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The Serious Laugh

The Serious Laugh

Co-founder, writer and actor Jacob Rajan on Indian Ink’s resident oxymoron.

Describe what The Serious Laugh is?
Something we deliver. We’re opening the audiences’ mouths with laughter in order to slip something serious in.

How important is it for Indian Ink?
It’s one of our guiding principles. It’s in our DNA.

When did it become a guiding principle?
It’s been there from the beginning. Comedy was always going to be our way in with an audience and certainly reflected our own taste in theatre that could be both funny and moving.

Who came up with the term?
Justin came across it in an Italian article (yes, he speaks Italian) in a different context. We pinched it and modified the meaning to reflect our emerging philosophy.

Who came up with the concept?
I think the concept has been around forever — at least since the Trojan Horse. People come to the theatre often carrying within them these fortresses of cynicism. We open the gates with laughter and unleash our army to capture their hearts.

A man of many faces: Earlier works, as Krishnan’s Dairy, feature an element of the mask. It’s a way to switch between multiple characters and to transport the audience imaginatively.

Walk us through how you developed the concept…
There wasn’t a conscious development of the concept. We were influenced a lot by the way masks work. The entrance of a mask immediately awakens a childlike delight in the viewer. They know it’s not “real” so they can let go that awareness of the mask’s artificiality and enter fully into the imaginative reality. Once we’re there we can flip between laughter and tears in a heartbeat.

What does The Serious Laugh mean to you, personally?
I love theatre gags as much as the next guy but if that’s all you get it becomes a bit like candy floss — sweetness with no nourishment. To move an audience, to give them a satisfying night you need more. It’s a balancing act.

A balanced brew: We take our tea with laughter and a hint of poignant truths as Guru talks life, love and everything in Guru of Chai.

How does the ‘serious laugh’ manifest in Indian Ink’s works?
I guess it’s seen in the way all our shows are funny yet death appears in some form in all of them. Either a literal death of a character or as Death personified (as in The Pickle King) or the figurative death of the hero’s belief (as in all of them).

If the world you are introduced to at the beginning of the play hasn’t changed by the end it’s going to be unsatisfying. The birth of the new world requires the old world to die. The pain of that is made bearable by laughter.

What’s your favourite ‘serious laugh’ moment in an Indian Ink work?
There’s a moment in Krishnan’s Dairy when our optimistic shopkeeper, Gobi, is facing the death of his dream of a better life in New Zealand. His shop is a failure and by extension so is he. Defeated, he turns to his wife and says “This is the new world I’ve brought you to. Why did you marry me, Zina?” Zina, with a gentle smile, replies: “Because my parents told me to.” The love story within the arranged marriage is glimpsed. Up till this point, we’ve been laughing at them. Now we’re laughing with them. By the end, we’ll love them.

How can you tell that you’ve been successful in delivering TSL to your audience? Clearly, laughter is the immediate feedback that half of the principle is working.

Our audience-turned-partygoers in Mrs Krishnan’s Party caught in a moment of laughter — an indicator that the ‘laugh’ has been delivered. You know what comes next…

The other bit is captured in the gasps and sighs during the show but more importantly in the feeling in the room at the end. On a good night, people don’t get out of their seats immediately. They want to stay immersed in the after-glow of the experience. A moment of silence and reflection. That’s when you know you’ve done your job.

“I have found Indian Ink’s plays to strike a delicate balance between comedy and tragedy, hitting that sweet spot that makes you laugh and cry simultaneously.” – Madeline Empson, Regional News Wellington

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