Originally from Tata Nagar in Jamshedpur, 24-year-old Sumit Sourav started performing as an open micer when he moved to Kolkata. He then performed in Bangalore, was a contestant on The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, the second season of Comicstaan and is now a regular name in the Mumbai circuit. With a fair understanding of how comedy is received in multiple cities and a lot of reality TV experience, Sourav is a rising name in comedy who’s all set to perform at the 5StarsKeLOLStars comedy stage at Bacardi NH7 Weekender Pune, 2019.
We caught up with him to learn more about his journey as a standup comedian over 20 questions:
1. What words have people used to describe your comedy?
Insightful. People say it’s usually not only a joke, but there are some insights in it too. Not always, of course. <laughs>
2. What do you love about the scene right now?
So I started in Bangalore and mujhe voh scene Mumbai se zyaada pasand tha. In Mumbai, everyone’s hopping around to different spots so no one really stays back and watches your set.
I had a small group back there [in Bangalore]. Sab ruk ke set dekhte the and they’d appreciate it, so that was a good high. Every time you’d go on stage, you knew someone was keeping a track of what you’ve added. Thought pe bohot focus hota tha and discuss hota tha, ki yeh yeh thought acche the. Mumbai has very good rooms and is way better production-wise; you get good lighting, good stages, good audience.
3. How many minutes do you have right now?
I have an hour, which I’m touring with, Hero Ka Dost. One hour and 10 minutes ka hai, jisme if I add some crowd work, it gets extended. Uske alaawa bhi I’m trying some new material in which I have about 15 minutes.
4. A recent bit you saw that blew your mind?
Mark Normand’s “If children are scared of the idea of their parents having sex then why they don’t use it as a threat?” CLEAN YOUR ROOM OR I’LL SCREW YOUR MOM.
5. Your current favourite Indian comedian?
Sumit Anand and Zakir Khan.
6. Your current favourite international comedian?
Bill Burr is my all-time favourite. Mark Normand and Ismo [Leikola] are my current favourites who I binge-watch all the time.
7. An Indian comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?
Initially, I used to watch Zakir Khan a lot. He used to release small bits jo initially main bohot dekhta tha. But recently, Devesh Dixit and Srijan Kaushik ko maine bohot dekha hai.
8. An international comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?
Ismo ka Superman bit. Also, Patrice O’Neal’s Nasty Show. I don’t even remember kitni baar dekha hai. Every time I have to do a new show and low feel kar raha hota hoon, I just watch Patrice O’Neal.
9. An Indian comic who is underrated?
Shamik Chakravorty. The Bangalore scene is very versatile, sabka vibe bohot hi alag hai. There are Shamik [Chakravorty], Joteen Patro and Vijeth Vs.
10. An international comic who is underrated?
Drew Michael. He’s getting there. Even Mark Normand, he’s very good, but he’s not very famous.
11. Do you have any rituals before you go up on stage?
I don’t usually eat heavy but there’s no ritual. I just want to chill. Like if it’s a big show like Comicstaan, exam ki tarah dekho. Ek ghante pehle jo prepare kiya hai voh yaad rehne waala nahin hai. The moment I grab the mic, everything will fall in place. So, yeah, gut feeling pe jaata hoon. Prepare kiya, toh nervous ho jaata hoon. Jab open mic Bangalore mein karta tha, I used to prepare. Jo bhi venue hota tha, uske 5 km radius mein main constantly chalta rehta tha standup karte karte. Agar mujhe 5 jokes karne hain, 8 prepare karke jaata tha, kyunki 2-3 jokes toh bhool hi jaata tha main har baar.
12. Who do you test your jokes on?
In Bangalore, Hari Krishna and Neelaksh Mathur. Hari mera colleague bhi tha, toh office se hum venue pe jaate the tab main apne jokes pitch karta tha, voh apne. Uska judgement bohot hi valid hai. Bangalore mein kuch log na comedy police hain, unhone itni comedy dekh rakhi hai ki the moment you pitch your joke, they tell you ki ye isne kar rakha hai, ye isne and don’t go in that direction.
13. What songs do you have on loop right now?
Uh, I listen to Enrique a lot. Abhi main sunn raha hoon Pure Love featuring ‘Helena’. Zyaadatar, Swastik band ka ‘Kuch bhi kar lo‘ sunta hoon main. Kaash band bhi pasand hai. Local Train ka ‘Aaftab’ sunta hu. Aur ‘Sajni’ from Jal The Band; ye mera all-time favourite hai.
14. What’s the first joke you performed that got a laugh?
Oh shit, can’t tell you that. So embarrassing. It was a double-meaning joke, Uss time mujhe lag raha tha ki I’m such a genius. Par pehla joke ye tha ki I’m a Hindi comic kyuki mere saare English ke jokes sirf mujhe hi samajh aate hain.
Pehli baar jab meine perform kiya, main samajh gaya ki Russel Peters style pe laugh nahi aa raha, Kapil Sharma hi try karte hain. Ye sab initial tha.
Kolkata mein when I started, I was the only Hindi comic. Toh venue pe jab 9/10 comics English mein perform karte the, I had to address that, ki mujhse nahi ho paayega, don’t expect me to form a structure. Self-deprecatory joke ke saath start karta tha.
15. What mode of transport do you use to get to a show?
Train. Mera pura joke writing process hi mere raaste mein hota hai. Abhi filhaal, train use karta hoon. Bangalore mein main cycle use karta tha. Idhar bhi mere paas cycle hai. Bandra ya Khar mein perform kar raha hota hoon, toh cycle se jaata hoon.
Travel is very important for my writing. Turant pohochna nahin chahta main venue pe. Kamse kam ek ghante ka distance toh hona hi chahiye.
16. Have you ever performed a show while you were high?
Yes, mujhe bohot hi tez sardi hui thi and main cough syrup pe high ho gaya tha and I had to open for Aakash Gupta and I fucking kiiiilllled. <laughs>
Maine jaate hi address kar diya tha ki I’m high on cough syrup. Kisi ne heckle kiya toh maine roast kar diya usse, haalanki main karta nahin hoon, I want to be likeable on stage. Main usually brutally jawaab nahin deta.
Uss din main brutal chala gaya, “tu bola kaise beech mein? Mujhe pata hai tu funny hai, par tujhmein guts nahi hai ki job chodke ye kare. Tere paas time nahin hai kyuki tujhe apna career dekhna hai, apne boss ki chaatni hai.”
Audience mere side pe ho gayi, ki do minute ke liye sab funny ho sakte hain par ye professionally karna… OKAY! Comedian, you won.
17. What’s the weirdest place you’ve performed at so far?
Oh main bohot jagah kiya hai—shaadiyon mein, baby-showers mein. There was one party jo full erotic theme ka tha, bachelor party type. Usme I had all clean jokes, people are like, “mood hi kharab kar diya“.
Mere baad jo comedian aaya usne kiya saare double meaning jokes that people were there for. That was the weirdest place, vaha perform karte hi I was like ye kyun kiya maine. Mujra style nahi hota? Takiye pade hue hain and line se log baithe hue hain, hookah pee rahe hain and keh rahe hain, “pesh kiya jaaye.”
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?
Sourav Ghosh ne bola tha watch a lot of standup. Unhone mujhe Bill Burr se introduce karaya tha. Pehli baar jab maine international standup dekha toh mujhe samjha hi nahi, kyunki maine Laughter Challenge dekha tha.
India mein they were talking relatable and surface-level stuff, Bill Burr and all deep emotions and human connections ke baare mein baat kar rahe the—mujhe samajh hi nahin aaya ki kaise karte hain.
Standup mein aane ke baad mein thoda self-aware hone lag gaya. Log society ki problems ke baare mein discuss karte the, aur mujhe problems dikhti hi nahin thi. People were solving problems. Patrice ko dekho toh there are some great human insights, which are so honest. It’s not just comedy, you’re solving problems. Dedh saal ke baad mujhe ye format samajh aaya. Sourav Ghosh exposed me to the real craft. Jitna bhi standup ab dekhta hoon, I decode it.
20. One thing Indian comedians should stop making jokes about?
Aise toh bohot saari cheezein hai aur aise koi bhi cheez nahin hai. Naye comedians hote hain, voh jo sunn chuke hain uspe joke karte hain, unka idea of comedy is jispe sabse zyaada log hass rahe hain. They replicate the same topics in a different joke and I don’t blame them.
Surface level jokes crack karke hi voh complex level pe pahunch sakte hain. Aise bahut jokes hain jo same jokes in a different wrapper hote hain, but it’s a process.
21. How was your experience on Great Indian Laughter Challenge? How was it different from Comicstaan?
Voh mera first TV experience tha. Small towns se jo bhi aate hai unka dream hota hai ki badhe sheher mein aake TV pe aao and famous ho jaao. Reality show mein paise bhi hote hai.
TV world ka insight mujhe mila. But poora process dekhke mujhe pata chala ki ye thermocol ki duniya hai jiske peeche aapko nahin dikhayi deta. Normal hi hai, sab struggle kar rahe hain. Bohot kam log hain, jo sahi cheez, sahi time and sahi jagah pe karte hain and they become big shots.
Camera ke aage and peeche ki duniya is very different. Camera ke aage full flashy-flashy bling ki duniya hai, Akshay Kumar hai, aur peeche sab chhoti chhoti baaton pe ladh rahe hain ki make-up karva do, open-mics pe jaane do.
Also, they were very strict about kya TV pe jaa sakta hai. They always complained ki mera content massy nahi hai kyuki I started with performing in clubs. My TG is college students, working professionals and unke hisaab se likha gaya material wasn’t apt for TV.
Comedy circuit mein I was the most desi guy and vaha mujhe bohot hi urban samajhte the. They’d be like, “tu jo joke ek line mein bol raha hai, usko chaar line mein bhi bol sakta hai.” Ab main unko kya samjhau ki yahi toh wit hai. Ek baar unhone mujhe bol diya ki ‘Kapil Sharma Show’ ke head-writers tumhaare liye jokes likhenge and tumhe bas stage pe bolna hai. Meine kaha ki ye mere ethics ke khilaaf hai. Mere eliminate hone ek din pehle mere fellow contestant, jiske saath mein room share karta tha, usne bola, “Yaar Sumit, tu itna stubborn nahin ho sakta. Tu apne hi mann ka karta hai, unka ek joke kar le. Dekh le, tujhe hi eliminate karenge.” Par mera ye tha ki mujhe jokes apne hi karne the, isliye mein paach minute ki jagah pachees minute ke joke likhkar deta tha. Ki aapko ye nahi pasand aaya, toh ye paanch minute hai, ye nahi, toh aur…
Usme se kuch kuch jo approve karte the, usse main apna set banata tha. Finally, head-writer of the show ne mujhe kaha ki, “Aapke saath kaam karna bohot mushkil hai.” Pehli baar aisa hua ki do eliminations hue. Kyunki jo dusra contestant tha, usne bohot buri tarah se bomb kiya toh usse nikalna hi tha, aur mujhe bhi eliminate kiya gaya. That experience was very different from Comicstaan. Wahan par full azaadi; jo bolna hai bolo, jo likhna hai likho.
Uske alaawa, experience bohot accha tha. Log bohot acche the, professional the, mere bohot dost bhi ban gaye. Pehli baar, “Bombay ke log bohot acche hai, acche se khayal rakhte hai”, mujhe ye show pe pata chala.