Garish costumes and deliberately undercooked sets take centre stage on the fifth episode of Comicstaan. The 10 contestants team up in pairs to present short sketches with multi-discipline comedian Sumukhi Suresh advising, encouraging, and supporting them as the designated mentor. Sketch comedy is hard to do—which we’ll get to—and to spit out a complete sketch written and performed by two competing comedians within a week, with little time to workshop it in front of patsy audiences, is even tougher. That’s a necessary caveat to attach to the observation that a lot of the sketches presented in this are lukewarm and predictable, with the artists taking the obvious approach of heightening the farce through loud and outlandish characters.
We get a mediocre, angsty magician dealing with an obsessive, one-shoed fan who’s crushing on him hard. Another one is a comic exploration of the relationship between a woman and her long-time tailor. A cranky old fart beefing with a panicked kid escaping kidnappers over a PCO booth. Two unhinged strangers with little connection to reality watching a Shah Rukh Khan film in the hall.
Usually, this section often ends up discussing the concluding performance by the mentor on each episode. But this time the Dead Ant Highlight gong goes to contestants Sumit Sourav and Rohan Gujral. They do a bizarre sketch that begins as yet another conversation on a Bombay local—the theme, it seems, is coincidences and smug pedantry. And then it steadily disintegrates into complete chaos, bringing in adultery, drug peddlers, betrayal, murder. What stands out here, apart from the sharp writing, is the fact that the two performers use softer volumes and a general sense of everyday calm instead of the easy theatrics that a lot of middling sketch comedy clings on to. Refreshingly, it sounds an actual conversation between two people.
The closing act is by Sumukhi Suresh and Urooj Ashfaq, about a space mission that two very dissimilar women are about to embark on—it got a lot of really loud laughs, as most things on the show do, but I for one found it quite underwhelming, with a meandering plot and limited comic impact.
- TEPID PUNCHINES YELLED OUT REALLY LOUDLY FOR MAXIMUM EFFECT!!
Write This Down
- There’s plenty to parse through in this section. Through the episode, we’re provided bits and pieces of insider information on sketch comedy. It begins with Suresh and Abish Mathew telling the contestants how a good sketch will usually have an absurd character and a ‘straight’ character—the one the audiences will relate to—and a central conflict, as well as an escalating storyline. And how it needs to have a satisfying conclusion.
- In one segment, we see Suresh talking to contestants Aakash Gupta and Devanshi Shah — they’re paired together, she explains, because he’s a strong actor and she’s a strong writer. And his job as an actor, then, is to also ensure that she shines in the sketch. That, more than anything, is what lies at the core of sketch comedy, I feel. Even the most ridiculous premise can be forgiven as long as the chemistry between the actors is strong.
- We also get an insight into the futility of quantitatively judging any form of art as, through this episode, we see the judges and Suresh disagreeing on plenty of the critiques made. There’s some back-and-forth between her and, at various points, Biswa Kalyan Rath and Zakir Khan over certain issues with the crafting of a sketch. As an aside, it’s also a welcome reminder that the judges on the show are real people with skill and knowledge and opinions, and not just sit-down-dancing goofballs who love everything.
- There’s a bonus ‘X-Ray’ feature with this episode which has, among other things, the judges sitting with a contestant each for a casual five-minute conversation about comedy.