Naveen Richard on empathy, observation and exploring ‘the lighter side of things’
The comedian chats about his new standup special Relatively Relatable, streaming on Amazon Prime since March 20
Naveen Richard doesn’t do fart jokes. He declares as much in his new Amazon special, Relatively Relatable. With the live audience already giggling away, he then spins an anecdote about getting stuck with a North Indian cab driver once. I won’t spoil the gag line, but suffice it to say that the ordeal taught Naveen something about ‘empathy’.
This, by the way, is the underlying theme of his set, streaming on Prime Video since March 20. Humour — Naveen posits in his relaxed, non-combative way — can help us allay our differences and connect on a human level. At a time of increased polarity, comedy can show us the middle ground. As he puts it: “Parota-paratha, dude.”
“I start by writing all kinds of jokes,” Naveen says of his drafting process. “As you come closer, you try to look for a theme. Even if you don’t find one, you take a single joke and use it as a callback.” For him, the empathy-fart joke was the clincher. “I truly believe in its message,” Naveen laughs.
The special spans everything, from the plastic ban to lizard autotomy to the fear of conking out in your own bathroom. Around Midway, Naveen shows up as his small-town cousin ‘Xavier Pandian’, griping about airports and good morning texts. The scattershot routines are held together by his breezy patter and observational wit.
“A situation might not be funny at the moment,” Naveen says, “But it can enter your subconscious and reappear months later.” He mentions the joke about people always advising you to be careful after you’ve made a mistake. “It’s real and amusing and seems unhelpful. All you need to figure out now is what’s funny about it.”
Naveen rarely gets political with his sets. While admiring comedians who do, he prefers to follow his natural tendencies as a writer. “Like everyone else, I have many opinions. But as a person I’m mostly on the lighter side of things.” That said, Naveen believes his brand of comedy can go a long way in overcoming cultural differences. “Humans are all about community and territorial pride. It’s an inherent survival technique. And so, while it’s difficult to shake off old habits of judging people from other races and cultures, it’s important to get people talking about it.”
But doesn’t humour itself thrive on diversity and conflict? Without the North-South divide, for instance, where would he find his best jokes? Naveen concedes: “You need people to be different to be able to draw comedy. It’s often about new versus old, this language versus that language. While it might be damaging at times, it does make for good comedy. And comedians definitely profit from it.”
There’s little adult humour in Relatively Relatable. Barring a passing mention of testicles, it makes the ‘family-friendly’ cut. Naveen’s previous special, Don’t Make That Face (2017), also on Amazon, was similarly tame. This is in keeping with Naveen’s online persona, though he enjoys messing around in live performances. “I might have left a joke or two out in the special,” he shares. “They tend to work in the moment but can be taken out of context. When I am performing live, based on the audience that turns up, I can get more outrageous or weird or dirty.”
Naveen recently co-wrote the second season of Pushpavalli. He plays the character Pankaj in the show. His previous team-ups with Sumukhi Suresh (Better Life Foundation, Star Boyz, Go Straight, Take Left) are popular hits. Is another writing/acting project on the cards? “Pushpavalli and Relatively Relatable are the biggest releases this year,” he says, “I’m working on multiple ideas at the moment. It will take some time and care to narrow down to one.”