It’s never easy to talk comedy with the best in the business. You don’t know whether they are pulling your leg or having fun at your expense. Such fears are unfounded, though, when I finally talk to Ramesh Pisharody, over the phone. A master of the craft, the 36-year-old comes across as astute and sensible when it comes to connecting with people with his brand of humour that’s neither slapstick nor below the belt.
During the recent election, he was perhaps on everyone’s favourite Whatsapp forward with his act for an award show that included spoofs of popular songs featuring leading politicians such as V.S. Achuthanandan, Oommen Chandy, A. K. Antony and K. M Mani. The clipping, shared on his official YouTube page, has been viewed a whopping 1,85,691 times – and counting!
His USP, Ramesh says, is his practical approach to the art. “I am not just a mimicry artiste; I blend it with stand-up comedy. Audiences have given me the licence to do that. What has come handy is my reading habit; I have a sharp memory too,” he says.
But that isn’t enough to stay put in the industry, adaptability holds the key for a comedy artiste. “You can’t imagine how strenuous this job is. We wrack our brains to come up with an act, but within hours it gets uploaded on the Internet. So when we present the same item at another venue, viewers insist that it is a copy! In fact, the average lifespan of a current issue is just one hour. We don’t get enough time to come up with a good act. We are also up against Whatsapp jokes, trolls and memes. Spectators want variety. So, if you find me making unexpected entries at award nights or stage shows, that’s all part of my effort to make the show different,” he says.
Do these survival tactics succeed? “Well, the Malayali audience is never easy to please. We have this habit of judging everything, be it food, clothing, cinema, humour… Even if the humour is top class, they think twice before laughing, as if they are testing their immunity to humour! And if they don’t like something, they go on a rampage, attacking the product left and right. Comedy artistes are under so much strain that I sometimes feel this whole movement might come to an end one day. I don’t know when.
“After all, the last dinosaur on earth didn’t know that it was going to be the last!” says the comedian, who is just back from a show in Jordan and Israel.
The journey to fame was not easy for this stand-up comedian hailing from Velloor in Kottayam district. “It began with my imitation of a dog’s barking for a musical drama when I was in class two in an English medium school,” he says.
A year later he forced his parents to shift him to a Malayalam medium school so that he didn’t have to wear uniforms and go to school on Saturdays. As literary competitions were out of bounds owing to his difficulty in handling Malayalam, he took part in mimicry competitions.
“I was the only participant and won the first prize as well.” From then on, till he finished college, he never missed a mimicry competition.
There was no training or guidance whatsoever. “Humour was a part of my being. Living in a small house with four siblings, all of them elder to me, made all the difference. My eldest sister, for instance, is 10 years older to me. Interactions with them shaped my thought process. As for my parents, though they didn’t encourage my interest in mimicry, they never discouraged me. I started working in mimicry troupes at a young age and would return home at odd hours, tired and dishevelled. It was such a difficult phase that my parents thought I would give it up after a point,” he says.
But that never happened. In 2000, he joined Salim Kumar’s troupe, Cochin Stallions and got his first television programme the same year. Three years later, he started working on Comedy Show with Sajan Palluruthy and Kalabhavan Prajod on Asianet. Shows such as Cinemala, Five Star Thattukada and Comedy Cousins followed. His big ticket to fame was Bluffmasters on Asianet Plus, which he co-hosted with Dharmajan. Today he has a packed schedule with programmes across India and abroad, the weekly show Badai Bungalow on Asianet and his several acting assignments.
There is a thin line between humour and ridicule and he emphasises that his humour is never personal. “When I take a current issue, I just present it as it has been reported in the media. I never bring my own interpretations. Humour in the right dosage is important,” he says.
Not many know that he also writes. A compilation of the articles he has written for various publications will be published soon. In the meantime, he is cherry-picking roles in tinsel town. The choices he made didn’t go wrong, the roles in Celluloid, Amar Akbar Antony and Charlie, being examples. Jude Anthany Joseph’s Oru Muthassi Gadha is his new project.
So what lies ahead for him? “I don’t know what I would have done if I were not doing this. Also, I don’t know what is in store.