All photographs: Thamarai
With Tamil variety shows having been a staple part of the British Tamil calendar for years, the Tamil comedy scene remains a relatively unexplored field. Yet, with an array of budding comedic talent and millions of views across social media, the rapidly growing industry was never going to remain uncharted for long. Kutti Hari’s Comedy Night, the UK’s inaugural show devoted to Tamil comedy, proved to be the perfect way to bring this entertainment in front of a live studio audience for the first time.
Hosted by the ever popular Kutti Hari and organised by online magazine Thamarai.com, comedians across Europe arrived in London last month to break the mould and take Tamil comedy to the stage. Taking place in front of a sold out crowd in North-West London, Kutti Hari was the natural choice to lead the way. With his jovial anecdotes on modern life for diaspora Tamils living in Western Europe, his brash slapstick style, though at times breached political correctness, ensured he remained a crowd favourite.
Chief amongst the most anticipated acts of the night was Dayan Shan, the man behind TamiLOL, a Facebook page with tens of thousands of followers. Dayan’s set, which came complete with props and his slightly clichéd but ever popular jokes on life for a child in a Tamil household, grabbed laughs throughout the night.
One of the unexpected highlights of the evening was from senior stand-up comedian Mr Palan. His avid sets, told in both Tamil and English, kept the audience in hysterics. From his experiences at the airport to grappling with today's fashion, Mr Palan’s performance was told with the same gusto of his younger colleagues, and garnered even more laughs.
Amongst the host of Europe’s popular Tamil comedians to grace the stage, was Suthar Jey who has previously performed in both France and Germany. The unassuming self-described “hero’s best friend”, who spoke on the age old taboo of love in front of the notoriously hard to please London crowd, entertained with his endearing and laid backed delivery.
Dhodel Productions, a trio of comedians, pulled off an impeccably timed miming sketch reminiscent of a scene from a Kollywood comedy. Splitting their performance into segments throughout the evening, their vivacious comic drama proved to be a massive hit. An impromptu performance from Faisal Hassan was another surprising hit. Performing for the first time on stage, the young comedian took the opportunity to come on stage and was a roaring success.
The night was also interspersed with an array of musical talents including ‘Young Docs Music’, a band made up of medical students and junior doctors. Their acoustic renditions of Tamil classics was the first of several acts showcasing the depth of Tamil musical talent. The ever soulful Rachel Rajan was joined on stage by Kuruji playing the classical flute for an impassioned cover of ‘Thinking Out Loud’ by British artist Ed Sheeran. The classical flute made a further appearance, with Madhu Aiyaa, an artist who has performed with the likes of Kollywood’s Chithra taking to the stage. London's very own Inno Genga, with his classic RnB style that's gained him thousands of YouTube hits and followers across the globe, smoothly blended classical English tunes with contemporary Tamil cinema hits, with another stellar performance. Mainland Europe’s musical talent also shone, with Nerujan from Germany and Denmark’s Diluckshan showcasing the art of the loop pedal with an astounding live performance, captivating the audience. Teejay, a YouTube sensation with millions of views, was another crowd favourite that all in the audience were looking forward to hear; performing songs from his new album alongside Tamil rap pioneer MC Sai.
Orchestrating all of these acts, Kutti Hari played the role of impeccable host. Not only did he manage to keep the audience engaged throughout the evening, at one point unexpectedly pulling his parents up on stage, but he managed to masterfully smooth his way through the inevitable odd technical difficulty in a way that only he can.
“There are a lot more comedians in the Tamil community now than when I started 8 years ago, so I think it’s time we started pushing stand-up into the mainstream of Tamil culture,” Kutti Hari told Tamil Guardian. “I tried to maintain an open-mic policy to encourage anyone to come forward and express themselves.”
Speaking to us about the abundance of Tamil talent in the UK and around the diaspora, Hari said that he felt any cameo appearances from South Indian celebrities would have been unnecessary. “People think that quality Tamil entertainment can only be produced in Tamil Nadu, but that’s just not true,” he said. “I wanted this night to be about the talent we have here and in Europe, to connect those comedians and musicians that do great things on social media with a real audience. I would have hated for their performances to be overshadowed by people wanting to catch a glimpse of a celebrity they see all the time on Indian TV shows. There needs to be a shift in attitude in our community and media, where people realise that we have plenty of home-grown talent to invest in and Kollywood or Tamil Nadu TV shows aren’t the be-all and end-all of entertainment arts.”
Looking to the future, Hari told us, “we want to take this idea around the UK and Europe and maybe even further afield. Obviously that’s going to be challenging and something we can’t pursue without the support of our community.”
Kutti Hari’s Comedy Night was full of potential and promise, breaking new ground and exhibiting the breadth of talent amongst the Tamil community. Tamil comedy is not in the distant future. It is now.
See more photos on Thamarai's Facebook page here.