Saloni Gaur’s humour has always seemed restrained and contained, in more than one sense. It is tethered to a headline moment, either a new policy, or a new lockdown, a new protest, or a new speech. Like Danish Sait’s sketches, there is an immediacy and timeliness to it—you are watching Dalgona tutorials on your timeline at the same time as seeing Gaur do a takedown of it as Kangana Ranaut. You are watching people banging plates to ward off the Corona virus at the same time as seeing her react to them as Sonam Kapoor. Then there is the inimitable Nazma Aapi on the New Education Policy, cracking jokes in the midst of op-eds and twitter threads outlining the policy’s many horrors.
But Soloni Gaur’s sketches are contained in another sense—all her videos were shot at home, on a borrowed laptop perched on thick RD Sharma guides. She would go to the terrace to post her videos because the WiFi at home is weak. The recipe for her success is so simple: a backdrop of a curtain or a bedspread, a wig or a hijab (or her finest kurta while miming as Sonam), and a bloody funny and timely script.
Both of these creative restrictions have been eliminated by SonyLIV in their new web-series Uncommon Sense With Saloni. The RD Sharma book used to prop up the borrowed laptop is now inside a wooden bookshelf with a glass casing as a background prop. The topics discussed too, are wide and varied, lacking the immediacy of Aapi’s invectives. It must be noted that this isextremely daring—stripping a comedy sketch star of all the things that made them unique and viral, and hoping for the same outcome. Late Night tried to pull off a similar bold move by bringing in Lily Singh at its host. The outcome in both cases is questionable.
The format of the 20 minute episodes of Uncommon Sense is a triptych—beginning with Gaur’s standup, then a comedy sketch, and finally one of Gaur’s famous impersonations. The first episode featured the beloved Aapi, and the second, a Navika Kumar impression. It is in the final moments that we see Gaur perform the impressions and characters that made her famous, but even this does not bring joy in the way her minute-long sketches did. The humour is trying too hard to find its pick up line, and the high density of jokes, with a prodding background score, doesn’t leave space for much else. The subtitles that come before the joke finishes doesn’t help. (Also, Tomatina Festival subtitled as Dona Tina festival? Come on guys.)
As an Instagrammer, Gaur put everything into her impressions—they were delivery mechanisms not just for her jokes and mimicry skills, but also her opinions and worldview. The show separates the two, with her giving opinions as Saloni Gaur in the beginning with claps and applause in post-production, and leaving the impressions about juvenile things (like a Soan Papdi conspiracy theory) for the very end. That takes away much of what made her comedy click in the first place.
Of course, the show also had to deal with unique COVID-related challenges and obstacles. A comedy special or variety show is almost always shot with an audience, and it’s a difficult adjustment when you don’t have the audience’s laughter (or groans) for instant feedback. There’s something very lonely about separating the comedian from their audience.
But Gaur adjusts well to performing to an empty room. Even when the jokes falter, her natural screen presence keeps us hooked and endears her to us. She never looks uncomfortable, even as the camera lingers on her for a few seconds after the punch-line. Saloni Gaur is made for standup comedy, though it might take her a few tries to get it right. But who has ever gotten it right on the first go?