Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Indian comedian collapses on stage in Dubai and dies

Manjunath Naidu collapsed in front of a shocked audience while performing stand-up at the Signature Hotel in Al Barsha

Comedian Manjunath Naidu performs on stage. Courtesy Facebook
Comedian Manjunath Naidu performs on stage. Courtesy Facebook

Tributes have been paid to a popular Indian comedian who died in Dubai on Friday night.

Manjunath Naidu, 36, has been a fixture on the UAE's stand-up scene for many years.

Mr Naidu collapsed on stage minutes into his routine.

Some of the 80-strong crowd at first believed it was part of the act. When he did not get up, the hotel staff administered CPR before he was taken to a hospital in Al Barsha, where he passed away.

Mr Naidu was originally from Chennai and had been performing in Dubai for the past five years.

Mr Naidu's partner, Grace Chng, said Mr Naidu suffered a cardiac arrest.

"Manjunath Naidu, my partner, one of the most amazing standup comedians, incredible improviser, and a great person with a big heart, has passed away on stage, doing what he loves best, making people laugh," said Ms Chng in a post on Facebook.

"Right up to his last moment, I and many others thought it was an act. He had a cardiac arrest during the performance."

An integral part of the South Asian comedy scene in the UAE, Mr Naidu, 36, was described as an inspiration and a ‘brother’ by friends and fellow comedians.

His funeral will take place later this week after his elder brother arrives from Malaysia.

Minutes before his death on Friday, friends said Mr Naidu mentioned anxiety issues he dealt with before collapsing on stage when closing a show in an Al Barsha hotel.

Mr Naidu told the crowd of about 80 people how he thought he would be the next Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood’s famous star, after spending Dh2,500 on an acting course but instead landed a role as a blonde woman in a play.

“Manju was making people laugh as usual. But when I look back I think his energy was low as he began speaking of his anxiety issues,” said Salman Qureshi, a fellow comedian and friend.

“When he fell down, I thought he was adding a physical element to the comedy.

“You don’t expect to see your friend drop dead in front of you. He was a young guy with big dreams. This has traumatised all of us.”

When Mr Naidu did not rise, his friends went on stage still believing he was playacting for the audience.

They called paramedics as soon as they realised he was in distress and the comedian was rushed to hospital where he passed away.

A certified psychotherapist and clinical hypnotherapist, Mr Naidu grew up in Abu Dhabi with his parents, who died several years ago.

Passionate about the stage, Mr Naidu signed up for Mr Qureshi’s stand-up comedy workshops eight years ago.

“From someone to whom comedy did not come naturally when he started out, he went on to closing shows,” Mr Qureshi said

“There was a refreshing open heartedness about him. He spoke his mind about life, health, physicality, stuff people would think but not say out loud.”

He headlined shows and performed with a group of friends in Racy Desi, a stand-up comedy at the Courtyard Playhouse and other venues.

Fluent in Indian languages Tamil and Malayalam, Mr Naidu idolised Rajnikanth, a South Indian actor and never missed a movie release.

Over the past six months, Mr Naidu reached out to people via podcasts.

“He thought of comedy as a painkiller and wanted to do something more,” said Rushdi Rafeek, a close friend and fellow comedian, who launched a weekly podcast with Mr Naidu.

“As a comic, people think of you as a clown and listen to you to forget their problems. As a professional psychotherapist Manju wanted to also help people.”

The episode last Wednesday was titled: The Hangout with Rushdi: Mind Massage with Manju.

People called in asking for advice on depression, family conflict, making more money or finding their true calling in life.

His death has shaken the fraternity.

“The comedy and theatre group was his family,” said comedian Miqdaad Dohadwala.

“He made thousands laugh in this country. He was still making people laugh when he just dropped down on that stage. He died with his boots on.”

Another comedian, Filipina Imah Dumagay, said people adored and respected him

"My dearest brother we do adore and respect you. You know that. Every time we see each other, you look me straight in they eyes and your first word is not 'hi' but 'hey, I’m so proud of you' ... We look up to you. You inspire us. You make us laugh effortlessly. We all have nothing but good things to say about you. You did live right brother," she wrote on Facebook.

Updated: July 21, 2019 07:40 PM