On 10 January this year, four members of comedy collective SnG Comedy put out a statement that came as a shock to both fans and industry insiders. “Greetings, we have some not so happy news,” it began. “We, Aadar, Neville, Varun and Kautuk are no longer part of SnG Comedy. Now the channel is solely run by Karan Talwar.”
It marked the end of one of Indian standup’s three major collectives as we know them (the other two being AIB and the business division of EIC), the groups which have been key to building the scene.
When we met the other four members earlier this year, they insisted that they had no official comment beyond what they had already put out on their social media platforms.
Karan Talwar did speak, though. And as he tells it, he was trying to keep a comedy company going while his colleagues refused to take it seriously, forcing him to take control.
Talwar was in fact one of the founding members of SnG. Originally, the “idea was never to be a clique or group,” he said. According to him, SnG “was just a brand under which comedy shows were held and a variety of people performed under that. I was the person producing the shows and also performing. I mean, you’ve got to call it something.” He described how he was always keen on encouraging new talent, proud that many prominent names in comedy today, such as Azeem Banatwalla and Karunesh Talwar performed at SnG open mics early in their careers. “That’s the one thing I’m happiest about, that we were able to become a funnel for some of these guys who are really prolific today.”
The formalisation of SnG as a group was “more of a knee-jerk reaction” to other groups taking shape. “Sorabh [Pant] formed EIC. And then AIB formed. And then I was like hey, is this a group? And it was very loose, to be honest, the vibe was cool.”
He already had a YouTube channel at the time, the now popular brand name Bollywood Gandu, which he says had around 6,000 followers. “I was killing it. I was having a lot of fun with it. All the Sonam Kapoors and Karan Johars were following it. I was writing for Koffee with Karan. I was having a whale of a time, all my tweets were going viral… so I just created a channel.” He later changed the name of the channel to SNG. “If you go into the backend, the channel is called Bollywood Gandu,” he said. “I called YouTube and asked them to change the name to SnG Comedy.”
An initial burst of content followed, of which Talwar particularly remembered the video Are You A Ch*t*ya, shot in May 2014. “That was the first time everyone who was SnG came on set for a shoot. The first time there was a distinct vibe of us being a group.”
Talwar says that though they were a collective, he formed the company with his mother as a partnership because the others never took the business aspect of things seriously.
Talwar says that though they were a collective, he formed the company with his mother as a partnership because the others never took the business aspect of things seriously. “I would’ve loved to form a company with all of them but they were focussed on other stuff, saying haan haan ho jayega. There was a very lackadaisical attitude towards the business aspect of it,” he added. “Countless times I said just come and sign it ya, but no one ever did.” So he found a solution. “I opened it with my mom, and registered it as a partnership.” Though technically he was the owner of SnG, when it came to revenue, “Whatever came in, we just divided the money equally, it was a simple division,” he explained.
He always had a different approach towards SnG from the others, he continued. The office where I met Talwar, which is where he now operates from with a small team, served as the SnG office for a while, he said. “I would always push the guys to show up but with comedians, you don’t wanna come to office,” he said. “I used to come because we had couple of employees here, and [the routine] makes me feel more focussed.”
As time went on, he began to feel increasingly that the other’s attitudes would not work for SnG if it were to be a profitable business.
As time went on, he began to feel increasingly that the other’s attitudes would not work for SnG if it were to be a profitable business. “I was focussing more on business. There were many conversations [about the way forward], but it was difficult to follow up on things. Every time we met it was like five guys getting together and saying let’s have fun… Cool. But then your CA calls you and says what’s going on?”
Talwar says that among the measures he took to keep the channel active was to launch a podcast, The Big Question. “I came up with the podcast idea—in fact, they weren’t even too keen on it—because yaar, kuchh toh jaayega channel pe! Because otherwise nothing else was happening.”
This has been hotly contested by the other now-ex-members of the group, who insist the idea came from fellow member Kautuk Srivastava. “Varun, Aadar, Neville and Kautuk all collectively agree on record that the podcast is Kautuk’s idea,” Neville Shah said over a phone call to DeadAnt. “The idea of the podcast was invented by Apple; what our specific podcast will be was Kautuk’s idea, the name was Kautuk’s idea.”
Even as Talwar tried to expand beyond the podcast, he said, he struggled with the others’ attitudes. “It’s like, ho kya raha hai? It’s like you’re working on something together, then one person gets up and says ‘hey, I’m gonna go do something else, and [initially] you’re like, ok. But [when it happens again and again] after a point, it’s like ‘Yo! Ho kya raha hai?’”
Talwar doesn’t dispute the others’ statements that SnG was supposed to be democratic, but questions the way things took shape.
Talwar doesn’t dispute the others’ statements that SnG was supposed to be democratic, but questions the way things took shape. “That’s something I’ve wanted from the start—everything should be a democracy. But then you’re picking and choosing things you want to be democratic about? Like, I never signed up for taking on the business aspect of it, right? It’s just something I did it because no one else was. [And] if you’re going to show up twice a month and not show up for the rest of the 28 days, then what is the democracy here?”
Talwar felt like the crux of the problem was that the other members didn’t see SnG as an entity, rather as a Karan Talwar vs The Rest of Us, “which was not the case at all,” he said. He believed the company lacked vision. “A company has to have a vision, when a company doesn’t have a vision, it becomes scattered. In the market you start becoming a me-too; you’re something but nothing really.” He felt a stark difference with the way AIB was run, for instance. “Every time I compared it to AIB—where Tanmay [Bhat] was taking things on head on, 30 people working, it was amazing—I’d ask the guys about us. And the only comment I’d get back was ‘We’re not like them’. I was like okay, I’m fine not being like them, but who are we? There was no reply.”
It became confusing to him what each person’s commitments to the group were. Sometimes, it was just that individual projects wouldn’t catch on in popularity on the SnG platform. According to him, he wasn’t the only SnG member to feel frustrated. “Ask Aadar [Malik] about it. He’s such a hardworking, talented fellow, genuinely nice; I have nothing but adoration for him. One of the reasons he started his own channel was because of the frustration with the group’s inability to move forward. He’s so diligent, and wants to create but he keeps getting road-blocked. so he started his own channel and he’s prolific on that now…”
According to Malik, “We always made a decision as a majority,” he says. “When it was feeling like maybe it was too much music for SnG, I asked if anyone would mind if I started a channel just for my musical comedy.” For Varun Thakur to start his own channel, the reason was different–he’d just been briefed for branded content at the time of the split, but he couldn’t commit to the brand because he didn’t know what the fate of the channel was going to be at the time, so he started his own.
Talwar also felt strongly that the company was not being financially responsible. “We built a studio—we soundproofed it, we spent a lot of money on it but it was used for nothing in the end except a podcast a week.” He says he brought this up several times with the group, but “You know this conversation I’m having with you? I didn’t even get this far with them. They didn’t understand that there’s a bank account spending money… every month we paid rent, bought a lot of equipment. These are small business things that you and I know about because we’re adults. So when I say I wanted accountability, that’s what I mean.”
“That’s actually where the disagreement was: I felt something needed to be fixed, we needed to change, and get more professional about how we behave, especially internally, and they didn’t think that was required.”
He attempted to raise the issue, but the basic disagreement was straightforward, he says. “I felt something needed to be fixed, we needed to change, and get more professional about how we behave, have structure, especially internally, and they didn’t think that was required.”
Though the others always said it wasn’t a business for them, he added, “I mean, they say it was never a business because I was handling it, right? So they never had to get involved.” Given that they were a collective, Talwar felt frustrated. “You don’t do what you’re assigned, you’re not showing up, you’re coming once or twice a month—where’s the accountability, how do we deal with that?”
Eventually, things headed to a crisis point. “So I was like, ok I’m here, in the office. Any time these guys came in, I was like, let’s put some ideas on the wall… I have such gold ideas, if we’d just pulled the trigger on them…” I glanced at the whiteboard behind him, which had a solitary bullet point scrawled on it. It read, “1. Farts – different types”. He laughed and said that’s not all there is, elaborating on a whole content calendar he has in the works for SnG.
He admits that the others probably felt like he was pushing them. “I was always trying to push those guys, I was always that guy, and I’m sure they got irritated with that… so towards the end, they turned to me and said ‘hey. you’re not my boss’, to which my response is ‘you’re right, I’m not. I just don’t want SnG to fade into nothingness’.”
He eventually realised they were going to have to split up. He sent the group an email informing them that he would be taking over. He also changed the group’s password on social media accounts and unlisted individual work on the group’s YouTube channel.
He eventually realised they were going to have to split up. He sent the group an email informing them that he would be taking over. He also changed the group’s password on social media accounts and unlisted individual work on the group’s YouTube channel (so none of it is available now). But he insists he didn’t do the latter out of malice. “The content was getting flagged for copyright infringement on YouTube, and I didn’t want to channel to be taken down because of it.”
When we reached out to Neville Shah, he said only him or OML could have flagged the content that Talwar is referring to but they hadn’t. “Why would we? I don’t want to lose my views.”
Talwar says he has no particular response to the statement put out by the four members early this year. “When you go through a breakup, you feel damn miserable and you put out a statement saying breakups suck. I have no response to that. Love you guys, enjoy!”
In the last conversation he had with them late last year, he said, “I’m happy to meet, but with a mediator.” This is because “it was getting extremely personal for them and I was [still] just trying to keep it professional.”
So what happens to SnG now? Talwar continues to run it solo, and has a new team of content creators in place to keep it going.
So what happens to SnG now? Talwar continues to run it solo, and has a new team of content creators in place to keep it going. He painted a vision of SNG now as “a fully functioning business and thriving content company where creative people can come and express themselves without having the baggage/pressure of numbers; where there’s a qualitative approach to content creating not just quantitative. And that can only happen if person heading the company is a creator.”
Talwar said he had “nothing but sympathy” for his former colleagues. “I mean, ideally, trust me man, I would also love to be home with my feet up, playing video games and going out and having fun with friends and shit… you think I wanna sit in office all day, man? But this is what I need to do, this is what it takes to make a business work. And those guys don’t have it.” He believes, “They wanna chill, they want a manager to take them to shows. And there’s nothing wrong with that, by the way, that’s a great life too.”
However, Talwar believes that for him, at the age of 38, “I need to do something bigger than myself.” It’s unlikely to be standup. “I’m personally already kinda bored of [standup]. I think it’s saturated—I mean, how many lund jokes can a guy make in his career?”
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story, in which we explore the impact of the original SnG collective on the Indian standup scene; coming soon. In the meanwhile, you can follow SnG Comedy on YouTube. The four former members launch their brand new podcast ‘The Internet Said So’ tomorrow on Varun Thakur’s YouTube channel.