If you’re a male comedian looking to create a show based on a fictional version of yourself—best of luck. For starters, the genre is either already saturated or very close. In the last five years, we’ve had Louie (Louis C.K.), Crashing (Pete Holmes), Maron (Marc Maron), and even a comeback for one of the grand-daddies in this context, Curb Your Enthusiasm (Larry David). Which brings us to the second problem—of late, there has been an air of sameness about these shows, hewing closely to the tortured-male-genius trope. Yes, we get it, writing takes time and patience and writing jokes has its special subset of development hell. The stories behind some of your favourite jokes may very well be downright depressing. Fact of life, really, for comedians.
This is why I felt the first season of TVF’s (The Viral Fever) Humorously Yours showed a lot of promise. Here we had a Hinglish comedian Vipul Goyal, whose life experiences and general vibe were bound to be very different from his colleagues, most of whom grew up in Mumbai or Bangalore (and whose acts are wholly in English). An IIT-educated-engineer-turned-comedian (like several folks from the show’s makers), Goyal’s struggles to establish himself are portrayed competently in the first season, with Rasika Dugal excelling as Kavya, Goyal’s wife (wisecracking, prudent, a quietly formidable presence).
The second season, however, hits Ctrl+Z on almost all of the ground gained by the first. It’s almost as if someone told the makers that Humorously Yours needed to cater more to what TVF considers its core audience—engineering school grads, who’re now yuppies in Gurgaon and Bangalore. Consequently, the second season is cruder, more simplistic than it has ever been, and trades on the basest nostalgia. Worse: It even manages to dial back on the first season’s halfway mature relationship with gender politics in India.
Two examples to portray this backsliding, before we investigate the larger picture behind the season’s failures. First, Kavya seems to have vanished from the show. I’m not sure if this was because of availability issues with Dugal (she’s the best actor on the show by a hilarious distance, and certainly the busiest one). But come on, reducing one of the best things about your show to a stock wife character, little more than a disembodied telephonic nag? Second, the clips from Goyal’s real-life shows—that he uses à la Louis CK’s Comedy Cellar bits in Louie—have gotten So.Much.Worse.
The second season, however, hits Ctrl+Z on almost all of the ground gained by the first. It’s almost as if someone told the makers that Humorously Yours needed to cater more to what TVF considers its core audience—engineering school grads, who’re now yuppies in Gurgaon and Bangalore.
In the first season, we saw Goyal trying out jokes during various open mics and diligently collecting feedback. In a well-executed moment, we see the comedian being rebuked for a rape joke. “Seriously, bro? It’s 2016, and you’re making a rape joke?” I quite liked that because it showed two things—one, the test/feedback dynamic unique to stand-up was explained succinctly, and two, it showed that the writers had a degree of self-awareness. In the second season, however, we see Goyal cracking this unfunny, deeply offensive joke about gay men: “Lovers abbreviate their ‘I Love You’ declarations to three letters—I L U. For gay people, it’s ‘PTO’!” To quote the film Ishqiya, “Tumhaara ishq ishq, aur humaara ishq sex?” (Your love’s love, and my love’s sex?)
The second season of Humorously Yours—all four episodes of it—is asinine, for the most part. This was supposed to be the season where Goyal, the quintessential small-scale operator, would deal with the challenges of stepping up to the next level. Instead, we see cheap nostalgia dominating the season, especially the last couple of episodes.
In the penultimate episode, we see Goyal and his stoner man Friday Bhushi (Abhishek Banerjee, watchable but stuck in a single-note character) making a bet around a female ex-classmate, Devika, who’s just run into them—is Devika interested in Goyal or Bhushi? Goyal, eager to win, then spends an evening at Devika’s place over wine, leading her on. Not only are 30-something men (one of them married) perfectly content to while away their days and nights with such American Pie Lite antics, they’re confident that this is also somehow funny, even adorable (much like the show’s writers thought this was funny, I imagine).
The season finale is inexplicably devoted to Goyal and Bhushi’s hijinks at a little-known engineering college over 80 km from Indore—basically, the back of beyond. Goyal has agreed to do a show for half his usual fees because his wife’s young cousin, a student at said college, has made a special request. I won’t bore you with the banal details, but suffice it to say that this is well-trodden ground, especially for TVF (engineers-to-be are slovenly, hard-drinking, penniless hustler types but awww look they’re such adorable nerds with hearts-of-gold). What these two episodes have in common is their uncritical celebration of Goyal’s character in particular (a far cry from the first-season episode where he is slammed for a rape joke)—and the extremely male-centric engineering school worldview in general.
TVF needs to figure out whether it will only ever make shows targeted at engineers. And even if the answer is yes, they need to do much better.