Conversation With Ash Chandler, Pioneer of Standup Comedy in India
It’s always a little daunting to speak to a stand-up comedian. You’re thinking, “Is he going to make fun of me? To my face? In his head? What is he thinking?” These were my thoughts as I dialed Ash Chandler’s number and waited for him to answer my call. Thankfully for me, he didn’t make fun of me to my face, at least! He’s all set to perform this weekend at the Comedy Store in Mumbai. He’s performing at the Comedy Store as part of the Best in International Stand-up Comedy and also has done a solo show before this, an entertainment extravaganza called Ash and You Shall Receive, all which ran to packed houses.
I’m sharing an excerpt below from conversation with Ash Chandler, an out-and-out entertainer – standup comedian, actor, singer and composer!
InOnIt: So are you all ready for the show tonight? How do you like performing at The Comedy Store?
Ash Chandler: I love performing there. The comedy store is definitely one the best rooms in India for comedy. It’s designed keeping comedy in mind. I’ve always had a packed audience there and doing the shows here have been very enjoyable for me.
InOnIt: Do you see a difference between audiences in Mumbai and other cities in India?
Ash Chandler: To be fair, it really depends on the night, not so much the city. Some nights you have a more responsive audience and that is always better. I’ve also seen that over the years I have been doing stand-up comedy (23 in total, but 12 in India), more young people have started coming out to watch the shows and it’s becoming more a part of our culture. When I had started out, even the concept of stand-up comedy was not something that people were very familiar with. In fact, once I had done a show and after I was done with my perfomance, someone from the audience actually came up to me and said, “That was a good performance young man. But why didn’t you call the performer on?” The idea of the spoken word being a complete performance had not really entered people’s consciousness and that has really changed, which is a great thing!
InOnIt: Where are you off to after this?
Ash Chandler: I travel between New York, LA, London, Chicago, Toronto and Mumbai. I do a lot of corporate work. I do public performances mainly for the love of doing stand-up, but the money is in corporate work. Among my public performance, I particularly enjoyed Ash and You Shall Receive, which I hope to take to larger auditoriums in the future.
InOnIt: Have people in the audience ever gotten really angry at you or thrown things at you?
Ash Chandler: (laughs) Thankfully, no one has ever thrown things at me yet! Actually worse than people getting angry at you is if they don’t respond. Apathy is the worst reaction you can receive from the audience. Nothing is worse than if they (the audience) just go quiet on you.
InOnIt: How do you tackle an apathetic audience?
Ash Chandler: In the 23 years that I have performed, it’s never happened to me! You really have a sixth sense for the audience. It’s like talking to a woman you’re chatting up at a bar. You really have to establish the comfort level. Your connection to the audience is everything. A lot of performers focus on the material but it’s just not as important. Being on your feet, being aware and in the moment is key.
InOnIt: Your preparations before a show?
Ash Chandler: I use the bathroom a lot. You do not want to be on stage with a full bladder!
On a serious note, in stand-up you can’t really stand in front of a mirror and rehearse your lines. Preparation will f**k up your game! And if I ever get butterflies before a performance, I’ll quit! There’s a statistic that says that more people are afraid of public speaking than dying! The day I stop enjoying it, I will quit.
InOnIt: What are your plans after this weekend at The Comedy Store?
Ash Chandler: We just screened Love, Wrinkle-free at MAMI in Mumbai. Its the first movie I have acted in that I play the lead. We will be screening it in New York in the first week of November at the South Asian Film Festival. It is an English language film and we’re hoping to release it in India in 3-4 months.
InOnIt: How is acting different from stand-up comedy?
Ash Chandler: You have to be believable. It’s not about trying to be funny or charming. Love, wrinkle-free is a light hearted comedy and it was good for me as it was quite different from my role in Guzaarish, where I play the villain.
InOnIt: How long were you off shooting the film?
Ash Chandler: It took me away for a month. You can check out the trailers online – its on the website.