‘Comedy has transcended language barriers’

Comedian Ashish Shakya talks about his new stand-up special, the changing scene of comedy in India, and more
Ashish Shakya
Ashish Shakya
Updated on Mar 06, 2020 03:30 PM IST
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Mumbai | BySanskrita Bharadwaj

In 2006, comedian Ashish Shakya gave up his engineering degree and became a full-time comedy writer. In a world of instant approvals and validations, that gives space to comedy and humour artistes, Ashish was able to find his niche, and a stand-up career followed soon after.

As a stand-up comedian, he has performed at various shows across India and abroad.

As a member of AIB, which was a well-known comedy collective, Ashish has been part of several projects, one of which was AIB Knockout – India’s first ever comedy roast featuring Karan Johar, Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh. However, AIB was dissolved in May last year following sexual harassment allegations against one of their members, Gursimran Khamba.

We recently spoke to Ashish about his first-ever comedy special, Life Is Good. The show, which is little under an hour, has been honed over the last two years of his career, or as he says, “the last 34 years of his existence – whichever backstory you prefer”. He also opened up about comedy in India, and more.

What is Life is Good about?

I’m oscillating between goofy and sharp. It contains jokes on everything from the futility of nostalgia, to the ridiculousness of youth, to terrorists, Bollywood, satire, romance and the pointlessness of existence. It’s a mixed bag of thoughts on my observations. Essentially, this is my attempt at finding my voice on stage after a hiatus. This special is more introspective, slightly different from my earlier stuff. I feel like it’s a representation of all of my voices but at the core, the idea is to just make it funny.

What is the idea behind doing this special now? Why should people watch it?

I really wanted to do a comedy special. I wanted it to be the kind of show that people, after a long tiring day, could sit back, relax and watch. People should watch it because it’s funny, it’s chill, it’s relatable. It won’t change your life but you’ll laugh, get some sweet dopamine hits.

Why is everyone from the now dissolved AIB coming up with their respective standup specials around the same time?

That’s mostly a coincidence. Around 2015, I stopped doing stand-up shows and around the end of 2017, I slowly started getting back on stage, and this special has been in the making since then. I have been doing a lot of writing, individually, and I would do corporate shows, but I needed some time to build a ‘special’. From 2017 to 2019, a lot of material was written but I didn’t really like some of them, so those were junked.

What do you think about the way comedy is evolving in India?

I enjoy so many different styles of comedy, and everyone’s trying different styles as well. I see comedy evolving in many ways now that new people have entered the scene. The ones who got into the scene earlier, are now trying different formats and ideas to stay relevant. It’s hard to do the ‘next big thing’, you know. You always have to be ahead of your audience.

What role has the Internet played?

The Internet has obviously played a big role. Comedy has transcended language barriers. Thanks to the internet, a lot of people have found their voices and a space to express themselves creatively. The next big stars might not necessarily come from Delhi or Mumbai, but from smaller towns.

Do you think women have been able to break into comedy like men have?

It is a fact that there are fewer women in comedy. I also think that it is a social issue, for instance, there are fewer women engineers too. However, I do think the way comedy is changing in India, it is going to become better.

Why don’t we have more political satires like what John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Hasan Minhaj do?

Every comic in India with a political bent does not lack talent. But we lack the protection that those people have, in terms of freedom of speech. For instance, they don’t have cases slapped on their faces, phone calls are not made to production houses saying, ‘how dare you say that!’ That’s why a lot of them hold themselves back. What happened with Kunal Kamra a few weeks ago, is unjustified and we are all with him.

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