In an effort to democratise standup in India, Kunal Kamra will be taking up to 12 up and coming comedians under his wing, and launching them on his YouTube channel. Complete with a Rs 10 lakh cash prize, this is huge opportunity for younger comics in India who otherwise don’t have the resources or platform to break out in the way that he believes some of them should. In this exclusive telephonic interview, we asked him all about it.
What inspired you to do this?
I should accept that I’m not in the meter and rhythm of doing standup right now, like I used to be in, say, 2016. While I have no problem accepting that I’m not in that zone anymore, it is unfair for me to not give my audience good standup. I have a base of about 2 million subscribers, and my highest rated video has 2.2 crore views. Why not use my platform to launch other artists who are good, but they don’t have a YouTube channel or the resources and reach to blow up?
I believe we urgently need to create a democratic space for comedians to do pure standup, and not put them on a show that makes them do almost everything else—they look visibly uncomfortable to me.
How does it work?
I will reach out to the artists I respect within the community and ask them to nominate other comedians they think are on the brink of breaking out, but need a bit of a push/support. I will then get in touch with these artists and see if they’re interested. If they are, I will travel to their city in December, and shoot a video in a comedy club with a live audience who’s come for comedy, which is how it should be. The cost of production and editing will be on me, the artist just needs to have good material—anything above six minutes. And then we release one video a week, starting January 2022. There’s no paperwork involved, and if you want to go get signed to an agency after this, I have no problem with it.
So will you be mentoring these comics as well?
Certainly not. It’s not my duty or job to guide anyone—that’s ugly, I would never do that. My only suggestion would be to shoot material that’s not already on the internet, so it has the best chance of viralling out.
There’s also a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh…
Yes, so it’s legitimate. Just giving artists my platform is not enough—that would feel like they’re doing charity for me. Giving them prize money is just the right thing to do.
Also, I’m not going to be the one judging this bit. The Rs 10 lakh will go to the person with the most viewed/shared video, since that is clearly popular choice— I’m trying to make this as democratic as possible. I’m still trying to lock the exact timeline, but I will probably count the number of views at 90 days from date of the video’s release.
You also announced a meme contest a couple of weeks ago with a trip to Amsterdam and MacBook Pro for the winner, how are you funding all this?
I sold my house in Thane, so I have extra funds and I’m putting that into my community. Comedy has given me everything that I have today—there has to be some way of taxing your income towards your job.
Why don’t you just amplify their video from their channel(s) instead of hosting it natively on yours?
The YouTube algorithm now works on attention economy—so they only push your content if you are a regular creator. The way Bassi broke out, for example, there will be no more breaking out like that again. It’s not good for their business to have a channel with three videos on it. If someone starts on their own now, even if they’re terrific, their chances to build a social media space for themselves is very, very difficult. Which is why they go onto these reality/competition shows and appear on their platform to try and gain traction back to them. I’m trying to find a way around that.
Why is that a problem?
How isn’t it? The conflict of interest is huge with whatever is going on in terms of these reality shows and variety formats, even the standup specials that are being commissioned. I dont think anyone’s judging people based on their art form, but on how they would be perceived by the market. That’s a big problem. But to quote Osho, “Critiquing existing structure is not enough, challenging them is where freedom lies.”
The entire nomination process will remain confidential, so we won’t know who’s nominating whom. But if you’re a comedian rooting for someone who could use this, reach to Kamra and nominate them!