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Friday, Aug 16, 2019

Comicstaan 2: Meet the finalists

Why comedy? What makes them tick? What do their parents make of it all? We sat down for rapid-fire rounds with the five finalists fighting for the top spot on August 16.

entertainment Updated: Aug 13, 2019 17:12 IST
Natasha Rego
Natasha Rego
The Comicstaan contestants  have to write new material each week, deal with various themes and formats of comedy, and learn to work in teams, which was a new experience for many of the contestants.
The Comicstaan contestants have to write new material each week, deal with various themes and formats of comedy, and learn to work in teams, which was a new experience for many of the contestants.
         

The second season of India’s only unscripted comedy reality show is headed into its finale on August 16. “This time around we found that the comics were more prepared for the format, and the stresses of that format,” says Neeti Palta, a comedian and one of the seven judges on the show.

The stresses include writing new material each week, dealing with themes dictated by the show, and working in teams — which was particularly stressful for the comics that had only ever worked solo.

On August 9, the five finalists were announced. They must now compete for the title of S2 winner, which comes with a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh. But, and this time it’s not a cliché, they’re all winners already, in a sense.

Last year’s five finalists got picked up by talent management agencies and have become regulars on the touring circuit, which is what most stand-ups aim for — the ability to have multiple shows sponsored in different cities, to increase visibility, strengthen their brand.

‘Jokes that make no sense are very popular’

“I learnt early on that jokes were a tool for making friends. If you could make people laugh, you gained their respect,” says Samay Raina, the youngest of the lot, who’s still awaiting his engineering results.
“I learnt early on that jokes were a tool for making friends. If you could make people laugh, you gained their respect,” says Samay Raina, the youngest of the lot, who’s still awaiting his engineering results. ( Courtesy: Amazon Prime Video )

Samay Raina has a perpetual look of bewilderment on his face. It’s possible that’s just his face. It’s also possible that the world as he sees it is perpetually bewildering to him.

He’s from Kashmir, but has never lived there. Grew up in Hyderabad, studied “something called printing engineering” in Pune. That’s where he began doing stand-up 18 months ago. Now 21, still waiting for his final exam results, he’s moved to Mumbai to build a career in comedy.

“Come watch me perform if you want to know more about printing engineering,” he says.

What was your childhood ambition?

I wanted to be an astrophysicist. I also used to watch the Great Indian Laughter Challenge a lot, and read Khushwant Singh joke books, and go around retelling these jokes. It was a great way to get attention. It became a tool for making friends. If you could make people laugh, you gained their respect.

What has your time in stand-up taught you about comedy?

I’ve noticed that I like taking shots at the authorities, people in power. I’ve also learnt that jokes that make no sense are still laughed at.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever got?

To never take another comic’s advice. Everyone’s process is different. There is no governing rule, no books, manuals or lectures that will help you as much as going on stage as much as you can and conquering it. Without that stage presence, even great jokes won’t work.

So, a barrister walks into a bar

“At home, I don’t get to wake up and discuss jokes with my parents while eating upma,” says Raunaq Rajani, who’s dabbled in many professions, before settling on comedy. “So being at Comicstaan is like being at a vigorous comedy workshop. It changes you as a comedian.”
“At home, I don’t get to wake up and discuss jokes with my parents while eating upma,” says Raunaq Rajani, who’s dabbled in many professions, before settling on comedy. “So being at Comicstaan is like being at a vigorous comedy workshop. It changes you as a comedian.” ( Courtesy: Amazon Prime Video )

Raunaq Rajani, 24, has been doing stand-up in Mumbai since he was 16. He’s got videos on YouTube with over a million views, in some cases. He’s even had a minor controversy — a set on Indian superstition got quite a few people angry.

He also has a law degree, has worked in PR and digital media agencies, and done a stint at the family real-estate business. “I love stand-up most,” he says.

Why law?

I’d always wanted to be a cartoonist or a lawyer. I ended up getting a law degree, but never practised. Still, I think it’s good backup in case someone ever files a case against over one of my jokes.

What’s it been like on Comicstaan?

When you’re in a hotel with fellow comedians for almost two months, you’re discussing jokes all the time. At home, I don’t get to wake up and discuss jokes with my parents while eating upma. So it’s like being at a vigorous comedy workshop. It changes you as a comedian.

Why not just focus on your YouTube videos instead?

I wanted to expand the audience for my work. The other day I was at a mall, and a man came up to me and said he had watched me in a particular episode and enjoyed it. That’s the first time that has happened in eight years of doing this. This experience has also opened me up to the idea of collaborating, because it was fun doing that on the show. I had never done it before nor known that I could.

The last ‘Supaarwoman’ standing

“I see through the lens of someone who loves absurdity,” says Supriya Joshi, who clinched her spot in the top five in the last two rounds.
“I see through the lens of someone who loves absurdity,” says Supriya Joshi, who clinched her spot in the top five in the last two rounds. ( Courtesy: Amazon Prime Video )

Supriya Joshi aka Supaarwoman has written on a variety of topics, social mores mostly, and been written about, for her comedic commentary. She’s had a stint with the now-defunct comedy group AIB, and is just coming off a freelance assignment as a writer on TLC’s Midnight Misadventures with Mallika Dua. The 33-year-old Mumbaiite is the last woman standing in Comicstaan 2.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A doctor. That’s the first dream I remember. But when I got my Class 10 results, that dream was quickly put to rest.

As a comedian, what influences you?

I see through the lens of someone who loves absurdity. I grew up watching Govinda movies, which are silly and pointless. But they make you laugh! I try not to take life too seriously, because it’s not. It’s difficult and sad. But there is laughter in that sadness, and once you can laugh at your sadness, there’s nothing better than that.

What advice do you have for aspiring comedians watching you at home?

Get on stage, whether you think your material is good enough or not. Don’t wait. The thing to remember is no one is great their first time up there. You may bomb 100 times before you figure it out. But you will figure it out.

Fly by night

“I wanted to be a cricketer, but my father thought it would be better for me to finish school,” says Aakash Gupta, who’s earned two perfect 10s from the judges so far.
“I wanted to be a cricketer, but my father thought it would be better for me to finish school,” says Aakash Gupta, who’s earned two perfect 10s from the judges so far.

So far, Aakash Gupta from Delhi looks like the boy to beat. He’s got consistently high scores, the audience loves him too. He began doing stand-up fresh out of college, four years ago. By day, he worked as an auditor with an MNC in Delhi. By night, he started performing at open mics. “I had done a lot of theatre and improv in college, but standup was a different process altogether; here I was writing my own material,” says Gupta, 26. “Open mics are still great practice for me. If I find out there’s one around, I’ll sign up no matter what city I’m in.”

Was it always comedy for you?

I wanted to be a cricketer, but my father thought it would be better for me to finish school.

What’s the big dream?

I don’t dream big, just plan big. I am going to tour about 10 cities after the show is over. After which I’m hoping to shoot a stand-up video for my YouTube channel. Then I want to go on an even bigger tour to non-metro cities and towns, where hopefully I’ll have sold-out shows.

What’s your advice to young, aspiring comedians?

Perform at as many open mics as possible. Also, the smaller cities in India have a rather undeveloped stand-up scene. It’s only possible for small cities to develop and become comedy friendly if the local comedians and establishments make it so, by setting up venues and organising open mics and shows.

Flying without wings

“I want to be effortlessly funny. I want to have a cult following,” says the 26-year-old comic from Jamshedpur.
“I want to be effortlessly funny. I want to have a cult following,” says the 26-year-old comic from Jamshedpur. ( Courtesy: Amazon Prime Video )

Sumit Sourav was “born, brought up and spoilt” in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. He was a quiet, introverted boy who admired the power of the stage from afar. Studying engineering in Kolkata, he “decided I was no longer going to be a chomu”. He acted in a play, made presentations at techfests, and signed up for a few open mic nights, where he bombed at first, but eventually figured it out. He then got a job as a VFX designer with edtech startup Byju’s in bengaluru, and auditioned for Comicstaan S2.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A pilot. The idea of getting paid to roam the world sounded great to my teenage self.

What’s the dream?

I follow international comics who started their careers some 25 years ago and their content is still relevant today. This is the goal. I don’t just want to be popular. Or famous. I want to be effortlessly funny. I want to have a cult following.

What advice do you have for aspiring comedians?

Standup is an endless rainforest — the further you venture into it, the more there is to discover. Find your own unique identity. Nothing works like authenticity. ‘This is who I am, this is my upbringing is, and this is me!’ Never sacrifice or lost sight of that.

First Published: Aug 10, 2019 18:15 IST

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