‘Topless Sloss’: Day 1 Highlights At The Laughing Dead

By Aditya Mani Jha 19 March 2023 4 mins read

Day 1 involved Daniel Sloss taking his top off (and making us all laugh our guts out) and ten short, crisp sets by homegrown comedians.

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The first-ever edition of the Laughing Dead, the two-day comedy festival by DeadAnt, began in style on Saturday, with an outstanding 90-minute show by Daniel Sloss, along with a series of short and crisp sets by ten Indian comedians.

In the hours before their show began, Daniel Sloss and Kai Humphries (who opened for Sloss) could be seen walking around Mehboob Studios with a gaggle of adoring fans. Humphries’ 20-minute set was well-received by the visibly full house. His jokes about becoming a dog person in his 30s drew the loudest applause, especially his puzzlement at owners crossbreeding their larger dogs with poodles.

As Day One’s headliner, Sloss was expected to do the heavy lifting and he did not disappoint. His 90-minute show struck a very agreeable balance between short, punchy one-off jokes and more elaborate, interconnected routines. 

For example, there was a great bit on the matter of reality TV shows and their impact on mental health (for both participants ants and viewers). Sloss described in excruciating detail how American shows like Temptation Island use every manipulative, gaslighting trick in the book to extract the maximum possible drama out of the contestants. 

He was similarly effective on the history of live entertainment, with a classic joke about the Colosseum being “where we peaked as a civilisation”. Sloss correctly pointed out that few forms of schadenfreude compare to the joy of watching people you hate battle large beasts (or something equally hazardous). And then (cue gasps) he dropped the evening’s solitary Pakistan joke. “You lot, you’d love it, wouldn’t ya, ‘Pakistanis Vs Bears’”.

One moment that draw especially loud applause was when Sloss explained his theory of dark comedy. According to him, dark comedy only works when there is something endearing at the heart of it all. To that extent, Sloss’s own routine about the joys and challenges of fatherhood was tailored along the lines of this theory.

Notably, Sloss’s set was interrupted for a few minutes by technical issues with the sound system. During the interlude, the comedian kept the audience on simmer with…. a quick set of shirtless push-ups (decent form, not his first rodeo etc). 

The rest of the evening was comprised of short sets by a whole bunch of Indian comics—The Deadliners 1 show included Aditi Mittal, Saahil Shah, Ashish Shakya, Kunal Rao, Sumaira Shaikh, Aaditya Kulshreshtha, Shreeja Chaturvedi, Sorabh Pant, Varun Grover and Varun Thakur. 10 comedians very different from one another in terms of both form and content.

The audience for Deadliners 1 leaned older compared to the Sloss show. Accordingly, a lot of the performers delivered routines about ageing, generation gaps and so on. Kunal Rao wisecracked about dating in one’s 40s, joking that “I have used Bumble but I think I finished it” (this is especially insightful because the dark arts of UI/UX are closely linked to video game design). Ashish Shakya launched into a riff about being too old for Instagram, saying, “I look at Insta reels and dancing in the same way Tibetan monks may look at an orgy: ‘Very good betaa, I’m happy for you but I can’t do that with my body!’” 

Saahil Shah got the crowd going with his infectious energy, before cracking an array of Mumbai-centric jokes. Mittal’s set was wide-ranging and covered topics like ‘slum tourism’, the bizarro rituals associated with kids entertaining house-guests and the ornate/archaic names a lot of Gen Z kids seem to have. The impressive Aditya Kulshreshtha’s set was rock-solid, with an ease of delivery far beyond his years, in fact. His observations on toxic relationships and the oddities of the Mumbai elite were on point. Shaikh was her usual, agreeably off-kilter self, performing an eccentric and at times curiously moving set about long-distance relationships (“the shadier the hotel, the better the sex”). There was another great joke in there involving shady hotels, sex and teabags (but it’s really, really not what you think).  

Shreeja Chaturvedi, with her unique voice and deadpan delivery style (it really is like nothing else you’ll come across in the Indian circuit, at least) won over plenty of new fans, it is safe to say. Her routine about guys hogging all the haemoglobin in the world was very well-received. Sorabh Pant drew plenty of chuckles with the older crowd in particular, especially when he described growing up in an old-fashioned all-boys’ school. Varun Thakur described the surreal experience of delivering an impromptu all-Hindi set in Amritsar (“My Punjabi Hindi was quite racist…. I basically took every third word from a Honey Singh song”) 

Which left Varun Grover to wrap things up with a deceptively high-energy set that analysed the deeply dysfunctional relationship Indians have with sex in general and sex education in particular. The high point of this set was the delightful Hindi pun Grover made while describing the first time he masturbated—‘veeryagati’, which sounds very similar to veergati ie martyrdom. But ‘veerya’ is the Hindi word for sperm, of course, because of which Grover’s joke drew thunderous laughter from the older folks in particular (in India, it’s a safe bet that Hindi skills are inversely proportional to age for any given audience).   

That, apart from a few breaks to gorge on food and drinks at the Mehboob Studios lawns, was it for day 1. Laughing Dead returns again tomorrow, with three shows lined up: Deadliners 2, Monster Debate and Guts and Glory. Grab your tickets at BookMyShow now!


Aditya Mani Jha

Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based independent writer and journalist. He’s currently working on his first book of non-fiction, a collection of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels.


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