The Comedy Store – which has become something of an institution for heckling, beer-swilling and talent-spotting – is setting up shop in Mumbai, where the organisers hope to discover an Indian stand-up superstar.
Well-known comedians from the UK will fly over to India to perform for local audiences. Whether their punchlines will be met by laughter or by deafening silence is as yet unknown. But the Comedy Store's founder, Don Ward, hopes that the humour served up will transcend cultural boundaries, even though one of the comedians enjoys rubbishing Bollywood while another is openly gay, which is highly controversial in the subcontinent.
"It will be a bit of a challenge for the simple reason that my comics have not had a lot of history in India. They'll have to make it up as they go along," Mr Ward said.
While there will be no attempt to make jokes which are culturally specific to the region, Mr Ward said that the comedians would nonetheless be sent daily newspapers from India to acquaint themselves with Mumbai's most topical issues. They would also fly out to India a few days before the gigs.
Mr Ward said that, after kickstarting the club with established (in Britain, at least) names, there would also be open mic slots, masterclasses and nights for local comedians to perform their stand-up acts.
"What I'm looking for is the next Eddie Izzard," Mr Ward said. "At present there is no emerging comedy talent in India, and we hope to change all of that – we're looking for the first Indian stand-up superstar. It's an incredibly exciting venture, and I hope India embraces the Comedy Store in the same way that the UK has over the past 30 years."
The Comedy Store in central Mumbai will be situated in the trendy surroundings of Phoenix High Street, inside the Palladium building. It is a joint investment between Mr Ward and the Indian entrepreneur Amar Agrawal.
A series of "brand awareness" shows will be launched from 4 June, with the compere Sean Meo appearing with Ian Stone and Paul Tonkinson.
"Ian Stone is a Jewish comic who is joke heavy, Sean Meo is caustic and Paul Tonkinson does a lot of physical comedy. Between them, we'll have some idea of what kind of comedy works for Indian audiences," Mr Ward said. Other performers include Paul Sinha, a gay doctor who is anticipated to shock some Mumbai audiences who are not always accustomed to open homosexuality, and Russell Peters, a Canadian observational comedian who has in the past rubbished Bollywood in his stand-up act. Mr Ward said that when Peters had previously performed in India he had "stopped traffic" with his routine. "Comedy is about pushing the barriers," he added.
Mr Ward, who launched the Comedy Store in London in 1979 on a six-week trial, said it had been just as much of a risk in a Britain which had no significant tradition of stand-up, as this latest venture would be in India.
"In 1979, there was not a tradition of a massive amount of comedy clubs in the UK. It was a blank canvas just as Mumbai is now," he said.
If successful, he plans to set up clubs in other Indian cities including Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai.
Goodness gracious me: Jokes from India
* A monk was driving in India when suddenly a dog crossed the road. The car hit and killed the dog. The monk looked around and seeing a temple, went to knock on the door. A monk opened the door. The first monk said: "I'm terribly sorry, but my karma ran over your dogma."
* "What are you doing today, oh mother of my children?" queries papa Ji. "Well," replies mum Ji, "I think I'll get some chores out of the way, like marrying off your son!" "What a great idea," agrees dad. "You do that while I wash the cars!"
* Santa Singh decided to start a chicken farm so he bought 100 chickens from a dealer. A month later he returned to the dealer for another 100 because all of the first lot had died. A month later he was back to the dealer for another hundred after the second lot had also died. The dealer asked: "What happened to the other chickens?" "I don't know," said the man, "maybe I'm planting them too deep."
* After making a trip to south India, Santa Singh, his wife and son were returning to Punjab by Tamilnadu Express. Santa Singh was occupying the lower berth, his wife the middle berth and his son the top-most berth in the train. When the train stopped at a station the son asked his father for some ice cream. When they returned they saw that a south Indian who couldn't understand Hindi had occupied his son's berth. Outraged, Santa Singh called the inspector and asked him to help. The inspector said he couldn't understand Hindi so it would be better if Santa explained the whole situation in English. Santa said: "That man sleeping on top of my wife is not giving berth to my children."
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