The third episode of Comicstaan sees the contestants, who’re slowly coming into their own, try their hands—and bodies—at improv comedy. If you don’t know what improv is, here’s a quick primer: it is collaborative, unscripted, and improvised comedy, usually delivered to a bemused audience in the form of quick impromptu sketches, within the framework of certain guidelines and crowdsourced suggestions.
It’s also really difficult to do—the wheels of your mind must be constantly spinning in real-time to avoid tongue-tied embarrassments. Plus, there’s a need to not just meet the guidelines, but also be funny to keep the game going. You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself, something that’s easier said than done.
In this episode, 10 comics are split into two teams, with Kaneez Surka serving as the mentor here. They play a bunch of games as part of an “improve battle” (ooh): one where the contestants have to start each sentence with the next letter of an alphabet. Another where you can only speak in a predetermined number of words per sentence. A punchline carousel sort of thing. A game you enact different emotions/accents based on where you’re standing.
It’s endearing to watch some of the contestants who’re visibly uncomfortable with the form gamely trying their best for the sake of the greater good. Joel D’Souza’s recklessly manic energy stood out for me, as did the wit displayed by Ramya Ramapriya and Raunaq Rajani. Additionally, Samay Raina’s willingness to submit to the scene completely.
Given that most of the contestants aren’t seasoned pros in the art of improv, the only real notable sequence is the closing performance by the creatively named “The Improvisers”—aka Surka, Abish Mathew, Kenneth Sebastian, and Kanan Gill. They do a bunch of rotating sketches that have a decent humour quotient on their own, but are elevated by the individual personalities of the performers themselves. An example: Mathew and Sebastian running into each other in a local train and realising that they look identical, and are probably long-lost twins.
- Creepy innuendo as a means for cheap laughs, as done in the “emotional quadrant” game on the episode. It’s fun no doubt, but it’s been done so much that the returns are diminished each subsequent time it reappears.
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“A lot of these games I do are to build improv instincts, so you understand the guidelines of improv because improv is not just you go up and do anything. There is a structure and a format to it. I also focus on building synergy and chemistry between these comedians,” explains Surka during the week-long mentoring sessions. “Agreement is the base rule of improv. Do not negate. when you say no, you can’t move forward,” Surka concludes.
My level of enjoyment in this episode was limited at best. Leaving aside my own disinterest in the form, I feel like improv works best in a live environment, where the immediacy of the humour—the physical response to quick wit—takes precedence over its intellectual weight. It doesn’t have to always be memorable; instead, it works best as an engaging and interactive form of performance art; there’s an exchange between artist and audience. Some of that energy, unfortunately, doesn’t quite translate across a laptop screen.