It could have gone to Delhi or Gurgaon. Instead, Don Ward has decided to set up his Comedy Store at the Phoenix Mills compound in Mumbai’s Worli area. “As soon as I landed in Mumbai, I knew this was the place. It was so familiar. Mumbai is a good mix of London and Manchester,” explains Ward over the phone. Ward is one of the founders of the famed Comedy Store in London and its latter-day cousin in Manchester. Established 30 years ago in Soho, London’s art and culture district, the Comedy Store has been a launch pad for some of the biggest names in British stand-up comedy. Famous comics such as Ben Elton, Paul Merton and Eddie Izzard all made their big stage debuts at the London store.
Today, the Comedy Store is a tourist staple in London, and Ward says 85% of its seats are sold out on most weeks.
Best medicine: Comic Paul Tonkinson (inset) will tour Mumbai in June; and the Comedy Store in London.
A few months ago, Ward was approached by Amar Agarwala, managing director of the Gurgaon-based Spa Group that has brought luxury labels such as Lladro and Swarovski to India. “He told me that when it came to comedy, I had the best brand. Was I interested to bring it to India?” says Ward. After a reconaissance tour of Gurgaon and Delhi proved unsuccessful, Ward flew to Mumbai. He was chuffed.
According to Ward, the stand-up comedy culture in India today is where it was in London in 1979, when he bought his club in Soho on top of a strip club. “Nobody knew what it was. There was no culture of stand-up comedy. But in reality, it is an art form. The artist is on the stage, (the) crowd in front and you’re either good or you’re rubbish. Prince or poo!” he clarifies.
Ward is hoping to repeat Comedy Store’s London success story in Mumbai. The Mumbai Comedy Store will be housed in a double-level space inside the Palladium premium shopping section at Phoenix Mills. One level will house the stage while the other will house a bar and a venue for music. Ward expects the facility to open by mid-November, when he will start bringing in “the best stand-up talent from America, Canada, Britain and Australia”. “I am going to make sure that anyone who is on stage has clarity of diction,” Ward explains, ruling out comics with strong “Scottish, Liverpudlian and other accents” that are difficult to follow.
To make sure that his team knows its audience, Ward is providing “the lads” with shipments of Indian newspapers and magazines: “The audience must know you’ve done your homework. The biggest insult is if the comic knows nothing about you.” There will be performances all week, with the foreign star acts scheduled on weekends. Local comedians, too, will get a chance to train and perform. Ward says, the idea, ultimately, is to have good local talent performing at the store, “perhaps even in Hindi one day”.
To create a buzz around the opening, Ward is organizing a three-day tour of stand-up comedy performances by Sean Meo, Ian Stone and Paul Tonkinson in Mumbai on 4, 5 and 7 June at Blue Frog, Worli, Tata Experimental Theatre (both Rs1,000 per head) and ITC Grand Maratha hotel (Rs2,500 per head, inclusive of dinner), respectively. For details, call 022-39895050 or log on to www.bookmyshow.com