After eight episodes, the second season of Comicstaan wraps up with an enjoyable finale. A show seeking to find India’s next big standup comedian finally allowed its contestants to do some actual standup for its concluding episode. All five of the final competing comics did five-minute sets, with the scorecard reset to zero and only their performance on the night counting toward the final score. And, in what is probably a fair result, the winner was a tie between Aakash Gupta and Samay Raina.
Season 1 vs Season 2
I went back in time and watched episodes from the first season of Comicstaan, just to compare. Maybe it’s the glint of nostalgia, or just the diminishing novelty of the show this time, but didn’t the original season seem a little better? The self-celebration of the judges didn’t feel as grating, and there was legitimate critique provided to the contestants, who seemed to get better with each passing episode. And their individual personalities were presented to viewers in a sharper focus. There’s also the fact that the comics took far more risks, and worked to develop their voices a bit more.
But in Season 2, the stakes were higher—everyone visibly wanted to win—as was the calibre of some of the competing comics. There was pure craft on display in the second season. A couple who had unique voices too—just a pity they didn’t make the finale. So, like the season itself, let’s do a classic cop-out and call it a tie.
We were really looking forward to, and therefore really missed the judges’ rapidfire performances to open the show like last time. We were at the taping of the finale, and the highlights were Kanan’s bit on silent airports and Comicstaan 1 winner Nishant Suri’s smashing opening set, both outstanding.
Raunaq Rajani is all sorts of solid. Here, he did a set about real estate, his father as his boss, and old people. Rajani is someone who appears to have greatly studied the craft of comedy. Each of his sets through the show have been, well, tight and professional. He understands tonal shifts and flow, he knows when to pause and when to stress. His punchlines generally tend to land well, with well-rounded premises propelling his narrations forward. Sure, there’s occasional reliance on clichés and format jokes, but the show, on evidence, rewards consistency, and Rajani was there or thereabouts the entire time.
One of the most surprising—and rewarding—sets on the night was by Supriya Joshi. Her style, as we’ve come to learn through the previous episodes, is larger than life. It’s theatrical and she often relies on her ambitious performances to land the jokes. Instead of emphasising those strengths of hers, for the finale she inverted that formula and presented a different side of her comic persona. Joshi adopted a more somber, more circumspect style of delivery to talk about fat-shaming and harassment (it’s something she has spoken about in the past as well). Despite the nature of the subject, she includes plenty of gags in there, while perhaps deliberately steering clear of the haha! out-loud punchlines. It’s worth noting that this was the only risky set of the night.
“Dick pics”, as a premise, is not exactly novel. There’s plenty of sets talking about them on YouTube, and even this season of Comicstaan had Neeti Palta do a bit on the subject. So while Sumit Sourav’s set lacked that initial impact that an original premise brings, he packed it with plenty of one-liners and an amusing segue about parenting his parents—leading to one of the mentor’s calling his set out early as the one to beat in the finale. The thing Sourav has going for him, despite his rollercoaster performances through the season, is that he has a generally affable, aloof air about him, which carries him through moments where his material may be dipping.
The Winners: It’s a tie!
Aakash Gupta has been at or near the top of the scoreboard all through — he’s been freakishly consistent and a judges’ favourite. For the finale, he did a set which transitioned from censorship to the difference between witches and bitches, to owning a pet witch. Gupta is exceptional at the craft of comedy, ticking all or most of the boxes, almost like he’s been created in a lab. He uses his words, his voice, and his body to great effect. Has dynamic writing. Excels at multiple disciplines of comedy. Performs with a self-assured poise, with just the slightest notes of arrogance. And he has an easy, accessible style. As Biswa Kalyan Rath tells him after his set, “Kabhi kabhi hag diya kar na!”
The other big winner—who gets a separate Rs. 10 lakh cheque all to himself—was Samay Raina. Raina has been one of the revelations on the show for this writer. His style is rarely outlandish. He speaks in a gentle, almost sincere tone without resorting to volume gimmickry or physical theatrics, and has an observational approach to comedy—it’s conversational without ever sacrificing the sharpness or the edge. Here, despite focussing a large part of his set on toilet humour and the pretty dated anti-tobacco advertisements in movie halls, Raina did a stellar job of landing joke after joke. Like four of the five comics on the night, he played it safe in terms of material, but the jokes themselves made an impact. (As an aside, after his set, one of the judges made—for the thousandth time this season—a ‘samay and time’ wordplay joke. And I punched a hole in my laptop screen.)
The standup comedy scene has, for reasons I outlined earlier, hit a bit of a plateau. A chunk of the ‘establishment’ comedy community from, say, a year ago either doesn’t exist anymore or is in the process of pivoting. Or, in many vocal circles, is tainted for reasons ranging from complicity or association to just a general weariness with how the form has progressed in India. A show like Comicstaan thus, for all its flaws, helps bring to the fore a new, fresher generation of comics.
Theoretically, we’ve seen 10 comedians who’re roughly at the beginning of their graphs, and whose popularity will no doubt be inflated thanks to the exposure (there’s that dreaded word again) that an eight-episode show on a major streaming service brings. It’ll be interesting to see where they head from here.
Thank you for reading and cursing me out under your breath.