Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All the World's his Stage

Jonathan Atherton gets Bangaloreans laughing at themselves… and the rest of the world!

“For a country this size, it is quite surprising that there are more brain surgeons than stand-up comedians here! There are other traditions of comedy, but this is probably the rawest form – it’s just spotlight-microphone-talk, no juggling, no music, no magic, no acrobatics,” rues Jonathan Atherton.

Snapping out of cynicism mode, Atherton confesses: “I’m lazy. Being a stand-up comic is the only job I know where you can work an hour a day and call it ‘busy’.” The Singapore-based Australian performed three power-packed gigs, presented by BULCHEE Commedia del’Arte.

Atherton, who has performed to sold-out crowds across the world, is known for his rapid-fire comedy characterised by multilingual skills and a knack for spinning the quirks of different cultures effortlessly into his act. He has lived and travelled extensively across Asia and Africa and speaks Indonesian, Malay, Thai, Japanese, Swahili, Luganda, German and some Hindi.

His performance was replete with choice ingredients, including the old stand-up’s ruse of picking on the front row seaters – at the Manchester United Bar & Lounge on Sunday, it was a couple of men with their arms around each other who bore the onslaught! Atherton did not disappoint on the risqué front either, throwing plenty of sexually explicit jokes at his gasping audience. The highlight was his (in)famous ‘global perspective’ –  Indians to Americans to the British to Singaporean Chinese to Malaysians to the Aussies, none escaped his far-from-kind observations and merciless reenactments.

He manages to absorb different cultures with alacrity, he says, “by not staying inside those air-conditioned artificial environments. I’m a street person. I’m hanging with rickshaw-wallahs, I’m drinking chai on street corners. I don’t dismiss anyone. I learn as much from a rickshaw-wallah as I do from a university professor, often in a far more direct way.” His reply makes sense when you see the unlikely spot he’s chosen to enjoy his smoke in: the security guard’s bench at the gate, far from the glitzy crowd buzzing inside.

He is happiest discovering the ‘real’ India and makes no effort to hide his disdain for the ‘too many middle-class Westerners coming to India in search of something that Indians secretly know isn’t even here’.  

“I walked into the Osho Ashram (in Pune) and they wouldn’t let me in – I guess I didn’t have enough money to buy moksha. I went to the bookshop instead. He (Rajneesh ‘Osho’) was obviously a bright guy – I mean anyone who can get the men to give all their money and the women to give their bodies, yeah, good, man!”

So what does he look forward to each time he goes under the spotlight? “When the men want to buy you a drink and the women want to sleep with you. If it’s a choice between the two, I’ll forego the drink! And it is very rare for an Australian to say that!”

Atherton wears many hats – comedian, actor, television presenter (‘Lonely Planet’ on Discovery Channel and ‘Pilot Guides’ on ABC-TV), voice artist, screen writer and photographer. Which one does he enjoy the most?

“A comedian’s, by far. The comic writes his own material, directs and performs it. There is no one else to blame when it goes wrong, and when it goes really well, there is this incredible sense of idea that, ‘It was all me!’ We comics constantly flip between depression and elation, depending on how the last gig went.”

-Remuna Rai, Raintree Media Features 


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