Next Big Thing: Shaad Shafi On One-Liners, Whiskey Comedy & Bollywood Gossip
Originally from Delhi, Shaad Shafi started doing comedy six years ago, when he was 19. He didn’t know he wanted to be a comedian or what standup comedy even was, but something told him that he wanted to write comedy, probably for SNL one day.
In a casual chat with his sister, she suggested that it sounds like he wants to be a standup comedian, and let’s just say that stuck. He started, kept at it and here we are, chatting with Shafi in more than one-liners before he performs at the upcoming edition of Bacardi NH7 Weekender at Pune.
1. What words have people used to describe your comedy?
People have described my comedy as “cool” and I just ran with it, because cool. Other people have also described me as a “purist”, which… I don’t know what that means. Someone also described it with an analogy saying, “other people’s comedy is like vodka shots and yours is like whiskey”. I don’t know if that’s good or not because I don’t drink.
2. What do you love about the scene right now?
There’s just so much stage time and there are so many comedians and a lot of them are very good.
3. How many minutes do you have right now?
I have an hour.
4. A recent bit you saw that blew your mind?
Umm, something recent I saw that blew my mind was a bit in Bill Burr’s special, Paper Tiger. It was about how when airbags came out, there was just one for the driver and not for the family, before they eventually got airbags for everybody.
5. Your current favourite Indian comedian?
Shashwat Maheshwari and Srijan Kaushik.
6. Your current favourite international comedian?
Dave Attell. No one even comes close.
7. An Indian comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?
I don’t think I’ve watched any video five times. It would probably be my own to see how many people have watched it. I watch it on mute though. I hate listening to my own voice on a recording. You always think you sound like James Bond or something but you end up sounding like a duck. <Interviewer who has to transcribe this empathises>
8. An international comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?
It isn’t really a bit, but Dave Attell’s road work special, and all of Mitch Hedberg’s videos.
9. An Indian comedian you think is underrated?
I think everybody is pretty appropriately rated <chuckles>. But there’s one comic I enjoy watching a lot, Siddharth Gopinath. He’s very funny.
10. An international comic who is underrated?
I would say Mark Normand. I don’t know if he’s underrated because people have been talking about him. But I enjoy watching him, his material isn’t very serious. And he also replied to my message once, so I have a little bit of personal bias.
So I had this premise for a joke, but when I think a joke might have been done before, I first go on Google and search for it to confirm. I couldn’t find anything online but I thought it’s a joke that’s been done by Mark Normand. I asked all my friends, they hadn’t heard it either. But I was still not convinced. So I thought, “Fuck it, I’ll just text Normand on Facebook. Worst case, he won’t reply to it.” But he actually did. He said he really liked the joke and thought it was very funny. So yeah, it was a very fun moment.
I’m probably gonna print this out and frame it. <laughs>
11. Do you have any rituals before you go up on stage?
I have this fear <chuckles> that my fly is open. So, I have this OCD about checking it every time I have to get on stage. I wear very long t-shirts so even if it was open nobody would know but I have to check <laughs>. That’s pretty much it. Also, I like to keep a paper with all my jokes written on it handy before I go up. Yeah, these two things.
12. Who do you test your jokes on?
Basically, whoever is willing to listen. I call up comedians and whoever picks up, I tell them my jokes. If they find it funny, I take it to stage. Otherwise, I don’t.
13. What songs do you have on loop right now?
I’ve been listening to this metal band called Machine Head, so their album, but also <laughs> Photograph by Ariana Grande and there’s Hona Chaida by Arjun Kanungo. So yeah, my playlist goes from metal to Ariana Grande to Arjun Kanungo.
14. What’s the first joke you performed that got a laugh?
This was at my first open mic, and I thought this was very clever. I did a joke about how everyone says Jesus is not dead and comes back to life. I just hope he isn’t ageing up there. Because I don’t trust a seven-million-year-old man with my demons. I still think about it sometimes, not gonna lie, but I can’t do it because I don’t want to get into trouble. Who knows what you can get into trouble for these days?!
15. What mode of transport do you use to get to a show?
Usually a cab or, if I don’t have to change trains, then the train and metro.
16. Have you ever performed a show while you were high?
No, I don’t do drugs or alcohol, which people find very surprising. But I don’t think that would be a good experience if people aren’t laughing.
17. What’s the weirdest place you’ve performed at so far?
This wasn’t a house party but it was a club booked by a bunch of middle-aged people for a “building party”. I didn’t know they booked clubs for such kind of things. The reason it was strange was that they had a stage but they wouldn’t let us stand on it and perform for some reason. <chuckles> So there was a stage, some area in between and then a bunch of tables and we had to stand in the area between the stage and the tables.
18. What social media platform are you most active on?
19. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far about being a comedian?
I don’t follow it <laughs> but it’s just to keep your head down and keep writing. I think I heard it on this podcast called, You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes and Bill Burr. This was when I hadn’t even started doing standup.
20. One thing Indian comedians should stop making jokes about?
Uhh, I don’t think anything to be honest. I don’t think any premise is too hacky. There’s one joke I hear by new comics all the time where they tell their parents that they want to do standup and they’re like “log hasenge tumpe”. <laughs> I’ve heard this joke so many times but I’m a little sad I didn’t think of it myself. So just for selfish reasons, I want people to stop doing this joke.
21. We notice you put your dating app stats/handle on your videos – are you on ALL of them for real? What goes on next because you’ve already exhausted Tinder, Hinge and Bumble?
Yeah, I’m hoping some new dating app gets an investment. But the thing is I’m also getting older so I hope my parents don’t make me put Shaadi.com.
22. What’s the inspiration behind your comic strip ‘Unsharpened Pencils’? Planning to make a whole regular series of comic strips?
Yeah, I’m planning to make it a weekly thing. The inspiration behind it was that I’ve always loved comic strips. Even as a kid, I enjoyed Calvin and Hobbes and then I discovered others like Cyanide and Happiness. I just think it’s a great way of telling jokes. Like jokes I couldn’t do on stage. So, I don’t know if you’ve seen it but there’s one about how there’s no ‘I’ in “team” and I thought I couldn’t just post one so I should put out multiple comics. But obviously this one would shine because it’s the best and it would work. It was right in the middle. Except it didn’t shine <laughs>. Hopefully, I’ll make it a weekly thing if I don’t forget.
23. Have you always preferred writing one-liners or do you work on stories and other formats too?
Uh, I have tried telling stories but I don’t enjoy telling stories even in real life. Somebody else is telling a story and I just make one joke. I enjoy shorter jokes because that’s how I think. It’s actually a very funny story why I started writing one-liners. My sister gifted me an iPod touch and it had a very small screen. I started writing my jokes on it and when I’d write, it filled up so much space that I’d think, “Wow, this is five minutes of material!”, but on stage, it would last for only 10 seconds. <laughs> So, that’s how I started.
24. Any reason you waited 11 months and then bombarded everyone with three videos back to back?
Yeah, I was trying to earn money to record the video. It’s very expensive, something people don’t really talk about <chuckles>. I just wanted to put more stuff. The editing process takes very long, but that’s also because I’m very lazy. The editor would send me the draft and I wouldn’t watch it for like a month. I hate listening to my voice on video. It’s very bad when the editor has to follow up. But I’m planning to be more regular.
25. How did you get the IIFA gig? How was the experience?
EIC has written for a couple of IIFAs. They called Sapan [Verma] but he was busy so he forwarded it to Aishwarya [Mohanraj] and Pavitra [Shetty]. I’d worked with Aishwarya [Mohanraj] on On Air With AIB and we’d gotten along, so that’s how I joined the team. It was a lot of fun, but also very intense—we’d be pulling all-nighters almost every day and got a lot of Bollywood gossip, which I can’t share on record. We’d be meeting celebrities – some of them acted like superstars and with some, you wouldn’t even know they’re standing next to you. It was a larger than life experience, Bollywood, as opposed to comedy which is anything but larger than life <laughs>.