How This Entrepreneur Is Minting Money While We Laugh
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In the by-lanes of South Mumbai, I walked up to the watchman of an office complex for help in locating an address. He pointed his finger to a yellow door. The door stood out among tens and hundreds of offices around because of its colour. The smell of a fresh paint made it clear, that the office was new setup.
When I entered through the door, it didn’t have cubicles or business suit clad-employees working on numbers. It had people — joking and laughing or in other words enjoying their work.
On one side a group of youngsters were managing social media accounts and on the other side, writers were discussing their sketches while their bosses, who are comedians by profession, were literally all over the place. I was in East India Comedy’s new office.
When Sapan Verma started doing comedy in 2011, it was just a bunch of people cracking jokes. But since then, a lot has changed in the comedy industry. From YouTube to over-the-top platforms and stand-ups to brand integration sketches, the comedy segment has come a long way.
In an exclusive conversation with Entrepreneur India, Sapan Verma, comedian and the Co-founder of East India Comedy (EIC) shared his experience as an entrepreneur, balancing creativity with business.
From a Comedy Group to an Enterprise
Verma along with Saurab Pant, Sahil Shah, and Kunal Rao started performing as a group, but they needed a name. So in line with the British East India Company, they named their group as East India Comedy. With time, comedians like Atul Khatri, Azeem Banatwalla and Angad Singh Ranyal joined the group.
By 2013-14, the stand-up segment had exploded in India, which led to a flood of opportunities for groups like EIC for not just creating content, but, in the process even changing popular opinions and working with brands for integrated promotional videos and advertorial campaigns.
“When started off, we never expected to have an office or have people working for us. EIC is now a one-stop comedy solution, where we do live stand-ups, videos, social media posts, and generate content for corporates or brands, who are associated with us. But the idea is to do something that will influence the pop culture, as it is our actual motive,” says Sapan.
But running a comedy-based company is not a cakewalk, especially when you have no one to look up to. The major players in the segment are All India Bakchod, The Viral Fever and SnG Comedy.
Unlike his competitors, Verma doesn’t want EIC to just be a comedy-production house. “We at EIC want to strike a balance between stand-ups and digital videos and all of us here work double shifts. We manage the production work while doing at least 10 shows per month,” he added.
The Act Of Balance
In the entertainment industry, especially in the comedy segment, it is very difficult to predict how much you will make every month and yet you have to maintain fixed expenses like paying salaries and rents.
And EIC, just like many of start-ups, have their marketing and finance meetings, but nothing is more important than creativity, said Verma, adding, “When we are in the brainstorming room, we simply are creative people, discussing ideas and not thinking money.”
The digital market is so fragile that every day there is something new coming up and something dying down, he warned. What was funny few a years ago is not funny now. “You constantly have to make the first move and that’s the risk you take it. And once you nail it, you nail it,” he opined.
The Big ‘But’
In a country like India, where you can’t really predict what can offend whom, brands are very cautious while collaborating with comedy production houses like the EIC. A brand also comes with a lot of baggage. Hence, one can’t just ask for the creative freedom and do what they want. So it entirely depends on how much risk one can take and it varies from brand to brand, he suggested.
Verma said there is always another way to get a work done, which mostly depends on how much you are willing to compromise and how much the brand is willing to compromise. “And we have to meet somewhere in the hallway,” he added.
“Younger brands, including the e-commerce ones, are more likely to take the risk. While on the other side, old school conventional brands that come with lineage are less risk-taking,” he clarified.
Citing the example of its product – a news-comedy series called EIC Outrage, he said, that’s a property which would never get funded. It is not that brands don’t approach them for integration. However, they don’t get along. And hence it is a self-funded EIC project, where they lose money to be honest.
However, with exposure and experimentation in the industry, the trends are changing — brands are opening up and even comedians have also started to realize how to deal with it.
Content consumption has moved from television to You-Tube and now to OTT like Hotstar, Netflix and Amazon Prime. The EIC team has done about five shows with Amazon Prime. Once people see them online, they are willing to pay to watch them offline.
And thanks to these platforms, Indian comedians are being invited to international events and performing globally, he said. Earlier this year, he did a superb act of the first-ever Indian comedy show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Will he ever license his brand EIC and he was prompt to reply, “We do merchandise but our biggest licensing is when people pay to watch us live.”Meanwhile, Pant and Khatri have quit EIC to work fulltime as stand-up comedians.