Quitting a high paying secure job to pursue your passion is a motto that several preach but only a few possess the determination to follow. Anshu Mor belongs to the latter category. He left his glorious corporate job as the India-head of Microsoft Xbox to become a full-time stand-up comedian. And boy, has it been a journey!
Anshu left his job in January, 2016, and has since been recognized as one of the fastest growing comedians in India. His storytelling style of comedy has been appreciated across all age groups and all audience types, and he already has his third standup comedy solo ready for the audiences. Here is his journey from ruling the boardroom to killing it on stage:
Highlights of the episode
- Growing in this industry requires you to focus not just on the craft but also on the business side of it.
- While standup comedy workshops do help, it is finally your desire and passion to go up on stage that will help you polish your craft.
Quotes and Takeaways
- “… at the core of the art form, there should be the desire to pick up a mic, get in front of rank strangers and bare your soul to deliver the most honest and twisted thoughts.”
- “A bad show stays in your head for a long time. That is why they say standup comedy is an ego crushing job. However, if you have decided to pursue standup comedy, you need to build the ability to accept these failure and remain persistent in getting back on stage.”
- “There is enough work and scope for all of us to build very successful careers out of this. Believe in your work and remember that the only validation you require is from the audience.”
From being the Head of Xbox India business at Microsoft, to starting your own entertainment and storytelling company called Talking Mime, I’m sure it’s been a ride! What inspired the transition?
I have been fascinated with the stage and mic since I was a child. Even during my corporate life, I took every opportunity to be on stage or to create any kind of entertaining content. In 2016, I decided to take the plunge primarily because I didn’t want to look back at life and regret not pursuing what is perhaps my biggest passion in life.
You have been acknowledged as one of the fastest growing comedians in the country, having grabbed your first solo slot within 10 months. What do you think you do differently from those still struggling to make a mark?
I think what worked for me was the timing at which I joined the standup comedy industry. In the past two years, the industry has grown rapidly with more opportunities, more venues and more demand for such content. This, coupled with the fact that at my age, there are more stories to tell, I guess helped in creating content faster. I also owe a lot to the industry (comedians & venues) who gave me opportunities to perform much ahead of time.
How do you go about writing a set? Also, how much of it all is spontaneous and how much is rehearsed?
My writing process has changed dramatically from when I wrote my first solo to the recent special ‘Right Se Dekh’. I only pick topics which I feel strongly about or have an informed opinion about. Most of my content is about observations or stories from my own life. Purely as a process, once I am clear about the topics I want to talk about, it is all about writing daily on those topics for hours together to crystallize my thoughts and peel the layers.
For me, about 95% of the delivery on stage is prepared and practiced beforehand. I am yet to reach a stage where I can confidently take a rough thought on stage and make people laugh.
Can someone learn to be funny on stage? In other words, how effective can stand-up comedy workshops and similar exercises be?
I think standup comedy workshops help to polish the craft. But at the core of the art form, there should be the desire to pick up a mic, get in front of rank strangers and bare your soul to deliver the most honest and twisted thoughts. For a standup comedian, the ability to think/write funny and bring a different perspective to a particular topic are the essential starting points. Once you have that, the stage mostly helps build your style of delivery, tighten the material and understand different kinds of audiences.
Are there any comedians you look up to? How has their work influenced yours?
From the international circuit, Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfield, Marc Maron and Jim Jefferies have been a big influence. From the Indian scene, I am honestly in awe of most of the comedians :-). But more than their content, it is the way some of them are building their standup careers (both locally and internationally) that fascinates me.
I don’t think it will be fair to name comedians out here (because I might miss out a name or two) but I am really indebted to a lot of them who not only helped me understand the craft but also supported me in the early phase of my career by giving crucial stage opportunities. Even today some of these close comedian friends make the effort to come for my shows, make notes, and provide feedback. All this means a lot to me.
Can you tell us more about Talking Mine?
Talking Mime is my dream project. It is a company focused on entertainment and storytelling content. While still in the early stages, the company delivers standup comedy content & entertainment content (podcast show). We also deliver digital branded content and provide art of storytelling workshops to corporates to help them make their external/internal communication more effective.
Now we are increasingly becoming a part of an environment where people take offence too easily. How do you counter this situation? How greatly does this impact your creative intellect?
It’s a sad situation when a society starts outraging over comedy but I guess the world we live in, outrage & oversensitive attitude is something which we all need to get used to. The comedian is only putting forward his/her perspective on a topic with the intent to make you laugh. The intent is never ever to consciously insult anybody. If you find a joke funny – great! But if you don’t, you have every right to comment on it or to simply ignore it. What is not acceptable are the threats/abuses that are sometimes hurled.
For me, trolling has never impacted what I say on stage. If I feel strongly about a topic, I will say it. I have a simple rule for online trolls – I just ignore them.
In live shows, we do encounter hecklers sometimes, and what I have realised is that majority of the times when that happens, the person heckling doesn’t know any better. Usually, a polite request to not disturb works, but if the person is still insistent on becoming the butt of the jokes, I give them what they want!
For a comedian, I would assume that it is the laughs and the claps that would be the ultimate validation. However, I’m sure there are moments when you do get demoralized or when things don’t strike with the audience. I think a lot of aspiring comedians would like to know how to cope with such instances.
I wish I knew the formula to cope with those moments! They are the worst moments by a long stretch. A bad show stays in your head for a long time. That is why they say standup comedy is an ego crushing job. However, if you have decided to pursue standup comedy, you need to build the ability to accept these failure and remain persistent in getting back on stage. Introspect on what went wrong in a particular show, learn from those failures, make changes if you can but always, always get back on stage as soon as possible.
Over the years in your journey as a standup comedian, which was the greatest acknowledgement that you received?
Without a doubt, it was the tweet that my son put up after watching my first ever solo show back in March, 2017. The tweet read – “I don’t think I have ever been so proud of anyone else before. Proud to be a Mor tonight. Forever and ever your fan @anshumor”. I don’t think anything can top that 😀
What’s in store for 2018?
Although it has been a fairly short journey for me so far, I feel 2018 would be a pivotal year for me. I am very excited about my solo show ‘Right Se Dekh’, which I’m touring the country for right now. I intend to take this special to the international markets like US, UK and South East Asia very soon, and hopefully by the end of the year, have it on one of the major OTT platforms in the country.
I’m also working on transitioning my audio podcast series, Morcast, to a video show with exciting fun content and guests. I am very encouraged by the response to the audio-only series which was highly appreciated for the conversations/stories with the guests on the show, and I do believe that when we come out with the video format of the show, it will be a very unique content experience for the audiences.
What message would you like to give to the aspiring comedians reading this interview?
Focus on both, the craft and the business side of standup comedy. Stay away from politics, coterie mindset and don’t feel jealous of anyone else’s success. We are just starting in this industry. There is enough work and scope for all of us to build very successful careers out of this. Believe in your work and remember that the only validation you require is from the audience. They are the only ones who will make you or break you.