Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Standup Comedy

Frankly, I haven't done much Stand Up Comedy except once in a Toastmasters zonal celebration, which by the way went well, and several times at college in low stakes environments. And I dislike all mainstream comedy shows here in India. I've also found it tremendously difficult, far more than most public speaking - debates, speeches and hosting, to generate laughter in masses, mainly because of the debilitating audience judging hard from the onset when they know cracking them up is on my list. My prepared jokes generally fall flat and I succeed in making them laugh more at me than with my rhetoric. So I stick to a couple of tested (practiced) jokes when push comes to shove and play the thanksgiving turkey whenever it helps. You must be wondering what you could possibly gain out of reading this post.

The little success I've had has made me realise that Stand Up Comedy or humour in broad sense is like panacea to engage audiences. If you can, it's a surefire way of keeping it light as well as intense, and particularly works well in mature educated crowds who otherwise know all under the sun. Moreover I love the adventure - the feeling of gambling with everything you have on the stage. So I've decided to learn the craft before I need it - eating the elephant bit by bit, and jotting my learnings and likes here for feedback and love.

Okay - the second why about launching into comedy is these three people: Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais. I don't understand how they do it. I stole the Toastmasters gig with Jim Carrey's moves and it flew off despite me doing it. I'll post that video later but for now let me embed some of my favourite clips to celebrate.

Jim Carrey's Unnatural Act 1991

And that's what this place is about - the party is here and now
Watch out for St. Bernard

Robin Williams (the Obama gig)

Ricky Gervais - Gay Dolphins

David Brent dance from The Office

The dead terrorist by Jeff Dunham

Here are some more suggestions to watch for not only absolute fun but also to delve into a rave taste and absolute fertility to harness ideas out of everyday drudgery.
Family Guy

Monday, 17 November 2014


Last year I sang at a mad concert for 3 hours straight. Not that anybody was listening, or shall I say that was the best part and the reason why I could sing for long or in fact sing at all. That was the first time I realised the real worth of having a close friend who owns a restaurant with an insanely great music console (and the DJ set of course). You can do whatever you want with it - play classic rock, trip on it, sing, basically go berserk - after the business closes for the night and have mad concerts like the one I'm telling you about, with a group of sloshed friends (the passive audience).

That was the unexpected beginning. Over time I've unknowingly by hearted my favourite songs - the ones I know with great lyrics - music high. I'm tuned more to instrument first tracks, tracks which are anchored by percussion or string instruments with lots of instrumental solos and less but powerful lyrics. I'm listing them here so you can comment if you like these too and recommend your faves as well!

Robert Plant is one of the best singers ever. It's just that I find the rest of LZ songs very difficult to catch. So mentioning these two I can sing.


Stairway to Heaven

Beatles is always the choice for effortless syncing, specially if you're singing in a group

Let it be

Hey Jude

Strawberry Fields Forever


I think my bias is with floyd - for the best instrumental solos

Another Brick in the Wall

Learning to Fly

Comfortably Numb

High Hopes


For everyone who can keep up with the coolest guitar ever

All along the watchtower


Discovered Dire Straits in early 2012

Brothers in Arms

And the singularities, one epic at a time

I'm the highway

Behind blue eyes



Sunday Morning

Turn the page

 PL I know the Truth

I'm also trying to learn these lyrical songs. Generally I find them difficult but these are just beautiful.


Just a Gigolo

JJ Cale Days go by

Bollywood's got awesome songs too, I tend to go for the easy lyrical ones again here - like deewanapan, Kishore Kumar, Arijit Singh is the new king. Here are a selected few.

I've kind of just started with singing and plan to upload a karaoke collection some time soon. Also I'm thinking of posting recordings by a couple of friends who're excellent at it. Keep you posted.

Public Speaking - Here's what the whole charade's about

I was an almost invisible man in college when it all came screeching across the sky. It was like waking up to face a firing squad when I ended up contesting a student election and got to the main stage to present my candidature speech. It fell flat, and the best man won in that race, as I believe in hindsight. But I signed up for the best professional course in Public Speaking that very night.

The course came along fine, and I went on to take a couple of advanced programmes too. In fact, I can shamelessly call myself an established public speaker now, looking at most people's speeches, relatively, and at the pile of certificates that's been building in my attic for the last four years.

Over time I've realised how it is - the whole importance the speaking part has accrued - that there is a communications enhancing effort in every organisation, school, and innumerable clubs together with private institutions for the rest. Now I've nothing against these practices, and I acknowledge their part in helping people out - as a matter of fact I've gained a lot myself - but I think the whole thing's been overblown in absurdly wrong proportions and so a lot of people end up making efforts with no light at the end of the tunnel, and remain unskilled. That's why I decided to write this post despite knowing that the web already has all documentation there is about one to many communication.

Well first, speaking is a much smaller part of communication as such, which in turn plays minor part in gaining confidence. Learning to speak first is, in my opinion, running the race looking backwards. Before you want to get on the platform and holler, it comes as a more difficult responsibility to have original thought and a mindset to communicate it to the audience, knowing how and how much your sermon stands to add. I've seen a staggering proportion of public speaking enthusiasts have this block, creating a tiresome, boisterous environment that sucks life out of everyone in the room. And so, no one really gets better. To illustrate, how many of the prodigies you follow while learning the tricks were public speakers before they knew the big thing they wanted to do and for which speaking was in fact, needed. Gandhi was terrible at it, before he knew what they needed to know, and so was Lincoln. After all, we're all capable of speaking, and if not - go to a speech therapist first. The idea is - have thought and experience first - read books, watch movies, meet more and different people, work more and then think if you need more edge to do what you decide.

Second, most people I find trying to speak in public are looking for influence. Which is still calling it politely - what they're looking for is how to put a facade like everybody else in public meetings to save them from possible humiliation should their turn to shower jargon arrive. If you're looking for anything beyond that much you'd understand that real life happens outside meeting rooms, and so influence comes from offline choices like how one lives, what and with how much expertise she manages her affairs and how much value she brings to table. The Dalai Lama will receive a more wholesome reception than most politicos any day because he's got that credibility built from work done away from the high ground. People who do great work will always have influence, howsoever they choose to speak, and moreover you'd find they can speak with much more gravity than the mere poster boys. So work real life, big things before you wanna talk big.

Finally, after you have the necessary thought and credibility reserve and the purpose to drive yourself to inspire audiences - only then, you might need some practice as a bit of psychological ramp up to the stage, and that too only in the beginning and much lesser than wannabe blabbering hobos. And still there shall be more thinking than speaking to it, and what you speak will do more than how you do it anyway. So here's the juice of all that matters, in the points that follow.

1. Strike the nail on the head - your audience should know well in time why they're investing their attention. Answer the 'So What?' question as soon as you can.
2. Talk in a language which they understand. Mould the context to relate to their lives.
3. Use sensory language and descriptive verbs. They see and feel more than they understand, so Show it to them rather than Tell.
4. Read all you can on Rhetoric - ways to master ethos, logos, pathos and kairos in speeches.
5. Don't be a celebrity, be yourself or them (even better).
6. Give them something - inspiration, a pinch of entertainment, valuable advice, empathy.
7. Pay attention to dynamics of the one to many channel - Structure, Body Language, Vocal Variety, Stage Presence, Emotional Appeal etc. Best join a structured programme like Toastmasters.

That's all there's to it. Post any questions you have in comments.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Beat it!

I love to beat drums. The best music instrument I tell you. Unlike other devices I play them without thinking much about the count because they rock from the ground. They gonna shake the whole thing, and the beat's gonna be all right.

Lately I've started playing the Djembe and it's even more chilled out.
Djembe at DDC

I dig everything - loud, subtle, fast, slow but prefer to play the spaced kinda tracks - the relatively easier ones like floyd and folk.

There's tonne of music I could recommend but I'ma mention these two now. Actually was just trippin' on them.

Dream Theatre Pull me Under

LZ When the Levee Breaks

I'm still learning tho, and would recommend Jared Falk's free lessons if you're too.

Here's a recording I made last week. Tell me if you like it.


"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." - begins 1984 by George Orwell, enticing the reader to eagerly find out what was special about that particular day. With no exception, all the books I've ever finished are either fascinating stories or are comprised of them.

Stories engage us deeply because they take us to their world before we know it. And our behaviour is hardwired because that is exactly how real life happens - chronologically, manoeuvred by characters and circumstances, following some stream of continuity - thus taking our deep attention just like the happening real world.

Last month I finished the course 'Understanding Media by Understanding Google' by Prof. Owen Youngman on Coursera. As part of the curriculum I went through the course video lectures and ended up watching every video at least twice because they made such intriguing stories and so I thought It'd be nice to find out more, maybe learn a bit of storytelling and once I have some material - write this post. So here it is - I've got some examples with cracking storytelling, a few fundamentals you could keep in mind and a couple of resources to get storytelling help should you need.

Okay, here is some storytelling from hollywood.

Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven is one of my best movies. Together with inspiring visuals I think the movie has one of the best narrations ever.

Narration by the adolescent Linda

Casino is another movie I love to see with friends, watch out for Nicky's narration at 1:50

Joe Pesci's narration in Casino

Here's a short Woody Allen feat

Christopher Welch primes Vicky and Cristina's stories

And here's a visual storytelling in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon

The epilogue in the last frame has text if you've not watched BL

Our generation of businesses are run by presentations, board meetings, tele conferences and are hence aced by the likes of Steve Jobs, see his live storytelling prowess below. As he always said - the most powerful person in the world is the Storyteller.

Steve Jobs tells the story

Improving Your Story

Well, for those who learn by doing bit by bit, here's my short crisp two cents - the simple parts of stories are time, place, characters and sequence. You just got to be mindful about these components and give them due light with your language and make the language appealing to the reader/listener's senses (touch, taste, vision, sound, smell..), rather than witty logic tidbits. Relay an experience to them, not a theory. Keep the continuity, reality always flows.

If you wish to read, wikipedia will fetch you enough to debate. Some quick contemporary tips can be sought from these Inc, Forbes and Entrepreneur articles and more on the web. Best you read a book, especially if you understand the rise of the creative class.

Still the better way to get the Once upon a time edge to your stories would be to learn from the best. Simple, get these Pixar Storytelling Principles in your head, read and watch all there is about the best storytellers around and start your gig.

Lastly, for our presentation age, I find Visually and Prezi quite handy to present compelling stories on the table. And if you want to publish online, try websites like Medium that light up every individual page rather than website layout shouldering your content.

BTW Blogger has a new look as well, with more emphasis on each page. Check out this story I just wrote.