Performing at the New York Comedy Festival last year and the No Laughing Matter Gala at the Enmore Theatre last year too.

Have you had any really difficult audiences?

Once I performed to an extremely conservative old Christian crowd…. they did not enjoy me.

What do you want people to get out of your show?

Hopefully laughter, otherwise a versatile performance and someone to support long term.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Newspaper in Sydney)

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