Next Big Thing: Shamik Chakrabarti on the Bengaluru Scene, a Fresh Perspective & Starting Out Late
Born in Kolkata and presently based out of Bengaluru, 30-year-old Shamik Chakrabarti started doing comedy after he graduated, did his masters AND worked for three years in the United States (which is where he began watching comedy regularly).
In 2016, he came back to India and saw that the country’s comedy scene was picking up, went to one open mic, performed at the next and didn’t really stop after that.
From his all-time favourite comedian to the first joke he did that got a laugh—here’s what you need to know about Chakrabarti.
1. What words have people used to describe your comedy?
Umm, some say ‘deadpan’. Apart from that, ‘absurd’ I guess. That’s something people have said—apart from that it’s observational stuff. I haven’t given it much thought myself, about what genre of comedy I do.
2. What do you love about the scene right now?
I’m based in Bengaluru and I think it’s a great place to start comedy right now because first you have to try it which, itself, is a huge hurdle. But once you do that, it’s also hard to get stage time because it’s a very unregulated industry; the people who are doing comedy are running the scene. In Bengaluru, however, we have a good understanding amongst each other and pretty much everybody gets stage time in some form or the other. There are also a lot of open mics in the city, at least two a day.
3. How many minutes do you have right now?
I did an hour recently so I know that I can do an hour on stage. But that answer changes depending on your situation.<laughs> Sometimes, I feel I have just half an hour but it is somewhere between half an hour and an hour. That’s a pretty big range but that’s where I put it right now.
4. A recent bit you saw that blew your mind?
That’s a tough one, let me think. Nate Bargatze has this bit in his Netflix special about The Sixth Sense and how everybody who watched the movie thought it was about a bad marriage—even though it’s clear from the beginning that the guy gets shot and he’s a ghost. The bit is about marriage v/s what the movie is really about a.k.a. a ghost. I’ve watched the movie a lot of times and I never though there would be a fresh take on something like that, comedically, so that was really fun.
5. Your current favourite Indian comedian?
Probably Kanan Gill because I sort of relate to the stuff he does. He’s also from Bengaluru and there’s something there. Basically, I get what his material is about and the way he’s approaching comedy.
6. Your current favourite international comedian?
There’s a few. I would say, off late, I really like Nate Bargatze, and I think Theo Von is really funny and has a unique sort of voice. That’s usually what I’m looking for—people with something different. These people have found their own voices in a place where comedy has been around for ages, so that’s pretty amazing. But yeah, if you say all-time, then there’s a few others; Norm McDonald is probably my favourite comedian.
7. An Indian comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?
I’ve probably watched the first video that Manik Mahna’s released quite a few times. I think he’s also a really good comic. Also, the video is well shot and stuff so I’ve seen it from that perspective as well.
8. An international comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?
I watch a lot of Mitch Hedberg stuff on repeat; I keep going back to his late-night sets because those are jokes you can rewatch. There’s no agenda or anything which is kind of nice; they’re just jokes. You find a new Mitch Hedberg joke every time you watch it.
9. Do you have any rituals before you go up on stage?
Not really a ritual but a couple of minutes before I go up, I just like to be in my own head; I don’t want to talk to anyone. When I do a longer set, I want a couple of more minutes just to get the order that I have in my head because I try to stick to an order. That would be the only thing—I don’t want to interact with anyone right before I go up on stage.
10. Who do you test your jokes on?
So, I have some friends in the comedy circuit and we test jokes on each others. Apart from that, I slip them in while talking to other people. That happens but it’s not something I constantly do; I don’t want people to know that’s what’s happening. <laughs> But that IS what’s happening. Recently, however, I’ve just been testing a lot of it on stage. I have a basic idea when I go up and then I just reform it a little bit. Most often I don’t write a bit until I’ve tried it a few times and, sometimes, I don’t write it at all. Which is not good. <chuckles>
11. What songs do you have on loop right now?
It keeps changing. Right now I’m listening to a lot of punk and post-punk music. There’s this band, Joy Division, that I’ve been listening to a lot these days. But in general, the most common thing on my playlist is like classic rock—Led Zeppelin and stuff like that.
12. What’s the first joke you did that got you a laugh?
So, the very first time I hit an open mic, I did this joke that is still in my act—a lot of people have said that’s a bad thing but it got a laugh so I kept doing it. Well, one line got a laugh from someone in the crowd. He’s probably the reason I decided to do it again and, essentially, I never stopped.
Can I ask you what it is if it’s still a part of your set..?
Yeah, it’s a misdirection thing about how, because I’m tall and my parents aren’t, I think I’m adopted—their height was my first clue that I might be adopted. Then I do a random absurd line after that which I would say is my second clue. I don’t wanna give it away. Some day I’ll drop that joke but I like to hold on to it because of that one guy who laughed. <chuckles>
13. What mode of transport do you use to get to a show?
I don’t have a vehicle here so I usually take an auto or a cab. If there’s another comic who’s coming by bike, I join them. Honestly, most of my thoughts and jokes come during my commute which is something I’m sure you’ve heard from others as well. Because, especially in Bengaluru, you spend a lot of time commuting so it does help in a way, I guess.
14. Have you ever performed a show while you were high?
I’ve performed while I was drunk a couple of times. It’s never been too bad except once when I forgot a few lines; after that, I didn’t do it for a while. Most times, I think it went well—although I never checked back.
15. What’s the weirdest place you’ve performed at?
I performed at a private party with another comic from Bengaluru, held in a rich person’s backyard. The host of the party had seen the other comic at an open mic and asked him to bring one other act and perform at his get-together. EXCEPT that the material the comic did at the open mic was very clean so the host thought he kept everything clean. Basically, our sets were not what he expected and we didn’t perform well that night. We got high right after though because we had to; it was very awkward. Even though it was an intimate group, it was in an open lawn so people in the entire apartment complex could hear us. And let’s just say, some of that material should not be done anywhere except in a closed room. <laughs>
16. What social media platform are you most active on?
I would say Instagram right now. That’s the one I waste most of my time on.
17. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far about being a comedian?
Just do your thing and don’t try to fit into any box or do what someone else is doing. This is not an industry that’s been around for ages so it’s important to remember that different things work for different people. The other piece of advice is to get up on stage as much as possible—even on days when you don’t feel like it—because all those minutes add up when you get a bigger show. It becomes muscle memory when you’ve been doing it for a long time. I started very late so I think a lot about that; I want to get in as much time as I can. There are a lot of kids doing comedy now and they have so many years to get better. I started at like 27 so, when I don’t feel like getting up on stage, I think about all the years I lost. That drives me to keep going.
18. One thing Indian comedians should stop making jokes about?
I wouldn’t say, outright, just stop making jokes about anything. India is very family-oriented as a country, right? There’s a lot of family-related content that just connects with audiences immediately so it’s very common for everybody to try to write joke about their parents or their family. But I feel like it’s important to look for a fresh angle; don’t just do it because the audience relates to it. Maybe that? Maybe I’m just saying that because I heard a lot of people doing jokes about family in the last couple of days? I don’t know. The crux of it is that no topic should be off-limit but if there’s a lot of people doing jokes about certain topics, be extra wary and find a unique angle to it.
19. How is the audience different from the the audience you performed for in Mumbai?
I’m not 100% sure that they are different but sometimes I feel that, because Mumbai has seen a lot more comedy than Bengaluru, they know when to laugh a little more. They’re also more discerning so they don’t necessarily laugh at the easy stuff. Yeah, that’s probably it—they know when to laugh, they know more about comedy. There are also some really good rooms in Mumbai which is a huge aspect of comedy. Maybe if we had that many good rooms here, it would have same effect. Since Mumbai has a lot of studios and venues that lend themselves well to comedy shows, the shows tend to be a lot more immersive as an experience, I guess.
20. Tell us more about the comedians in the Bengaluru scene?
Sure, there’s a few who’ve been doing it for a while and we bounce jokes off of each other a lot. For instance, comedians like Somnath Padhy, Gautham Govindan, Joteen Patro and Anand Rathnam. There are a few others who’ve been doing it for longer, like Kjeld Sresth, Aamer Peeran and Shankar Chugani. These are the people I meet most often in the scene.
I would say everyone’s ready to listen to a joke in Bengaluru. The comedians are always looking at each other for tips and ways to improve.
21. You don’t have any videos on YouTube and you aren’t very active on social media. How do you promote your shows?
<laughs> That’s true, I’m pretty bad at promoting; it’s something I need to work on. Shows are the only thing I promote on Instagram but it’s safe to say that any sale that we make is either just organic or because there’s a more famous comedian on the line-up. Or, you know, because of an adventurous sort of audience that just comes to watch comedy without worrying about who’s performing. That’s the dream. If I could not be famous as such but still have people come out, that would be a pretty good place to be. However, since everyone’s on social media promoting their shows, I guess I need to get on it too.