Daniel Fernandes has built a significant following for himself through sets that take on serious social issues. Among his viral YouTube videos are bits on rape threats online, the death penalty and student suicides. Each of these has hundreds of thousands of views (some have millions) and in the comments sections of the videos, fans lavish praise on Fernandes for taking on sensitive subject material.
In his live special, Shadows, Fernandes turns the lens on himself and dedicates the longest section of his show to his mental health. He opens by telling the audience that in 2016, he was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, and spends the next 30 or so minutes dissecting the experience closely. Fernandes is a strong performer, who knows how to have any audience riveted, and that skill was in evidence here too, as he describes the difficulties of social interactions, struggling with suicidal impulses, talking to therapists and dealing with voices in his head.
A large part of what Fernandes accomplishes through this, as indeed seems intended, is a conversation normalising therapy for his audience. He addresses the concerns that someone on the fence might have, acknowledges those who are wholly against the process, and offers ways in which you could possibly lean into supporting someone in your life battling difficult mental health—in his personal experience.
It’s never heavy; he uses plenty of pop culture references, works in a bit of audience interaction, and deploys simple analogies to get everyone on board. Which means that even through moments of pindrop silence (and there are a few), Fernandes doesn’t lose his audience—he’s got them rapt, hanging onto every word and absorbing every pause before the tension of the setup is released with a punchline.
When the audience completes his sentences for him, or enthusiastically answers even his most obviously rhetorical questions, it is clear that they relate to what he’s saying and look up to him in awe as a speaker of important, unpalatable truths.
When the audience completes his sentences for him, or enthusiastically answers even his most obviously rhetorical questions, it is clear that they relate to what he’s saying and look up to him in awe as a speaker of important, unpalatable truths. In part, he has us on his side because he has spent such a long time confessing his deepest fears to us with sensitivity and vulnerability. It is, therefore, also the kind of show that works best in more intimate rooms.
Once Fernandes is convinced he’s given you enough to think about, he shifts gear and goes through some material about his ideas of success, finding purpose in life, and the hilarity that comes with suddenly having to be parents to your parents.
The biggest laugh for me came quite unexpectedly in the bylanes of these stories, as Fernandes performed a caricature of an 80-year-old man who has led a straight and narrow life, trying to impress his grandkids. Another big laugh came soon after, with a caricature of grown men dancing at a party and discussing real estate prices. Compared to the intended heft of the first half of the show, these were throwaway moments – and yet they truly showcased Fernandes’s great talents as a performer, able to weave observation with insight and acting chops to create comedic gold.
While his commitment to tackling difficult subjects is to be commended, the delivery in those segments is occasionally too close to rhetoric to be fully satisfying for an experienced comedy watcher. But there is enough pure hilarity in Shadows to make it well worth your time and money.
Running for almost 18 months now, Daniel Fernandes is touring Shadows for the last time over the next three months (June-August) before retiring it for good. Catch it live in your city: shows in Goa, Mumbai, Kochi, Gurgaon, Delhi and Hyderabad.
Dead Ant review policy: 1) We pay for shows that we review. 2) When we review live shows of any kind, we might mention subjects that are dealt with, but will avoid more detailed discussion of premises or jokes. 3) When we review or discuss YouTube videos and OTT specials, since they are already accessible across locations, we may get into more details discussions of the material. These reviews aim to foster closer conversations about comedy, and hence are for people who have already watched the videos, or don’t mind knowing details of it beforehand.