While India now boasts of some stellar comedic talent, very few of the specials that have been released on OTT platforms are any good. (Though of course, we still went ahead and ranked some of them, listing the ones that are least terrible – coming soon.)
But even where the special doesn’t hold on the whole, many have top-notch bits that ensure you’re not entirely disappointed. So here, in no particular order (even though they’re numbered) are the best bits from the specials that have come out so far.
1. Vaibhav Sethia On Talking To Vodafone Customer Care
Comedians ranting about customer service are usually tiresome. But Sethia has an excellent bit in his special, Don’t, on trying to resolve a problem with Vodafone customer care. Beginning with his frustration at trying to reach a real human being, Sethi ensures that even as he rants, the frustrations he describes are universal, making for excellent comedy.
Amazon subscribers can watch the special here. (The Vodafone bit is between 28 and 33 minutes.)
2. Kautuk Srivastava On Why He Hates Parties
The first half of Srivastava’s Anatomy of Awkward was so tight we were convinced it was going to be the best of the lot. The special dips significantly towards the latter, so it dropped a little down our ranking. But we still absolutely loved his bit on parties, where he describes how awkward he is at parties, how he doesn’t know where to put his hands and what to do with toothpicks. It’s often said that the mark of a good comic isn’t the volume of the laughter at the punchlines, but the quality of the silence when they take pauses. Srivastava takes his time between lines and still has the audience hanging onto every line. It’s top notch craft, and worth multiple watches to see how he pulls it off.
Amazon subscribers can watch the special here. (The parties bit is between 7.26 and 14.20 minutes.)
3. Gaurav Kapoor On The Two Most Misused Words In The Indian Property Market
Kapoor’s bit in Ha Ha Kaar is a delightful rant about about coming to Mumbai to fulfil dreams only to discover that no dreams get fulfilled in the city. The main reason for this, he says, is the astronomical property prices. He proceeds to outrage at the way prices are advertised in the city, and then segues into a bit on brokers.
Amazon subscribers can watch the special here. (The bit is between 2.34 and 7.09 minutes.)
4. Naveen Richard On Growing Up In Coimbatore
Though Richard’s special Don’t Make That Face can drag because of his hyperactive presence, when he nails his material, it’s an absolute delight to watch. There are several sharp observational bits in the special, but our favourite is a short section on growing up in Coimbatore, where muscly biker dudes hung out at ice cream parlours.
There’s a line where Richard tries to describe Coimbatore as quaint, small, nice, before sputtering for the right word, his face and body jiggling like rubber before he gives up and declares that it was boring. It’s a great moment, and a sign of how good he can be when his physical exertions meet sharp writing.
5. Rahul Subramanian on DJs
Subramanian’s bit on DJs in Kal Main Udega gained a huge amount of attention because it angered the DJ community but it is also a brilliantly crafted four minutes of stand-up. (And DJs not being particularly vulnerable or downtrodden, we think it’s perfectly fine to make fun of them.) Part of why it is so hilarious is that Subramanian works himself into such a pointless frenzy over such a non-issue, his voice growing shriller and shriller with each line. The entire bit is on YouTube, so watch it immediately right here:
6. Varun Thakur On Indian Ads
Perhaps the strongest section in Thakur’s otherwise so-so special, Vicky This Side, Varun That Side, is a four-minute bit on Indian advertising. (This is despite a scientific error about oxygen content of water, which refers to dissolved oxygen and not chemical composition. Yes, we’re nerds and we need our jokes to be factually accurate.) Some parts land better than the others, and for our money, the strongest material is on two-way answering phones, which features some nifty mic work. Watch the full bit right here:
7. Zakir Khan On A Visit To A Sushi Restaurant
Zakir Khan’s primary subject in Haq Se Single is his love life, but the knockout bit from the special is a scene in a Japanese restaurant with his love interest in the background. The premise of the story is simple—unaware of what wasabi is, he spreads it on a wafer and pops it in his mouth. The natural thing would have been for the story to explode at that point, but Khan controls it exquisitely, continuing with a calm narrative in which he is transported to the presence of several religious figures who explain what is happening to him. The explosion comes later and works well, but it’s the bit before that that truly showcases Khan’s mastery over his material. We hope that going ahead Khan explores these kinds of stories more, and doesn’t remain so firmly focused on his love interests.
Amazon subscribers can watch the special here. (The bit is between 5.00 and 13.20 minutes.)
8. Anirban Dasgupta On The Bengali Cussword ‘Bokachoda’
Early in his special, Take It Easy, Dasgupta introduces his audience to the Bengali cussword bokachoda. At exactly 10.10 minutes, he says “Listen, I’ll explain bokachoda now for the next two minutes.” And at precisely 12.10, he punches out of the bit and segues into the next one. It’s a laidback bit that makes a powerful point—that talk of feminism is empty if you can’t even begin by correcting your use of slurs that denigrate women.
9. Kanan Gill On Smoking Up
The most famous segment from Kanan Gill’s Keep It Real is the “There is a cow” bit. And understandably so, it’s marvellously executed and very funny. But another bit where he shows off his understated stage craft occurs a little later in the show, when he acts out an occasion when he smoked up with his friends.
In the story, Kanan is handed a pipe, and he puffs, thinks that nothing’s happening, puffs again, thinks nothing’s happening. Even as he continues his steady puffing, Gill the comedian adds meta commentary that he wishes that someone had told him that he’d have to wait before something happened. And then he steps back into the moment to hand the pipe back, and says, with a graceful sweep of his hand, “And then I turned my head, but the world was still here.”
It’s so smoothly executed that it’s easy to miss how well crafted the bit is. And it’s also significant for how much more absorbing this fairly ordinary story is, compared to the more “dramatic” one later in the special of Gill getting robbed—offering some insight into how it isn’t the story but its telling that makes it interesting.
Amazon subscribers can watch the special here. (The bit is from minute 33.40 to 34.40.)
10. Azeem Banatwalla On Power Windows
At his best, Banatwalla is one of the country’s sharpest observational comics. In his first special, Cometh The Hour, it often feels like his premises and opening observations have a lot more potential than he finally extracts from them, such as the early bit in the special on five star hotels, complimentary bottles of water and toilets without jetsprays.
His bit on power windows, too, is so funny in even in its premise that it feels like he doesn’t do enough with it. But it’s still delightful to imagine how much harder it is to express road rage now that cars all have power windows.
Amazon subscribers can watch the special here. (The bit is between 16.08 and 17.25 minutes.)