Comicstaan: Tanmay Bhat, Kanan Gill, Kaneez Surka on Amazon's upcoming show and all things comedy
Ten comedians who will be seen mentoring upcoming comics on the talent hunt show reveal their breakthrough moments years ago, in the absence of a Comicstaan
Humour is tragedy plus time. But comedy turned into tragedy for 10 comedians who witnessed upcoming comic talents put their best foot forward on Comicstaan, Amazon Prime Video India's upcoming reality show.
Tanmay Bhat, co-founder of All India Bakchod that gave the Indian comedy scene a watershed event in the AIB Roast, attributes his rise as an independent comedian to fellow judges on the panel, some of whom he has mentored over the years.
"I remember years ago, I opened for Tanmay during a show in Bangalore. For me, he was the Tanmay Bhat, the new big thing in comedy. Since then, I still consult him on sharing my stuff on YouTube or for anything related to my set," says Kenny Sebastian, who has been performing on stage since he was 19. Sapan Verma, who is a co-founder of East India Comedy, recalls he left EIC for a short duration to collaborate with Bhat for a Bangalore show.
Tanmay, amazed by how long his collaborations with fellow comedians have lasted, considers uniting with Rohan Joshi, Gursimran Khamba and Ashish Shakiya for the first episode of AIB Podcast season 1 as his breakthrough in the comedy circles. But with the meteoric rise of AIB, his individual identity took a backseat. Then, the comics he inspired over the years returned the favour, propelling his confidence in the capacity of an individual performer. "I share an equation with everyone on this panel. And that really shows when we all work together," says Tanmay at the trailer launch of Comicstaan.
Ten years ago, in the absence of a Comicstaan or a similar streamlined talent hunt show, breaking into the comedy scene had its share of pros and cons. "The good thing is when we started, there were not many comedians. YouTube came as a boon for us and pushing out any video would get us noticed," says Kaneez Surka, while maintaining that she still needed the crutch of a TV show to get her work exposed to a pan-Indian audience. She debuted on the small screen with The Week That Wasn't but owes her breakthrough in comedy to featuring in AIB videos.
"I went from improv comedy (her niche) to sketch to stand-up in so many years. I feel envious that the contestants of Comicstaan would get to hone their skills in multiple forms of comedy within just 10 weeks," points out Kaneez. While she will mentor the contestants in the area of improv, all her fellow judges have also been assigned a particular form to develop the contestants' skills in. Kanan Gill reveals the form of comedy he is mentoring the contestants in is a "secret."
Having started his career in comedy at the grassroots level, his breakthrough in the comedy circles is the same as his fellow judge, Biswa Kalyan Rath. "Pretentious Movie Reviews worked out well only because it was preceded by the success of AIB and EIC. Without them, the concept of comedy on YouTube would have not gained as wide an acceptance," says Kanan, who believes that the fiction shows on Amazon Prime Video India, like Biswa's Laakhon Mein Ek and Sumukhi Suresh's Pushpavalli, have added another dimension to new age comedy in India. "I've been writing fiction since I was in school. I primarily wanted to be an author. I had a blog too but I haven't been able to translate it into a special yet," says Kanan.
Fiction has also emerged as a great tool to comment on society and politics under the guise of rebellious characters, particularly in times of extreme censorship. The teaser of Comicstaan had an interesting take on this curbing of freedom of speech as all the comedians were seen struggling with their taped mouths. But as the tagline of the show spells out, "The future is funny." Instances of ridiculous objections to comedians' creativity are a given but the idea of mentoring a new breed of comedians instills newfound hope in the current ones.
"Watching these comedians for 10 episodes is like investing in 10 hours of their lives. It is not the same as YouTube. The audience gets to know all the contestants personally. When you watch Friends, tu bolega Monica Chandler ki shaadi honi chahiye! (you would yearn to see Monica and Chandler married) Similarly, the audience invests in the journey of all the participants," says Tanmay.
Emotional investment and empathy for comedians are the need of the hour in times where the freedom of speech has become a travesty. But with the backing of an OTT platform and 10 comedians, the future indeed looks funnier. With time, may this tragedy turn into comedy.
Comicstaan will be judged by Tanmay, Kanan, Kaneez, Biswa, Kenny, Sapan and Naveen Richards. It will be co-hosted by Abish Mathew and Sumukhi. It will start streaming on Amazon Prime Video India on 13 July.
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