Y-So-Serious? A humour-filled conversation over coffee with Nitin Gupta ( Rivaldo), founder of Entertainment Engineers

images/stories/Entrepreneurs/non_tech2/nitin-gupta.gifIt takes you something less than 5 seconds to type in an LOL or ROTFL in your chat window. Less than a millisecond to break-out into a hearty laugh in reflex to something your senses find funny. But have you ever wondered how much time, effort and brain-storming does it take to be on the other side of the line? To make a business out of boffolas and a career out of cackles, chortles and chuckles? In a humour-filled conversation over coffee with Nitin Gupta ( Rivaldo), founder of Entertainment Engineers, Abhilasha Dafria for YourStory finds out what it takes for an engineer of IIT BOMBAY to take up Stand-up Comedy professionally in lieu of juicy college-placements.

Mr. Gupta, before telling us what you exactly do, tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a chemical Engineer by education and Amusement Engineer by interest. I’m the founder and CEO, that is Chief Entertainment Officer for Entertainment Engineers, a Stand Up Comedy and Theatre Company.

But please enunciate on the irony. Engineering from the country’s top insti to Comedy? What provokes such a paradigm shift?

A lot of things, actually. But could we keep this as the last question? I’m sure most of it would be answered indirectly during the process.

Fine. So tell me- What is the concept of Entertainment Engineers and what was your agenda and aim in forming it?

We believe ‘Comedy’ is both an Art and a Science. Thus the name: ‘Entertainment Engineers’. It’s Art because not every science guy can do it. And its Science because not every art guy can do it. Our agenda was ‘Entertaining’ because that is what we like to do. And our aim is (1) To Make Stand Up comedy respectable in India (2) To take English Stand Up comedy to the mainstream.

And to accomplish an aim like that, especially at the brink of building your career, how difficult was it to convince your parents?

For them, venturing into Stand Up Comedy was an equivalent of career-suicide. It was like getting on a treadmill to oblivion. The market was small, almost non-existent. So my parents or my ‘angel investors’, as I’d like to call them, had genuine concerns about their Stock, that is: me. It was part sentiment- part fact like in the actual markets. The only thing that I could do was to do well and hope that my founders would one day share my vision.

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So, when and how did this happen for real?

Well it’s difficult to tell when, because with Stand Up Comedy, It wasn’t ‘love at first sight’ but probably ‘love at second thought’. So I didn’t flirt with the idea right away. I first became good friends with it, then the idea moved in my mind. So I was in a live-in relationship with the idea for quite some time. May be that’s when I fell in love with it. Soon I just couldn’t help but think about it. Finally I gathered courage, stood up; not kneel down, picked up the mic and announced our engagement to the world in Oct 2009- Well, not the world but a few friends.

How ‘few’ was ‘few’ ? How many of you work with Entertainment Engineers and what was your first break like?

Well, we did a play in College, “Love In December”. So we were known in the college circles before Entertainment Engineers was formalized in October 2009. Our first Stand Up Comedy break came in MNIT Jaipur. Since then we have performed about 50 Concerts in IIT’s, IIM’s, TED Talks, and Fortune 500 Companies.

Currently we have ten people in the team.

But like every entrepreneur- you too must have had your set of initial hurdles.What was the real hard-hitting challenges then? And what sort of challenges do you face now?

Initial challenge was to overcome the ‘perceptional bias’. Media plays a very important role in manufacturing consent. Media tells you who your role models are, who the most influential people in the world are and who are funny and who are not. So getting initial shows at some of the biggest cultural festivals in the country with no media presence was a huge perceptional hurdle. Thankfully we managed to pass that.

Now that you talk of media- are you contemplating television appearances as well?

Well we have offers from TV, but going on to TV to do the kind of comedy they wanted us to do was a huge opportunity cost. So we took a calculated risk by choosing to stay away from TV.

So what then is your target audience?

Everybody who shares our thoughts and point of view is our audience. Everybody who doesn’t share our point of view and doesn’t find us funny is our target audience. Humor, we believe, is the only way of saying the truth. Now because of our cultural and religious conditioning, all of us are prejudiced about one thing or the other to various degrees.

The challenge is in penetrating through those mental blocks and conjuring some constructive interference in people’s mind. That’s the real challenge. It’s easier in certain topics, can be really tricky in constructs such as religion- thanks to our

“Defence Mechanisms” But that’s what drives us. We would like to shake things up a little.

Besides having shaken up a few myths already, give us a sense of how do you stand out from regular comedians and comedy show? What is your USP?

We don’t do comedy to make people laugh.

May be that’s our USP.

I’m not sure how that works, but help me by throwing some light on your marketing strategy and tell us what is the growth-potential for an unconventional venture such as this ?

Well, our marketing strategy is to do great comedy and leave the rest to YouTube and Facebook. More than that, we are looking for more upcoming comics who would like to take Stand Up Comedy as a career-option. As for growth potential, Tier 2 and Tier 3 Cities pose really exciting opportunities.

Having encashed on these opportunities- where do you see Entertainment Engineers in years to come?

We would like to have a Global Footprint in Stand Up Comedy. We believe with a little more stage time, we would be in place to compete with our global counterparts.

So say, hypothetically, if I were a client and were to make you an offer to perform right now- what must I expect?

Depends on who the client is. Basically, we offer customized Stand Up Comedy Concerts. Like a show for ICICI Bank would differ in content from a show at Microsoft. To give u an idea-The former would have content around Markets, Exchange Rates, Taxes and Financial Euphemisms Etc. and in Microsoft we would be talking about Apple and Google.

Likewise content for an Engineering Campus would be different than content for a Management School.

Does that mean every new project calls for special content customizing or is your comedy by large universal?

See, ‘Comedy’ as a concept is universal. But what appeals to different people might vary.

Like ‘Food’ as a concept to cure hunger is universal. But one cuisine doesn’t suit all.

In Hyderabad It’s chicken-hyderabadi, In Lahore it’s chicken-lahori.

Basic meat is the same. But we change the gravy and the preparation to suit the taste.

It’s very much like, when in Rome, do the Times New Roman.

So we like to customize content based on geography, educational background, median age of the audience, sex-ratio, language preference, religious tolerance, political sensitivity and general exposure. Some of these parameters are very hard to judge, so you make some intuitive choices and we love that challenge.

“When in Rome, do the Times New Roman.” Impressive and intriguing. Seriously, where do you get these ideas from?

Same place where you get so many questions from. It’s slightly tricky to verbalize the process actually.. ( thinking pause)

…. I am listening Mr. Gupta…

Well, let me put it this way- Meditation involves silencing your mind. Comedy involves documenting that noise. So all those ideas sane people try and block in meditation, we pick that food-for-thought, let it ferment in our mind. Finally, we filter the remains with language, cook them with rehearsals and then add sarcasm and word play to taste.

Now that my coffee’s turned cold anyway- do you have a wise-crack on a journalist?

No. How could it be ‘wise’ to crack a joke about a journalist to one?

Like they say, never challenge a Stand-up comedian’s presence of mind. Anyway, this turned out to be one interesting interview with you Mr. Gupta. And let me end it by coming back to the glorified irony: ‘Engineering to Comedy’ What provokes such a paradigm shift?

Well engineering is fundamental to the architecture of modern-day society. From Light Bulb to Nuclear Energy, from Invention of Wheel to the Mars Land Rover. Gravity, Evolution, Genetics, Stem Cell Research and my favorite invention, Anaesthesia.

Science has engineered the world as we see it today.Science is but a way of thinking. And Humor is but a point of view. We thought- how about merging the two and see what we get? We got Entertainment Engineers. To Sum Up: Science is mad about reason, and humor is reason gone mad.

I hope you see the similarities.