The 10 comics of Comicstaan’s first season were all skilled in different ways, and all had moments in which they shone on stage. They were all experienced performers trying new material every week, and seeking constantly to hone their craft.
The scoring and the contestants’ rankings were all important to give the show an air of drama and excitement, but for serious watchers of comedy, it’s pretty apparent that the contestants’ movements up and down the leader board didn’t really mean anything. They were all exciting talents who have since remained prominent on the comedy scene.
That said, we couldn’t help noticing that the three women performers kind of had an edge over their seven male counterparts. To be sure, all the comedians have evolved since, and we’ve seen the men grow stronger at rooms across Mumbai. But at least on the strength of what aired on the show, we felt that the three women contestants were doing riskier, more powerful material.
This first struck us with Sejal Bhat’s set in the audition episode. Bhat did a bit about penises, and how they could be harnessed to generate electricity. It was funny, even if it didn’t leave us in splits—and we were impressed with how out there the idea was, and how fully Bhat committed to it as a performer. Her fleeting impression of a penis coming to life when it is aroused rightly drew praise from the judges for just how outrageous it was.
In the fourth episode, which featured observational comedy, Bhat talked about how humans are the only species to sexualise what are essentially udders—again, a bawdy and risky idea (apart from being quite a sharp piece of observation) that she performed fearlessly, and left us laughing. In contrast, the men stuck to more familiar sounding observational bits—such as when to send friend requests, and poor people versus rich people, performed effectively, no doubt, but lacking the edginess of some of Bhat’s material.
Aishwarya Mohanraj, too, took on very risky material when she joked about the deaths of young people versus those of old people. Her “Why I Deserve To Win Comicstaan” bit was one of the most delightfully crackpot bits across the entire season, and destroyed the audience and judges.
If we had to pick one standout performer from Season 1, it would be Prashasti Singh. In her audition round, she opened with a hilarious joke about being mistaken for a porn star. And the rest of the short set matched up as well, with wry, unexpected observations.
As with the other women contestants, what truly stood out was her completely original style—Singh’s onstage persona combined a small-town, rambly, anecdotal approach with a razor-sharp modern sensibility. Her next set, in the observational round, was also strong—Singh spoke about moving to a big city from a small town, and discovering urban courtship and casual sex. Remarkably, she managed to do several things at once—tell a funny story, give voice to the experience of countless women like her and savagely skewer the breed of men who want intimacy, comfort and sex, but blanch at the thought of any emotional involvement (“liberation begins and ends with his man bun”). It was a remarkable combination of insight and performance skill to see in one performer.
These comedians are still raw, no doubt, but with work and support, they and the other women have the potential to reshape the contours of stand-up comedy in India.