You might not have heard of Hari Sriskantha. Yet. But he just won the Glasgow heat of this year’s Chortle Student Comedy Awards and he is tipped to go further. He is witty, affable and just plain hilarious. Other comedians hate that sort of thing. But he’s too damn nice, and you just can’t help being charmed by him. This is only his third year performing stand-up, and like most fellow comedians his first gig was...interesting.
Performed in an open air tent at the Warwick Arts Festival with a group of friends, the mixture of stand-up and improv would perhaps have been a great success if not attended by only five people, one of which left during Hari’s set. But comedy requires perseverance. When he began stand-up he admits his jokes were too clever. When prompted he provides a very clever early joke, which, both times he performed, failed to tickle anyone’s funny bone. So scrapped it was. For Hari, it is all in the editing. “At least half the material I write, I discard." Editing is what he is best at (his words, not mine). But it is something you acquire over time; the feel for what separates a good joke from a great one.
For anyone who’s seen Hari perform several times, his editing is indeed perfect. Every set maintains wit and humour without losing its unique feel. Which is annoying because no one should be allowed to be so consistently funny. Eventually, the inevitable question comes up of how he comes up with his jokes. It is a question that ranks number two in the most hated questions for comedians (ranked only below 'Tell us a joke, go on, come on, tell us one of your jokes'). Unfortunately Hari doesn’t have a formula. If only it were that simple. “I used to keep a note book to jot down notes,” he remembers, “but it was so nice I didn’t want to write in it." He uses conversations with friends to generate some of his material; any wry remark that makes them laugh might make it into his set (if it passes the editing process). “I don’t have a very interesting life,” he tells me several times during the interview, which is blatantly not true.
Hari moved to Edinburgh to pursue a PhD in physics, developing a computer simulation of neutron stars and black holes colliding (nothing says comedy gold like “hawking radiation”). But he admits that the Edinburgh comedy scene partly motivated his choice. “It’s so fresh and alternative, you don’t get the kind of jokes you get at the Revue anywhere else…this sounds really clichéd but mingling with all the creative people really helped me improve.” Observation is also a reliable source of material. As he stresses again, nothing interesting happens to him. “Other comedians must have really interesting lives.”
His material covers a pretty wide spread. From Doctor Who to racism, from physics to rebranding the well-known saying 'to scrabble', and reciting a truly horrifying poem (it’s about sex on a mountain and the origin of the 'It’s complicated' Facebook status…don’t ask), Hari is nothing if not eclectic. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to tell you any of Hari’s jokes. It is just not comedy etiquette. Also it would inevitably lose some of the charm and timing which are so essential to his act, which you really should see while he’s still around. He is a regular performer with both the Edinburgh Revue and the Bright Club, both of which can be found online.
The Bright Club is a combination of stand-up and lecture where post-grads and professors synthesise their research to both entertain and educate. Originally started in London (like Hari himself), the Scottish branch of the Bright Club has particularly excelled, with new ones opening up in Glasgow and Dundee (yes, apparently Dundee wants to learn things too. Who knew?). Winning the Glasgow heat takes Hari through the Chortle Student Comedy Awards semi-final. Considering it’s been a record year for the number of entries, with a whopping 280, getting through as the 22-24 age group semi-finalist is a pretty big achievement. And with the news that David Elms, a member of the Improverts and performer of stand-up with the Edinburgh Revue, has won the first UCL heat of the Chortle awards, it seems Edinburgh students are on the up and up. Which is nice.