Review: Kunal Rao Finds His Voice & a Zone Where He’s Himself in His Comedy Special, ‘Done’
Amazon Prime Video | 52 min | Released: 18 October 2019
Kunal Rao is “life tired”. He’s older, quieter, more introspective than you’ve ever seen him. And he’s questioning everything.
“Do we have any idea what we’re doing? I don’t,” he opens slowly.
When a punchline doesn’t immediately follow, you know this is not going to be a regular laugh-a-minute special. What you get instead is an hour of steady introspection on what the hell happiness is, and whether it’s fair to put one emotion over all the others on the mood-board. A self-proclaimed introvert, Rao takes it slow this time around, swapping easy punchlines for a rhetoric of second thoughts lined with nuance and empathy.
Filmed for Amazon Prime Video, Done holds a sombre mood for its entire 50-minute duration as Rao takes us through the things that keep him up at night, now that he’s 40 years old. How ridiculous life is at this age, when prepping for a jog involves a pharmacy more than a sports store. That he’s caught himself snoring when he’s awake. That he identifies as a ‘hardcore introvert’. Though evident from his very manner, Rao tells us how fucking done he is anyway. So much so that he’s celebrating the German language because they actually have a word for it: Leben müde, meaning ‘life tired’.
This confessional style, with a decidedly softer demeanour and minimal movement, is new for Rao. The co-founder of comedy collective EIC recently broke away from the company to focus on his solo career. In doing so, he seems to be exploring a new voice, and one that seems authentic to who he is now, without the pressure of having to play into what may have come to be expected of him.
His strongest bit is on the idea of happiness, which, besides being elusive, he believes is also overrated. When even Google doesn’t have the answer to what happiness is, why are we so hell-bent on chasing the damn thing, especially when there’s a whole spectrum of equally satisfying emotions? Have you ever been right? How is that not the best feeling in the world? Tried disdain? Yup. That feels good too. And he’s here to suggest why.
The audience reacts well to Rao when he’s being self-deprecatory, but they’re quiet for the most part. The room appears rapt, immersed in his stories. There are times you feel like a fly on the wall of his therapist’s room, with Rao offering philosophical theories for all of us to think about (and perhaps take back to our own therapist).
That begs the question we’ve been debating all year—if you’re not laughing nonstop, is it still comedy?
Hannah Gadsby opened new windows for standup when she challenged the genre altogether with her groundbreaking special, Nanette—one where telling a story became more important than laughs per minute, and where comedians became increasingly comfortable with silence. And that seems to be a trend some veterans of the Indian comedy scene are leaning towards, which is interesting.
Both Neville Shah (of SnG) and Daniel Fernandes also explore similar spaces in their latest specials, Going Downhill (which deals with death, depression and divorce) and Shadows (on Fernandes experience with anxiety), respectively. Where Shah uses wild irritation as a device, and Fernandes goes dark with lightness, Rao plays with amusing dejection.
Considering this is Rao’s first major comedy work since he parted ways with EIC, it’s a big risk to have so quickly moved into new territory. But it’s one he had to take, perhaps one of many more he will have to take, until he rediscovers his voice as an artist. In doing so, he will likely connect with a whole new audience, and this special is a step in that direction. Where he still seems unsteady is with his pace—in trying to rein in emotional spikes, the special frequently dips in energy. But if you’re on the wrong side of your 30s, you’ll find yourself relating with his meh-ness of things enough to hang on. You may not watch it for ROFLMAOs, but who even has the energy anymore, amirite?! At least now you know you have company in this raw deal called life.
Kunal Rao’s special Done is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.