TVF’s Humorously Yours is perhaps India’s only contemporary entry in what is a very congested genre in America—scripted comedy built around the life-of-a-comedian. The leading man generally plays a lightly fictionalised version of himself, with frequent collaborators playing family and friends. Episodes are typically bookended by pre-recorded jokes from real gigs. Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Maron et al are some well-known examples. With Humorously Yours, the central narrative strand is creator Vipul Goyal’s status as a ‘Hinglish’ comedian with clean, family-friendly comedy and his struggles to expand his practice, stay relevant in the eyes of younger audience and so on. The third season’s overarching plot sees Goyal trying to snag that all-important career check-mark: the overseas comedy tour. Along the way, of course, there are road-bumps like performing at the usual shitty corporate shows, and finding out that your latest gig is a teenaged girl’s birthday party.
Full disclosure: I did not like the show’s second season at all, back when it had released in 2019. I thought that it depended far too much on engineering college hostel tropes, which is basically lad humour on steroids. There were far too many crass jokes that were a little too… old-fashioned, to put it mildly.
Thankfully, the third season showcases a more mature version of Vipul Goyal, both as writer and performer. His story arcs with his wife Kavya (Rasika Dugal) and stoner best friend Bhushi (Abhishek Banerjee) are much more fleshed-out this time around—we actually learn new things about both of these people. They are not defined merely by what they mean to Vipul (something that the second season was guilty of), and their individual plotlines are well-defined and genuinely surprising at times. Vipul himself is a lot more introspective, his quest to land a coveted foreign tour leading to plenty of moments that directly address his insecurities and character flaws.
Evidence of this revamped approach can be seen in the opening episode. Titled Alumni Meet, this episode asks an interesting question: Do the rules of comedic ‘offence’ change when as a comedian you have managed to piss off even your closest friends with a joke that displays spectacular bad taste? Vipul does exactly this and spends the rest of this surprisingly gentle, good-hearted episode on trying to win back his friends. Significantly, the episode ends with these friends standing around a seated Vipul, so that they occupy the higher ground, both literally and morally. These mild-mannered corporate foot-soldiers then unleash an array of really mean jokes about Vipul—if you have no idea of what a ‘roast’ is in the comedic context, consider this scene a visual dictionary entry.
Alumni Meet tells us two very important things that have changed about Humorously Yours. First, the script/screenplay has given the other characters of the show plenty of room to grow, and the results are palpable. In this episode, there’s an extra edge to the Vipul-Kavya banter because we now have a better sense of Kavya as a person. She is no longer the pragmatic wise-cracker whose only real function is as a stand-in for the audience.
This episode and this entire season, really, tells us that she is a realist when it comes to money (she is quick to dissect the financial implications of a US tour for Vipul). She is patient but quite capable of lashing out when pushed to the brink (she calls Vipul out on situations that would have provoked no more than an offhand joke last season). She is a scrupulously fair person but she also deeply cares about what others think of her—impulses that can be contradictory at times. In the third episode (Nikku’s Party) we see her urging Vipul to put up with her colleagues’ mildly insulting comments at the party because she does not wish to create a scene.
Similarly, Bhushi’s moment under the sun comes in the second episode of the season—my personal favourite, called Road Trip. Here, Vipul, his manager and Bhushi are forced to carpool with a seemingly pompous, over-the-hill magician called O.G. Bhandari (Rakesh Bedi) who prefers to be called ‘O.G.’ Vipul and his manager are both losing it at O.G.’s objections to marijuana, his non-stop lectures on the sanctity of art and his all-round insufferable nature. However, Bhushi is the only one among the group who sees something in O.G. and even fights with his friends to defend O.G. and his idiosyncrasies. I won’t spoil the ending here, but suffice it to say that Bedi hits it out of the park with his performance (as an aside, comedy legend Johnny Lever also puts in a charming cameo in another episode).
As one of the mainstays of Indian TV’s nearly-40-year-old history, it’s incredibly poignant watching Bedi speak of an art form that’s no longer valued, no longer getting people to gasp in unison. His climactic monologue is addressed to Vipul and discusses the psychological hold that the best magicians exert on the audience. It’s potent, well-written stuff and it’s a great way to show Vipul’s personal growth as well.
Not every work of art is obliged to be universally approachable, and it’s a mistake to expect this from artists.
There are some wrinkles that still need to be ironed out, of course. Certain jokes remain sophomoric, like “tujhe loan bank se nahi, sperm bank se chahiye” (although to the show’s credit, this isn’t depicted as a professionally written joke). And if we’re being perfectly honest, the chances of you enjoying this show improve dramatically if you are on the wrong side of 30. In fact, the show even discusses this aspect directly, all but admitting that this is a weakness that Vipul is trying to address in his material. But, in my opinion, this is no slight on a show that has visibly improved upon its past efforts and by a significant distance. Not every work of art is obliged to be universally approachable, and it’s a mistake to expect this from artists.
In fact, I like the fact that this season Vipul is centering his own shortcomings, both personal and professional. At one point, Vipul’s manager reminds him that while introducing Vipul onstage down the years, he has uttered so many lies in the service of showbiz. I keep telling people you are the desi Seinfeld, he tells Vipul. “Hai tu India ka Seinfeld? Hai tu?” he insists, with no small measure of indignation. It’s like Vipul is reminding himself as well as the audience that there’s plenty of room for improvement and many miles to go on this road yet.
The all-new Humorously Yours makes up for a lot of its preceding season’s missteps, and sets the stage for a softer, wiser Vipul Goyal who’s adding new dimensions to his old-fashioned style. I’m cautiously excited to see where he goes next.