Rahul Subramanian on the Indian stand-up comedy scene: 'I want comics to be able to say anything'

Abhinav Jai Singh

Apr 18, 2018 16:08:34 IST

Rahul Subramanian has rapidly become one of the most recognisable faces in Indian stand-up comedy, and he's very much aware of it. Rahul, like countless other young Indians, completed his engineering, secured an MBA, and made a living with a cushy corporate job before doing what he really wanted to do. For Rahul, stand-up comedy came to the rescue.

"Yesterday Kumar Varun (a comedian himself and Rahul's frequent collaborator) and I were shooting for a sketch which had an office setup", says Rahul with a guileless grin on his face, "and there was a moment between takes when I looked at Varun and asked if he got that feeling like they'd have to step into the office, start the computer and respond to several e-mails," to which Kumar Varun said, "I never want to go back to that life". Rahul feels the same way. For Rahul, comedy kind of just happened. He never imagined that stand-up would become an inseparable part of his life.

Rahul's transition into the Indian comedy scene was a slow and steady one. Before he decided to pursue stand-up professionally, Rahul made some very tough decisions. "I still had a job when I started stand-up. I kept my job for two whole years while doing comedy gigs on the side," he recalls, "it was like working in the mornings and playing football every night".

A year and a half into stand-up, Rahul knew he could make a living from it. He also knew he won't be making as much money as he did at his "overpaid MBA job", but it was a risk worth taking.

Rahul Subramanian on the Indian stand-up comedy scene: I want comics to be able to say anything

Rahul Subramanian in his Amazon stand-up special Kal Main Udega/Image from YouTube.

"You either romanticise about the best situation, or you get scared thinking about the worst," admits Rahul, "it was in 2016 that I made the toughest decision: rejecting a job with a 35% salary bump". Like anyone with an MBA, Rahul carefully explained the intricacies of his decision. "I was getting a job in FMCG marketing. It was a move from corporate branding to FMCG. For non-FMCG marketeers, it is the dream. Nothing can be better". And yet, Rahul chose to opt-out from the revered yet dreaded corporate structure. He instead chose to take the stage night after night trying to make people laugh; people with regular jobs like the one he'd rejected.

Talking about his very first open mic experience, Rahul says he stammered while onstage, cracked some very bad jokes, and absolutely bombed. A few years later, he has his own Amazon Prime Video India comedy special Kal Main Udegaand he doesn't hold back while talking about it. "I am the funniest," says Rahul letting out a loud laughter. His comedy is firmly rooted in his belief that he genuinely is a funny guy, and many agree he is. There's a certain spark and excitement on Rahul's face while discussing his style of comedy; a style he calls his own.

"I tell jokes about whatever I think is funny. For me, it's a natural process. Whatever makes me giggle becomes a joke. My humour is very random. I'm too lazy to create a process," he says. Rahul even admits to not being influenced by other stand-up comics: "My humour is really mine; it's the kind of jokes I crack when I'm with my friends".

The nonchalant attitude with which he speaks about his journey is carried forward when talking about more serious issues plaguing the Indian comedy scene. Rahul truly is the glass-half-full guy. When asked about the obvious constraints on a comedian in India, Rahul says that even though there are topics which are untouchable, he is hopeful about the scene and sees it as an open platform. "Yes, I want people to be able to say anything on stage because comedy is an act, and it's not to be taken seriously. The Indian comedy scene is still so much better than where I was before. But, as a comedian, I want it to be better. I want stand-up comics to be able to say anything".

Rahul's brand of comedy, which leans towards the absurdist style, is an actual representation of the man himself. He is not hesitant about his comedy being labelled 'safe', or not bringing up political, religious, or national issues into his stand-up sets. "I have no opinions," says Rahul with a straight face, "any topic that doesn't come naturally to me or I'm unsure about, I don't joke about it".

In the end, Rahul compares stand-up to being in school right before recess, waiting for the bell to ring. "When you're doing something you love, you don't have to put in the effort. There are no second thoughts, no contemplation. It's because you're doing something you love, and I never imagined something like this will happen in my life," he says. Rahul's hopefulness regarding India's stand-up scene is something to behold; he believes great things are yet to come.

Updated Date: Apr 18, 2018 16:08:34 IST