Amazon Prime Video | 57 min | Released: January 2020
The men of the Indian comedy scene seem seriously panicked about getting older. In the last year alone, we’ve seen minor onstage meltdowns from Neville Shah (39, Going Downhill), Kunal Rao (40, Done), Daniel Fernandes (35, Shadows); even Karunesh Talwar (28, Pata Nahin Par Bolna Hai) and Sahil Shah (29) have started addressing it, ffs.
In his first comedy special Wake N Bake, Rohan Joshi devotes an entire 57 minutes to his ongoing existential crisis. A fan online has already proposed a drinking game: ‘a shot for every time Joshi says “I’m 36…”. And the comedian has already warned against it: “You won’t be able to see straight by minute 4.” You should believe him.
For the longest time, while he was working on his comedy collective AIB, Joshi was hard to find on stage, performing standup. The only way to access the comedian’s brain during this period was through his hyperactive Instagram page. This is where he addresses all the things that matter to him—messy Indian politics, mental health, his newfound love for fitness, his competing love for food, comic books and, most
recently relentlessly, his obsession with home renovation. Followers have seen a careful curation of the comic’s personal journey through those stories. He is now inviting you to join him on a more structured exploration of his learnings and un-learnings; the big things he has to suddenly confront at the age of 36.
Very quickly, two things are clear. Strong writers make terrific comedians. There’s a line in Joshi’s set that helps you understand what makes Wake N Bake shine: “Main writer hoon, I will devastate you with a full stop where there should have been an exclamation.” The context in which he says it is completely different, of course, but it’s the writing that makes the special so compelling. It’s a sharp, measured set with fresh takes on familiar premises, and seamless transitions—he moves deftly from suddenly being called an uncle, to assessing where he is on the partying spectrum; porn to potty jokes, the education system to sex and marriage, even chudails. Go figure. This hour boasts the smoothest segues of any Indian special I’ve watched so far.
The second thing that’s obvious is that this is a comedian in therapy for whom the process has worked/is working. Of course we know this already—his ‘gram is filled with personal campaigns urging people to get help, helping people who don’t know how, and occasionally playing emotional first responder to strangers in his DMs. But while the content of Wake N Bake could easily have meandered into a Bill Burr-esque fever-pitch rant, what we get instead is an even-paced monologue delivered with clarity, heart and maturity. This also casually comes through in his anecdotal bits.
There is a story about having to medicate his sick cat, for instance, which may sound familiar because you’ve heard
Louis CK tell an almost identical one on a late night talk show about his sick dog. In both stories, the comedians talk about struggling to shove medicine down their reluctant pets’ throats so they don’t die. But where CK’s story ends with having to punch his dog in the face to save him, Joshi has a radically different (also culturally-appropriate) reaction.
In his campaign to legalise weed, he doesn’t say FCK YOU GIMME IT BECAUSE FCK YOU, he establishes his stance with responsible disclaimers. “I do not think kids should have access to marijuana”, for instance, even though it’s followed by a list of hilarious reasons that doesn’t entirely betray his younger audience.
This hour boasts the smoothest segues of any Indian special I’ve watched so far.
The show gets stronger as it goes on. Sandwiched between a brilliant Uno analogy and a rap song, campaigning for weed and an economic policy that involves funding statues, are teachable moments that he refuses to squander, while keeping the laugh meter ticking. The most incisive segment of the special for me is one in which he acknowledges his unending privilege, and points out the difference between “struggle” and “working hard” to a now-silent but rapt audience. A more topical and urgent message comes through when he says he’s decided to stop offering his uneducated opinion on everything. If it stings, it’s because we’re all equally guilty.
When the Indian standup scene was still new, Joshi was one of the first comedians to catch my attention. Besides being funny as all hell, he’s also always been well-read, empathetic, and played uniquely with words. In the last year, while AIB was forced to take a backseat, he started writing his special. This meant getting back up on stage to test and hone the set—fans who saw Joshi on tour leading up to the special will recognise most of the material—and I’m glad he did it.
His 30s have clearly been a time for Joshi to find comfort in his own skin as a human, but it’s also when he’s (re)discovered a strong comedic voice. The final hour doesn’t come with the heft of a brooding special that will spark debates on the evolving nature of standup (aka “is this even comedy bro?”), but through a glimpse into his personal politics, he gives his audience plenty to identify with and think about.
Maybe it’s the time we live in, or that I’m in my 30s too. But there’s a typographical error in the subtitles somewhere down the hour that fucks up millennial-speak while perfectly summing up how I feel about Wake N Bake: ‘heart relates’.
We’re not even a month into 2020 yet, but I’m calling it: this is the special to beat.
Dead Ant review policy: 1) We pay for shows that we review. 2) When we review live shows of any kind, we might mention subjects that are dealt with, but will avoid more detailed discussion of premises or jokes. 3) When we review or discuss YouTube videos and OTT specials, since they are already accessible across locations, we may get into more detailed discussions of the material. These reviews aim to foster closer conversations about comedy, and hence are for people who have already watched the videos, or don’t mind knowing details beforehand.