Warning: The following recap contains plenty of spoilers.
There’s an old Mitch Hedberg bit about how comedians are treated when they go looking for work: “When you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do things besides comedy. They say, ‘OK, you’re a standup comedian—can you act? Can you write? Write us a script?’ It’s as though I were a cook and I worked my ass off to become a good cook, they said, ‘All right, you’re a cook—can you farm?”
This latest episode of Comicstaan, on “alt-comedy”, is a bit like that. It expects the contestants to break away from mainstream comedy (again) and show off any other skills they may have acquired through the years. Kenneth Sebastian, whose solid standup sets invariably tend to include a bit with guitar, does a pretty good job grooming all the comics here—most of the sets sharp and well-rehearsed, often with an interesting angle thrown in here or there.
Sumit Sourav plays a character named, um, Sourav Sumit, from an upside-down, Bizarro world, mining his premise for a series of increasingly absurd gags. Throughout the show, Devanshi Shah has been propping up the scoreboard, never once moving from her position at the bottom. Here, she uses that very foundation (reminiscent of Aishwarya Mohanraj from Season 1) for a self-deprecating, self-aware bit about the show itself, and how she’s resigned to losing—it garners plenty of laughs, and not just the pity kind.
Raunaq Rajani plays a paunch-sporting old man whose daughter is dating Raunaq Rajani, before breaking into a rap song; a similar concept plays out in Rohan Gujral’s set as well, as he dons the role of an auto driver—full of brilliant throwaway visual gags, including a big Sprite bottle with the labels torn off, from which he drinks water—narrating a story about meeting a standup comic in his auto.
There’s lots (and lots and lots and lots) of meta-jokes and references to Comicstaan from behind the fourth wall, done for the obvious jokes that setup provides. Or, perhaps, to apply some subtle emotional pressure.
This is the last round before the finale, so there’s a lot at stake, with only the top five comedians making it to the next round. And, as you’d expect, most of them bring their A-game here. One of my favourite sets of the night was by Ramya Ramapriya, who actually went beyond merely playing out a one-person skit on stage by doing a silent performance of how to be a baby, acting out instructions set to a recorded voice-over. It’s absurd and unexpected and hilarious. Admittedly, jokes about self-harm and suicide are tricky territory—I, for one, am fully on board—and she does a great job throwing those in periodically.
Another was Samay Raina’s two-act performance—the first part of it is him returning from the future as an escaped convict, and the second is him in the present—despite the presence of a song in there. Which brings us to a long-standing pet peeve: Personally, I find musical comedy to be the lowest form of wit, lower than even puns. I remember enjoying Jack Black and Weird Al as a 14-year-old, but even then I had this lingering suspicion that I was perhaps a bit too old for this.
BUT, it’s something that a lot of people find funny. And Supriya Joshi’s set, where she plays a woman on a reality show for singers, before breaking into a song and deliberately narrating the most campy, cringe-worthy jokes you can think of, was a highlight for both the crowd and the judges. She stood out for her acting skills and her commitment to the character she’d created, even if not quite the jokes themselves.
There’s something a little odd about the show’s format, where you end up ditching five entire comedians right before the finale episode. It bugs me on two levels, only the first of which is personal. There’s the fact that I’ve been rooting for four of the contestants over the course of Comicstaan 2. As luck would have it, three of those four—Shreeja Chaturvedi, Rohan Gujral, and Joel D’Souza—won’t even be in the finale, limiting my investment in the show.
The other reason is that it’s really kind of mean. I get that it’s meant to weed out the inferior performers, and to amp up the drama and stakes. But you get these guys to drop everything for two months, pay them zero rupees (I believe), put them through the ringers, make them do all sorts of stuff for the amusement of the crowd and the judges. And then you just dump half of them right before they get the chance to put their best foot forward and show you where their actual skills may lie, that too at the stunning Royal Opera House in Mumbai?
Write This Down
- Kenneth Sebastian, after Raunaq Rajani’s set, points out how there was an acknowledgement that Rajani wasn’t particularly good or comfortable at rapping. “I think the key,” he says, “was even if the rap goes badly, stay in character.”
- The level of preparation and rehearsal that’s gone into this episode seems to be immense. After Ramya Ramapriya’s set, Neeti Palta suggests that the voiceover could potentially have been a baby’s voice, to which Sebastian explains that they tried not only that but a few other styles as well, workshopping different ideas in order to find the set that worked best. The craftsmanship, too, is worth highlighting, with each step and each second accounted for as Ramapriya had to act alongside a recorded voiceover with little room to mess up or improvise.
- In the AV of the mentoring session, Sebastian tells a contestant something that everyone in the creative field would do well to write down: “You could come with the most amazing unique idea, but the moment you present it, now that’s normal.”