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Review: ‘Yours Sincerely, Kanan Gill’ Shoots for the Stars and Almost Gets There

By Akhil Sood 29 April 2020

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I love nothing comedy, the kind which is free from baggage. There’s no violence—no punching down or up or sideways or whatever. No deeper meaning unless you look for it. No connecting threads to tie up the ‘narrative’. No burden of context for the audience, no pressure. The jokes just exist, frivolous and universal. Kanan Gill excels at this. Like when he riffs on the very Indian concept of “time-pass”—how it doubles up as both an activity and a verdict. Or how, unlike foreigners going on about the weather, Indians aren’t interested in small talk; they get straight to the point.

At its best, Yours Sincerely is outstanding. Gill is a charming performer, forever looking just slightly befuddled at the absurdities around him. There is a concept in place to keep the whole thing from falling off the rails: he reads aloud—in a cracked, pubescent voice—from a letter he wrote at 15 to his future self, listing life goals to aspire to, and uses those bullet points to wander off in directions past and present. It’s a loosely structured device — he often doesn’t bother reaching a solid conclusion to each entry in the letter — and acts more as a jumping off point for his assorted deliberations.

On his previous special, Gill went for a more emphatic tone — going for the big, memorable jokes — but there’s a more measured energy here; it’s a slow-burn, not a flame-out.

It’s a low-stakes premise (even the set looks like the Netflix logo) and one that suits Gill. He has a dry, understated style of delivery — unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Gill steers clear of the theatrics, relying on his ability to tell sharp stories, not enact them. On his previous special, Gill went for a more emphatic tone — going for the big, memorable jokes — but there’s a more measured energy here; it’s a slow-burn, not a flame-out.

There’s an early section on the farcical nature of “silent airports”, and Gill’s simmering exasperation at the periodic announcements that the airport will not be making any announcements is a particular highlight. He’s even confident enough to throw in the most infuriating “PJs”, while dissecting the very concept of them — how they exist not to make someone laugh but only to piss them off. The set employs plenty of trusted observational tropes — airports and coffee shops of course, and there’s an extended bit about visiting the doctor, and the shenanigans that inevitably ensue when a straight-talking doctor and a silver-tongued comic cross paths — and Gill often points the lens at his own shortcomings and inadequacies.

He has a knack, especially, for extracting excellent material from his childhood experiences. Growing up, as you’d expect, is the central theme of the special, as he narrates a series of increasingly ridiculous tales from his childhood: a bored pet dog in heat; a childhood crush; learning to write formal and informal letters; getting birthday bumps regardless of whose birthday it was; feeling like a loser. It’s not nostalgia per se; there’s no hackneyed reminiscence of so-called middle-class life and the ’90s and Nataraj pencils or whatever.

There’s a more universal quality to the experiences — they’re about being kids; the innocence, the ignorance, of youth, told to us by a jaded narrator. If you zoom out a bit, Yours Sincerely is really about Gill taking stock of his life, examining the gap between his teenage dreams and how his life has turned out. It’s about his own mental health. He’s looking back, not fondly but with casual bemusement.

Yours Sincerely is really about Gill taking stock of his life, examining the gap between his teenage dreams and how his life has turned out.

When it works, Gill’s insistence on taking an everyday conflict and throwing a thousand jokes at it is fascinating to watch. It’s an exercise in meticulous deconstruction. But far too often, he wanders into self-indulgence. Several jokes, great in theory, drag on endlessly thanks to his inability to just…let…things…go. An example of this is a rambling section on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It provides one of the better punchlines of the set, but Gill isn’t content with simply having landed it. He goes on and on about the play, almost like he’s in a competition with himself to see how many jokes he can mine from a well that’s long run dry.

This is a problem that plagues the entirety of Yours Sincerely. It clocks in at an excessive 70-something minutes, and the luxury of time allows Gill to indulge his worst impulses. Like his rambling bit on metaphors, where each explanation offered by his teacher in the story gets increasingly harder to understand. It’s a smart joke, no doubt, but the problem is that he knows it. And so we get a novel-length dissection at the end of which he mercifully admits that he’s confused everyone with all the words.

Gill ends his set with a series of clustered callbacks (some to great effect, others not so much), building up to a clever, Fight Club-esque reveal about his own depression that works in theory but doesn’t quite land the punch it could. As fan service, he throws in some computer science bit that flew over my head like the partridges, or teetars, he’s discussing, finally using the blackboard that had been staring at me for an hour. It leads to a roaring applause, possibly because this special was previously called ‘Teetar’ while Gill was touring with it.

For every two steps forward, there’s a tiny, self-inflicted one back. Yours Sincerely reaches many highs, and it’s a largely stellar special but, after offering a thrilling glimpse of Gill’s potential in its opening half hour, it falls just short.

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