Amazon Prime Video | 61 min | Released: May 2018
I’ll be honest: I hit “play” on Vaibhav Sethia’s Amazon Prime Video special Don’t without expecting to particularly like it. I hadn’t followed his work, and had only watched the promo clips that were out on YouTube. From the clips, I felt that his delivery was a bit to frenzied for my taste, and that his material didn’t seem particularly sharp.
But watching the special in its entirety, it quickly became clear that Sethia is a far more thoughtful and self-reflective comedian than I had assumed from the clips. The material in Don’t springs from a place of deep self-examination. Sethia looks in particular at the frailties of his own body and draws out some top-notch material. His observations (such as the fact that his navel has shifted to one side because he is overweight) sometimes seem to suggest a sense of self-loathing, but Sethia actually delivers them without seeming too embarrassed—he is more exasparated than anything. And his matter-of-factness offers a kind of solace for anyone who has struggled with their own bodies, or their images of themselves.
Watching the special in its entirety, it quickly became clear that Sethia is a far more thoughtful and self-reflective comedian than I had assumed from the clips.
Sethia talks about his whitening hair, his immense capacity for food, his burgeoning weight and his general sense of lethargy in life—in one almost Escherian joke, he declares that there are times when even sleeping leaves him tired. As he analyses his body, he occasionally seems to almost convey a sense of wide-eyed wonder at his own physical degradation. And while his intention is clearly to first get the audience to recoil, the deeper point seems to be to connect with them from a place of vulnerability.
But Sethia’s special isn’t just about this sort of confessional-mode comedy. He’s skilled at other forms too, as evident from an extended bit he has on his troubles with Vodafone. Comedians can be unbearable when they rant about poor customer service, but Sethia makes the anecdote work, partly because he performs his irritation so well and partly because his observations (such as on the frustrations of trying to get through to a human being) are immediately relatable. With the Vodafone anecdote, Sethia offers an insight into anecdotal comedy that many Indian comics could learn from: he makes clear that you don’t always need unusual and bizarre incidents (such as fights, run-ins with police or drug trips) to craft good anecdotal comedy. Stories about simpler incidents can make for great comedy if the comedian crafts them well. It is as much the telling as the tale that has the power to transport the listener.
To be clear, Sethia’s special suffers from the same problem as almost every other one that has been released in India—it doesn’t quite feel like he has enough strong material to craft a truly gripping hour. But Don’t has enough well-constructed set pieces to mark it out as one of the better specials. Whereas with many other comics, one is left feeling like they had a good 20 minutes, that they then stretched into an hour by adding underworked bits, watching Don’t feels like watching a full, well-honed hour of comedy by a comic who is in top form.
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