Altitude Fix: Standup Comedy In The Hills With ‘Substance Amuse’

By DA Staff 5 December 2023 8 mins read

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What do you do if you’re a bunch of standup comedian friends and want to spend your winter holidays traipsing through the Himalayas? Well, if you’re Antariksh Takkar, Abhey Kumar, Akash Sarawgi, Girish Rasam and Kashyap Swaroop, you set up a Himachal Pradesh comedy tour! The five comedians are all set to hit venues in Kalga, Tosh, Kasol, Bir, Dharamkot and Manali from today to 16 December, to perform a standup comedy show called Substance Amuse. That’s right. A Substance Amuse tour of the hills. As if the people there weren’t already in high spirits! This isn’t the first time they’re doing it either. A few members of the group had performed at home-stays and cafes from Kasol to Kheerganga in 2021, and they’ve decided to try out their hands at the high-altitude circuit again. We sat down with the everyone to find out more about how the show was conceptualised, learn about the first iteration of the tour and what the future of the show holds. Roll up and read on!


Antariksh Takkar: We have to allude to the fact that basically all of us are stoners, okay? There’s no two ways about it. The show is called Substance Amuse, after all.

We all also happen to have a lot of stoner material and stoner jokes as standup comedians and we were like, ‘How do we use this aspect of our lives in a more interesting, creative way?’ Why not design a show around one of the things we’re most passionate about. It seemed like almost the most logical, fun thing to do. And then we thought, ‘Okay, if we’re designing a show, calling it Substance Amuse—which is again, a fantastic name for a show like this—why not go to a place where fellow stoners and fellow appreciators of herbs are located. So that’s why we chose to do this in Himachal, in Parvati Valley. It’s where we did our first iteration of Substance Amuse and that’s basically how it started. 

Also, when I say stoners, Substance Amuse encompasses all substances. Of course, being a stoner is associated with one substance, but the show encompasses all. So, some of us have stories of multiple of these substances—it could even be alcohol—if you have a funny joke, story or incident involving alcohol, please go right ahead. That’s what this show is about. 

Abhey Kumar: The idea of Substance Amuse popped up over a session of ‘substance amuse’, also popularly known as ‘jamming’. It had to. No one just wakes up and casually decides to climb a few hills to go do standup. This is a theme show where a comic gets to do jokes about their experience and observations around their choice of substance.

Kashyap Swaroop: As comics, we’ve noticed a significant void: stoner material barely exists in mainstream comedy. Everyone’s fixated on social and identity topics, ignoring the fact that marijuana is still illegal here. We’re boldly stepping in as India’s first pro-pot-arts-activist collective, challenging the norms and bringing this crucial issue to light in the comedy scene.


Antariksh Takkar: We had to basically find venues in places where we were going, look them up, see pictures, what kind of views they had, what kind of an audience they can seat, do they have possibilities for walk-ins, stuff like that. The last time we went was sometime between March and May in 2021. And we had basically got in touch with these venues and they seemed super interested in hosting standup shows and so we capitalised on that.

What we did after that was that we made amazing artwork. Each of our heads was a mushroom head on a poster and we sent the artwork across and all the venues we were performing at last time and they made it their job to start promoting the show. So whenever we would trek up some of the exquisite trails in the hills, we would randomly come across posters that somebody had put up of our show! That was so fascinating. None of us had ever seen posters of ours showing up in random places, so that was pretty cool to see. 

Abhey Kumar: It was interesting to say the least. Everything was done on call, through contacts gathered on a visit prior to this. We got a positive response mostly because that area is known for rave parties and live standup was completely new for them.

Akash Sarawgi: A bunch of us had gone to a few of these places and had conversations with the owners about doing standup in the future, so when the time came, we contacted them, and they agreed. For a few of the venues, it was the old trial and error system, we went to their Instagram pages, started a conversation with them, and some agreed.


Antariksh Takkar: These were some of the best shows I’ve ever had in my life, I’ve ever done. It was extremely fun to the point where we didn’t want the tour to end. And very often there would be people who were living around the cafes we were performing at; they’ve taken up a home-stay or a hotel or a camp[ing space] and yeah, it was pretty great. We would just chill the whole day, roam around, do these beautiful treks where literally every five steps is like a beautiful scene that you can look at, and then in the evenings we would trek towards a comedy venue where we would put up a show in the evening. 

Abhey Kumar: The experience was beautiful. When you get to perform for the village head (mukhiya) and at the same time some tourists from Israel, you get to know how universal your jokes really are. Did it make a difference? Yes it did, but mostly for us. We realised that people are already happy to be in the hills and they don’t need comedy to lift their spirits. But we do, so we did.

Akash Sarawgi: Difference is an understatement. We were exposed to—rather subjected to—an extremely diverse crowd, in terms of language and sobriety. Half of the times Hindi doesn’t work and half of the times English doesn’t work. Also, the shows are happening with the background view of a freaking mountain, so the challenges are enormous, there is the view, the h*shish in the air, the lack of a unifying language, and an audience that is probably there to watch a juggler. And against this backdrop, we have to make a joke about unhappy urban life land.

Girish Rasam: We ran into some undercover cops while we were on a trek. We told them about our shows and they approved. But we can’t say for sure because they were undercover.

Kashyap Swaroop: While I wasn’t a part of Season 1, I have performed in Dharamkot’s iconic Other Space, with the mountains as my backdrop. It was one of those rare venues where everything was perfect, from the seating, stage, and sound to even the Food and Beverages. All proceeds went to a local animal charity, which made it feel like a real community experience. The mountains have the right vibe to let you really listen and laugh.


Antariksh Takkar: One of my favourite spots was in Kalga! This was the first show we were doing in Himachal at the home-stay where we were staying. They had a huge verandah where they had made a fire pit which they were extremely proud of. People gathered around it and I was hosting—I host a lot of these shows because I love hosting—and I remember performing the show for 15 people there. people from the neighbouring home-stay started looking down from their balconies and watching the show. They turned out to be Israeli tourists and we asked them to come and join our show as well. Aise dheere-dheere kar-karke by the time the show ended we had a good 20-25 people in the audience. It was beautiful!

Girish Rasam: Every spot is my favourite spot when I’m in Himachal.


Antariksh Takkar: I would say, I haven’t let it sink in, how cold it will really be. It’s going to be covered in snow when we’re going to be there, so that’ll be very interesting. I want to see snow. I haven’t seen snow much in my life, only once or twice, and that too outside India, so it’ll be the first time I’m seeing snow in India. Very excited about that. 

As to the shows we’re doing, yes we’re better prepared. As to how much we’ll be trekking, I think maybe not as much. I remember last time I traveled with a massive haversack of things and that was the biggest mistake I made ever, dude. My haversack was at least 10-12 kgs and I don’t know how I carried that because I died every time I had to carry it. Some of these treks were 3 hours! I was miserable during those treks. This time I’ve decided to carry one small carry-bag, like a messenger bag. It’s going to have two pairs of pants, two pairs of t-shirts, some of my toiletries and that is it. Anything else I need, I’m going to buy there.

So, the answer to ‘Are you better prepared this time?’ is yes and no. We do plan to record a lot more, so in that regard we are better prepared. Some of these shows are unlike anything you will see in other parts of the country or even the world. They’re in open-air areas with pristine views of valleys and mountains behind us as we perform, they can never be replicated and that’s why we want to record them.

Abhey Kumar: Of course it will be [cold]. Of course [we won’t be prepared].

Akash Sarawgi: In terms of surviving in the cold? No. In terms of jokes and acts? No. In terms of Substance Amuse? Yes.

Kashyap Swaroop: With climate change in full action, I’m carrying rain-proof, snow-proof, heat and heckle-resistant clothes; my granny’s knitted sweater.

Girish Rasam: Same hoodie, new jokes.


Antariksh Takkar: We want to see this happen every year. We want to make this a recurring property. Even twice a year would be great. One time in the early half of the year and once towards the latter half of the year. That would be ideal. We want to see this grow in multiple ways. Firstly, we want to be making money from this property in the sense that we are working at some substance-related businesses, you know what I mean? Paraphernalia businesses, bong businesses, we’re in talks with sponsors in that industry to see if something can come up. That’s the aim. We want to be able to sponsor this as a travel show and a substance-positive comedy experience. 

I think the best growth would be to get an Amazon or Netflix series going of us travelling to different locations and putting up a show called Substance Amuse or putting up any show. But going to different places to do the show. So a month-long series of that show could be in Himachal, another month could be in Goa, another could be in various locations in Kolkata or what-have-you, in Kerala. The possibilities are endless. 

We plan to get a lot of reels out of this. Hopefully we’ll able to do that too!

Abhey Kumar: I see this evolve into the only gig where comics can come and talk about their choice of substance. It’s a safe space for comics as the audience knows what to expect.

Akash Sarawgi: I don’t really know. We can collect stories from the happy cheery mountain people, and tell it to the anxiety-complaining city folks. Maybe after a few times, the mountain folks will remember us. Maybe enough press, and we get sponsored heavily. Maybe we move there forever.

Girish Rasam: I hope this show helps folks dealing with addiction issues feel less judged by society and empowers their journey towards sobriety.

Kashyap Swaroop: We want to get the online content game right for now. Let’s see where this goes afterwards. To the moon!


DA Staff

Damn straight. Dead Ant has staff. You’d better believe it.


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