With the COVID-19 lockdown now extended for at least three more weeks, India’s stand-up comedians find themselves stuck at home twiddling their thumbs, with only housework and Netflix to distract themselves from the monotony of life in quarantine. Live shows, festivals and even international tours have been cancelled in the thousands, shoot schedules are now postponed indefinitely, and the threat of The Shining style cabin-fever looms ever larger. In response, comics have taken to the internet, transforming their kitchens, balconies and couches into virtual stages as they attempt to distract themselves (and us) from the endless horror of being stuck with only ourselves for company.
Grateful as we are for any content that isn’t “made-in-china virus” conspiracy theories or “flatten the curve” line graphs, much of what’s being pushed out is low effort, low quality rubbish, stuff that would normally be banished to the edit room floor. To save you from throwing your devices out of the window in frustration (after all, you can’t just go out and buy a new one), we’ve dug through the endless stream of videos and picked out a few safe bets. Here’s the Dead Ant guide to this summer of quarantine content.
Atul Khatri: ‘Only Positive News’
Atul Khatri has been working on an IGTV series called ‘Only Positive News’, and it’s what it says on the tin. A break from the horror of coronavirus updates, 8 pm speeches, economy forecasts, and the overall gloom and doom that 2020 has mainlined into our lives. A roundup of only the best news headlines of the day, so you can recharge and reset yourself with a little hope before you have to pay attention to the aunties doing socially distanced, hyper-choreographed jagrans on their balconies again.
Happy bonus: Check out Khatri’s ‘Highlights’ on his Instagram page for some puppy love, featuring the adventures of Butter Khatri, the family pooch. Follow him @one_by_two
Shashwat Maheshwari: 40 Coronavirus Jokes
Shashwat Maheshwari first caught everyone’s attention on the first season of Indian standup comedy competition Comicstaan (Amazon Prime Video), following which he has become a familiar name on Mumbai’s live comedy circuit. Online, he’s big on Twitter for his super weird, relatable-max 3 am thoughts; on Instagram, he takes things up a notch with short format videos. This week, there’s also 40 Coronavirus Jokes (Quarantine Edition)—one-liner zingers based on headlines that we could very well be real, we just can’t tell. “Coronavirus aa chuka hai,” he declares, sitting in front of a mic setup at home. “Isse pehle ki yeh chala jaye aur mere saare jokes barbaad ho jayein, sunn lijiye.” With a pandemic, there’s no such thing as “too soon”. Find him @kaatilkabootar, he isn’t going to be able to take it easy during this period of self-isolation.
Varun Thakur: Quarantine Cooking
Varun Thakur’s alter-ego ‘Struggling Actor Vicky Malhotra’ shows up all the time on the comedian’s feed these days—and we are so here for it—but Thakur seems to have become equally enthusiastic about cooking at home. Every day this week, he’s shared images and recipes from his kitchen, where he seems to be happily quarantined with his girlfriend. Sometimes it’s photos of fish fry, a few days ago it was a very pretty funtastic-looking four-step masala aaloo, complete with the recipe. On Day 1 of the 21-day lockdown, he announced he’d be putting out one piece of content a day; worth keeping an eye on. Meanwhile, here’s Vicky on the lockdown extension.
Tanmay Bhat: YouTube live streams
Tanmay Bhat has been going blue in the face for ages saying live-streaming is the future of digital content, but everyone just nodded politely and kept making podcasts. With quarantine kicking in, Bhat is having a smug moment. After a year-long hiatus following the allegation-riddled-legally-unclear #MeToo debacle, Bhat came back online with vlogs featuring his comedian friends. Big on PUBG (how is that damn game still going?!), he has also been live streaming his late night sessions with online players on his YouTube channel, and hosting conversations with fellow comics. During a charity mega-stream last weekend, he announced that he’s bringing sketches back. Whether he’s serious or not, we’ll find out, but he is using this time in quarantine to boost his YouTube channel. It’s a clear strategy for short format content that leverages his giant network of comedians, YouTubers, and gaming celebrities, so that’s where you should hit the bell icon and subscribe for a steady stream of entertainment.
Aadar Malik: Musical Comedy
Yes, he’s from that Malik family—son of Abu Malik, nephew of music composer Anu Malik. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (though it should maintain at least six-feet distance for a while). Aadar Malik is known for musical comedy, and is one of the only artists exploring the space. The last couple of weeks, he’s been showing up every other morning, gorgeous guitar in hand, with #TheMorningSong—a daily ditty about the little things that are on our mind these days—social distancing, living in isolation, washing your hands and not panicking.
Sumaira Shaikh: Standup Clips
Sumaira Shaikh is a Mumbai-based standup comic and one of the writers of Sumukhi Suresh’s web series Pushpavalli, which she also briefly stars in. She normally shies away from social media, and is frustratingly stingy about putting out her standup bits online, which we always look forward to because she’s got such a unique comedic voice. This week, however, she’s promised us a series of videos, the first of which is already out—an otherwise non-starter thought about paperweights sees her spiralling into a rant about their existence that’ll make your sides hurt so bad, it’ll feel like a home workout.
Gaurav Kapoor: ‘Saturday ki Rasoi’
Every Saturday, this Delhi-based comedian will be taking us into his kitchen for a series he’s experimenting with with his wife Shreya Sharma called Saturday Ki Rasoi. “In this show, we try to capture the essence of how me and my wife cook sometimes at home and dish turns out to be a surprise. We try a lot of stuff and trust me, it’s not tasty every time,” the show description reads. The first episode featured a recipe for Chivda-Bhuja and Chai, neither of which we’ve tried yet ourselves, but “it’s actually nice,” Sharma insists at the end of video, while Kapoor affirms, “Bachelor log ke liye best cheez hai yeh!”
Vir Das: ‘The Bright Side’
Vir Das has no idea how to sit still. Which means that through this trying period of social distancing, he’s announcing a new content experiment every day. He just dropped a new series called The Bright Side, in which he takes “the darkest thought in your head and goes someplace silly, so that the next time you think it…doesn’t seem that bad.” In the first episode he addresses the thing that’s crossed everyone’s mind: “What if the coronavirus gets worse and worse and worse?” To make you feel better about being in lockdown, he draws your attention to how this has actually worked out for musicians, that it’s a great time to be a balcony, why confused pigeons are looking for Raju, and a reminder that everything online is getting watched. Like this show. Immune up, man!
Varun Grover: Topical Monologues
Varun Grover is an important voice in the comedy scene. He doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions and helps understand what’s going on without the aggressive melodrama of a regular media channel. Using hilarious analogies and basic logic, he articulates some of our own thoughts back for us and offers fresh perspective on things you thought you’d already made up your mind about. Marvelling at the things our members of parliament and WhatsApp forward enthusiasts are propagating, he has spent the last week talking about the coronavirus and the importance of social distancing in three separate rants, with only his cats to interrupt him. Main takeaway? Only science and compassion will see us through. But you should hear his arguments for it yourselves.
Amit Tandon: Comedy Workshops
If you think you’re funny, or your friends have said “you should do standup comedy, yaar” enough times to actually make you consider it, Amit Tandon’s conducting standup comedy workshops online. And he’s using the proceeds to raise money for daily wage earners, among the worst hit by the ongoing pandemic. Email him at email@example.com to sign up for a session (Rs. 2,500, currently conducted on Zoom), in which he’ll take you through how to write a set—where to find inspiration, how to build a single-line idea into a five-minute set, and how to go about building material from three to 30 minutes. Once you’re done, you can even send him a video for feedback on your delivery and performance. This weekend, he’s got three workshops lined up—for India, Europe and the US, respectively—which have only a couple of spots left, but if you don’t make it to this one, don’t sweat it, he’ll be doing this every weekend for a while.
Supriya Joshi: The Instagram Stories show
You may recognise her from Comicstaan 2, and by the end of this weekend, you’ll also know her from the Netflix comedy special, Ladies Up, on which she’s one of the four comedians, each performing a 15-minute set. On her personal social media channels, she keeps her growing fanbase engaged with her PhD-level knowledge about k-pop, her makeup tutorials and this week’s special delivery…running commentary on how she’s (barely) surviving self-isolation. It’s all being documented on her Instastories, and there a new one added every few hours, so it’s a fun account to tap through in the seemingly endless scroll of our quarantined lives.
An edited version of this story first appeared in Mumbai Mirror on 7 April 2020.