Indian comedians are impressive multi-taskers. Apart from chipping away at their standup material, most are also involved in several other things, from hosting podcasts to writing and performing sketches. Some of these began as simple DIY shows, but have gradually increased in scale and budget, and are now very professionally produced. Here are seven side projects you have to check out if you’re a fan of Indian comedians.
This article was first published in DeadAnt, an online publication and new-media venture focused on stand-up comedy in India.
‘Shut Up Ya Kunal’
In his talk show, Kunal Kamra sits down with journalists, politicians and other public figures to chat about current affairs and prickly issues such as law, censorship and bigotry. It’s a simple format that works well because of Kamra’s charm and his chemistry with the guests he invites. He goes a bit easy on some of his guests—the BJP youth wing’s national vice president, Madhukeshwar Desai, for instance, gets away with defending beef bans by mouthing some breezy platitudes on Indians’ emotional attachment to cows, without Kamra challenging him sufficiently. But the conversations are engaging, and punctuated with amusing meme-ified clips of politicians and TV journalists.
Recommended episode: Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar
‘Son of Abish’
Abish Mathew has carved out a unique space for himself on the Indian comedy scene. He’s done stand-up work, but he’s much more popular and effective as a YouTuber and host of Comicstaan. He’s a talented performer whose energy as a host cannot be matched by anyone else in the scene. Son of Abish is his hugely popular talk show, where he invites a variety of guests from the entertainment world. It broadly follows the American model, mixing conversations with guests and games, and other segments. Mathew is a likeable host and a good listener, skilled at keeping conversations flowing even with guests who are clearly pressured by the idea of having to be entertaining.
Recommended episode: Kenny Sebastian and Radhika Apte
‘Journey of a Joke’
As comedy-obsessives, Abish Mathew’s other show is close to our heart. Mathew goes to one comic in each episode and, together, they finely dissect a particularly famous and successful bit by the comic. It’s a deeply satisfying show for people who don’t just watch comedy for the laughs, but are fascinated by the craft, and want to know more about how jokes and bits are structured and carefully chipped into shape. It’s also the show that makes most clear just how many hours and days and weeks of work go into even a few minutes of successful material.
Recommended episode: Biswa Kalyan Rath
‘Chai Time with Kenny Sebastian’
In Chai Time, Kenny Sebastian thumbs his nose at the basic tropes of standup comedy: instead of the comedian standing on stage, without props, delivering tightly crafted material, we have Sebastian sitting at a table, sipping tea, interacting unhurriedly with the audience while meandering his way through his material, which has included as delightfully mundane premises as ranking biscuits. Its relaxed format belies the skill with which Sebastian performs, usually acing extended segments of crowd work. Sebastian occasionally strays from the basic format—in one episode, he has an audience member paint his face while he keeps up the banter. The show slows down slightly in these episodes. But where Sebastian keeps it simple — just him at a table, with chai, bantering — it makes for a delightful watch.
Recommended episode: 10 Biscuits You Have With Tea
‘You Started It’
Daniel Fernandes’ podcast is a simple setup—two guests sit with him at a table, and launch into conversations based on what’s happening in the world and on social media. While Fernandes always invites a comedian, he keeps it interesting by also inviting people from other fields, such as the radio jockey Rohini Ramanathan and the television journalist Faye D’souza.
Recommended episode: Abhishek Upmanyu and Rohini Ramanathan
‘The General Fun Games Show’
Nobody has any idea what’s going on on The General Fun Game Show, host and improv artist Kaneez Surka included. Broadly, it’s four rounds of games and manic chaos to arrive at a winner—declared the “Most General Fun Person”. The process involves comedians and other assorted celebrities jumping through Surka’s psychological hoops, using their intuition, second guessing their general knowledge, and finally breaking it all down through rap verses and/or dance.
Surka awards points to contestants at random, then takes them away with equal unpredictability — for talking too much, interrupting her, wearing the wrong shirt, correcting her Hindi, or actually being uncool enough to know the real answer to her brain-breaking questions (“How long will it take from Dum Dum in West Bengal to Blue Frog in Hauz Khas by car?”). It is not uncommon, therefore, to find one contestant with 8 points to their name, another with 99,813, and the third sitting tight on -207.
Recommended episode: Sahil Shah, Sapan Verma and Malishka Mendonsa
“The following video features a man in his bathroom.” It’s Vir Das, reading a newspaper on the commode, as those of us who still read the news all do. Except he’s reading all the news that catches his attention out loud, and sharing his reactions. The series is called Potcast, in which he takes on (and apart) the news making headlines that week/month/year — first breaking it down and explaining it, then letting loose on how insane it/everything around us is.
Loosely sorted into evolving segments like the Big Shit (biggest news of the week), Quick Shit (roundup of other things that happened that week), and Random Shit (things he can’t believe made it to the news at all). Amusing takes on the big things you should know are going on around you — Modi, Facebook, NASA, the meat ban, demonetisation and Radhe Maa.
He’s been doing this since September 2015, off and on, and it’s not terribly regular, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for.
Recommended episode: Indrani, FTII, Sensex, One Direction