Now on Amazon Prime, the show is original in its conception and is a treat for those who grew up listening to Tamil film music in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Alex in Wonderland review This Chennai comedian knows how to tell a story
Flix Stand-up comedy Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - 12:19

There is such singular pleasure in watching someone indulge in an activity that they're so passionate about, their enthusiasm sweeps you off your feet. Alex in Wonderland, an Amazon Prime special from Chennai-based stand-up comedian Alexander Babu (known mostly as Alex), is one such experience. It’s hard to define the show – it is a mix of comedy, messaging and music, plenty of music. Much like a well-made mainstream masala Tamil film (but thankfully, nothing on farmers).

The show opens with a vignette of Alex’s childhood and growing up years, tracing his journey from Ramanathapuram to Chennai, the US and Chennai once again, as the comedian lost and finally found himself at 40. Fittingly, the iconic red Chevrolet Impala with the number plate TMZ 2233 that famously featured in MGR’s Nalla Neram can be spotted in this whimsical narration. I say ‘fittingly’ because the entire act – which goes on for over 2 hours – is what seems like a single set based on Tamil cinema and its incomparable music.

But before we get to that, what’s really appreciable about Alex’s show is his willingness to culturally locate his comedy without bothering to worry if non-Tamils will “get” the jokes or references, considering the recorded show will go up on an OTT platform. The comedian has the confidence that his audience is on the same page as he is or that they will eventually get there in the course of the show. As he says, “poga poga ellam sariya poidum” (everything will be fine with time).

His style of delivery, too, is natural and conversational – he does not force himself to speak a dialect that he doesn’t in real life to appear extra-funny or scream into the mic to grab the audience’s attention. And other than an occassional "mayira pochu", he doesn't resort to swearing to generate humour either. Though he appears to be a tad nervous at the beginning of the show, it soon becomes apparent that Alex knows to tell a story comfortably.

To be sure, Alex in Wonderland is dramatically different from Western stand-up comedy shows. Some may complain that actually, the jokes are few and far in between his anecdotes, aphorisms and musical performances – but the pattern isn’t random. From the beginning, Alex deliberately builds a narrative that he sustains to the very end – music as a unifier, music which goes past boundaries drawn by religion. The humour isn’t stinging enough to be irreverent; the jibes he takes (at the prevailing notion that all Christians are out to convert others, for instance) are more affectionate than challenging, but it goes well with the mood of the show – to take people along, however different their beliefs may be from yours.

Playing a variety of instruments, from the thaval to the double bongo and harmonium, Alex provides a running commentary of Tamil cinema music from the times of MS Viswanathan and Ilaiyaraaja to Vidyasagar and AR Rahman. And from these little stories that he tells his audience, he draws out life lessons. Be like Malaysia Vasudevan and get into an autorickshaw at 6 am if Ilaiyaraaja calls you, for example. Or stick to your own path like Yesudas who sings “Maasi Masam” like it’s a devotional song, and wait for the adulation which will come.

Alex is also a good mimic – not just in speech but also singing and body language. From Sirkazhi’s booming voice to Sivaji’s hyperbolic acting, Kamal Haasan’s English, and Rajinikanth’s furious walking, Alex’s impressions are howlarious. Again, is it sharp, insightful comedy? Perhaps not. But it is entertaining as heck if you know the people he’s talking about. The comedian manages to place these icons on pedestals and topple them just enough to make them human once again for his audience. And oh, I've learnt to newly recognise so many little elements in the songs that I’ve grown up listening to; the fact that SPB laughs in his songs, for instance.

Mixing his personal history with the evolution of Tamil cinema, Alex makes the show extremely relatable for those of us who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, witnessing the radical changes in not just film music but also how we listened to it. His incredible energy is infectious and it's quite something that his voice remains just as strong right till the end. If you cannot place yourself within these stories, chances are that the charm of the show will be entirely lost on you. But if you can, you will be humming Oorvasi Oorvasi or any of the other favourites Alex performs on the show, for the rest of the week.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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