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Clearing the Delhi air with some quick wit

Comedy blitz in Delhi makes a bid to tackle air pollution with a dose of humor

Clearing the Delhi air with some quick wit
[Source photo: Shireen Khan/Press Insider]

“India has the best food in the world, so why should our air be bland?” quipped Shamik Chakraborty at a recent standup comedy event.

Finding humor in air pollution in a city that is ranked the worst globally on air quality metrics seems like a cruel joke.

But when 20 comedians descend on stage for a rapid-fire session about the dangers of deep-breathing, they do lend some merit to the idea that standup comedy as an art form, when done right, can be used as a tool for something more than just getting laughs.

The ‘Laughs per Minute: Breathless Edition’ in Delhi on Sunday did just that.

The event, organized by event management firm Deadant in collaboration with social impact advisory organization Asar, was hosted by stand-up comedian Rahul Dua and took place over the course of a little more than an hour. Twenty comedians got two sets of 60 seconds each to impress the audience with their sense of humor.

Bengaluru-based comic Shamik Chakrabarti told Press Insider that he wrote as many short jokes as he could to see how many he could fit into the two 60-second chunks, without it seeming too rushed.

Raghav Mandava, who has been performing stand-up comedy for 13 years now, shared that the one minute aspect of the gig was tough to work around.

“Even though I have been doing this for a while, it threw me off because you think ‘Ah, I’ve done my first joke and I’m already halfway through, how do I land the second punch line,’ and I sort of rushed it through. In the second chunk, now that I had a better playing field and had a better handle on it, it went pretty decently,” said Mandava.

Air quality is no laughing matter

According to Chakrabarti, comedians are often looking to be relatable above everything else.

“Pollution and other ’cause based’ topics can lend themselves to comedy because they are at some level universally relatable,” said Chakrabarti.

Ravina Rawal, founder and chief executive of Deadant, told Press Insider that the team picked comedians who often talked about causes.

“Some comedians are happy to use comedy as a tool to talk about important social and cultural topics, so it was very easy for us to filter through that, and some people are very great with short-form jokes,” she said.

For comedians like Mandava, a space for this kind of comedy is a treat.

“I have been doing this for 13 years and I like making jokes on the environment in general, because I think the way this planet works is funny in itself, so the fact that there was a show where I had an audience for these stupid jokes was great,” said Mandava.

‘A topic very close to my lungs’

Brikesh Singh, chief of communications at Asar, said the main motive for an event like this was to democratize the discussion around air quality.

“The whole discourse on air quality has been jargonized and restricted to conferences and reports, and a problem of such a scale has to be mainstreamed by using art and music, and what better than stand-up comedy,” said Singh.

Singh conceptualized the thought he had back in 2017 when he moved to Delhi and started working on air quality while also doing stand-up comedy. After going to more than a hundred open mics and realizing how the art of stand-up drew content from life, he still didn’t hear any discussion or even a joke about the air quality in Delhi, even when it was at a critical level.

Back in November 2023, Delhi and the cities around it observed ‘critical’ air quality levels, with the AQI even crossing 600 in some places like Noida.

To combat air pollution, the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) had even urged the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) to halt construction activities on linear public projects and to implement a 50% work-from-home policy for government and private office employees.

“When it comes to air pollution, the discourse was maturing in other cities like Mumbai during the last pollution season. People were talking about construction and demolition, dust being the primary contributing factor. So we wanted to encourage a conversation about that in Delhi as well,” said Singh.

The algorithm of jokes

The idea for the one-minute set developed from an earlier concept of getting some comedians to write a 6-7 minute set, Singh said.

Writing jokes, however, is not an easy feat especially about a topic like air pollution.

“So we gave them a minute each, two sets, talking points on some statistics, and they worked around it and landed good punchlines; most of them had even done their own research,” said Singh.

The minute format is most crucial in terms of raising awareness, Singh said, adding “tapping into the social media virality of one-minute reels is important if you want to reach those who are not consuming content about climate change.”

“So the idea was to get these comics to come together, give them a topic, get them to make jokes about air quality, and since every week there is a video going viral and hitting a million views, maybe topics like these would also go viral,” said Singh.

For comics, making reels is a necessary evil.

“I’m not necessarily a big fan of doing stand-ups in one minute segments all the time, but it’s pretty essential to do reel content in this day and age. It does help a creator’s online reach, more than any other format,” shared Chakrabarti.


Shireen Khan is a Senior Correspondent at Press Insider. She covers lifestyle, culture, and health. More

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