New Delhi: After the fall of All India Bakchod (AIB) — that went from being a household name to having no money, no CEO and no office by May this year – there’s been a large vacuum at the head of the table.
But the show, after all, must go on, and there’s a host of new names taking over the screens and stages. Many are emerging from Comicstaan, a comedy contest aired on Amazon Prime Video.
Produced by Only Much Louder (OML), the artist management and entertainment company that handled the AIB and gave us music festivals like NH7 Weekender, the show is currently in its second season. It has garnered largely favourable reviews, injecting 10 new comedians into the industry every season.
But, it goes beyond the show. Former writers at AIB, who were let go from their roles as the company collapsed around them, are also making their way to greener pastures — be it individual stand-up acts, mini web-series or OTT platform content.
Now, with the stage set for a changed paradigm, the race to comedy primacy is anyone’s game — and these are the players to watch.
Known on Twitter and Instagram as @supaarwoman, this former writer at AIB is creating a stand-up comedy niche of her own, most recently as a contestant on Amazon Prime’s second season of Comicstaan. Early episodes saw Joshi doing a ‘fake-taxi’ act that “that really stood out”.
Described by Insider as a “caped crusader battling the pointlessness of life, one meme at a time,” Joshi made to Verve magazine’s (Em)Power List, when she gracefully hit back at trolls who fat-shamed her.
“Essentially breast cancer is to women what demonetisation was to India. It just showed up unexpectedly and took away all our assets.”
From joking about ‘breasts, bras and periods,’ to giving a TEDx talk about ‘Managing Negativity and Self Love,’ Joshi is going places.
It would be easy to think of her story as just one of a small-town girl making it in a big city, but Singh, who went from a 10th grade topper in Amethi to becoming an engineer, holding an MBA degree, achieving corporate success and then becoming comedian, was anything but conventional even before the first season of Comicstaan shot her to fame.
“I’ve worked in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and now, Mumbai. So I’m a well-traveled person that way, but the village doesn’t just go away,” Singh told podcasters Meghnad S and Shreyas on IVM’s How to Citizen. The Uttar Pradesh accent from her English has not disappeared and Singh, thankfully, makes no attempt to hide it.
With an endearing awkwardness, she represents an India caught at the cultural precipice between the old and the new, navigating relationships, careers, changing family dynamics and finding a sense of self as a woman in a world in constant flux.
“Maine bachpan se na, sachhe pyaar ke bahut se sapne dekhe the. But, mujhe kaafi sadma laga when I came to Mumbai and realised ki yahaan toh pyaar, mohabbat ka fashion hi khatam ho chuka hai (I had dreamt of being in true love ever since my childhood. But, when I came to Mumbai, I got a shock and realised that the concept of love has vanished from here),” Singh started a stand-up bit in Comicstaan 1.
“But, thankfully we have new-age Bollywood huh, that told me ki aaj ki date mein sache pyaar ki pehli seedi hai casual sex (In today’s world, the first step towards true love is casual sex).”
“Matlab bas yeh khoon ka ghoot pee leejeye, toh true love is guaranteed (If you can do it, true love is guaranteed).”
The Amethi girl performs regularly in Mumbai, has been on stage in Dubai, sits with comedians Rohan Joshi, who was with AIB, and Sahil Shah on panels discussing Game of Thrones, records podcasts with Abish Mathew, also an AIB member, and features in other Amazon Prime shows.
The first two hits under his name on YouTube will tell you he’s married and has an MBA — fairly common characteristics for upper-middle class urban males. But, look closely and you’ll see that Kumar’s “first ever stand-up video” garnered 2.6 million views in just three months.
When he started his MBA, Kumar says in a stand-up show, everyone told him to expect much more diverse classes than those in engineering. “Aur actually aisa hua. (And, this exactly happened)”.
“Har type ke, har background ke log the class mein. Like there were people from humanities, architecture, economics, fashion designing, law — yeh sab mila ke…batch ka one per cent the (There were people from diverse backgrounds, from humanities, architecture, economics, fashion designing, law. All of them accounted for one per cent of the batch.”
His expression is dead-pan disappointment, and his casual stance against the microphone makes it seem like he’s barely trying.
Kumar isn’t entirely a new face on the circuit, and the millions who watched AIB’s Honest Engineering Campus Placements videos probably know him as Failure.
In real life, though, the lisping comedian graduated with an engineering degree with 9.06 CGPA, passed the CAT with a 99.3 percentile and received his MBA from FMS (Faculty of Management Studies) in Delhi. For a significant part of his comedy career, Kumar was also juggling a full-time job as a brand manager with Mahindra.
While the gig didn’t last, as Kumar chose comedy instead, he did meet the other-half of Random Chikibum at Mahindra — namely Rahul Subramaniam. Together, the duo went on to win Comedy Hunt organised by OML in 2015.
Since AIB’s closure, Varun has signed a new web series, Mr Das, and performs in Mumbai. Kumar also starred in Amazon Prime’s Chacha Vidhayak Hain Humare, created by and co-starring Zakir Khan, and appeared in TLC’s Queens vs Kings.
While things have been uphill for Dua since his second-place finish on Comicstaan 1, he also believes that India is at least four decades behind the likes of the US in the comedy industry.
In an interview, the young comedian said, “We all are still exploring and trying to take a cue from mature markets in terms of content as well as formats.”
“My content is sub-par as compared to what is done overseas,” he added. “I want to reach a particular level before I diversify.”
Dua, unlike a lot of his contemporaries, is beginning to venture into the precarious realm of political satire. In his second stand-up video, uploaded on YouTube in April, he said:
“I’ve started to read the news now.”
“Kab tak aisa karte rehenge ki Punjab se hai, girlfriend bhaag gayi, jeans nahi pehen sakte (How long are we going to say that he/she is from Punjab or that girlfriend has eloped, or can’t wear jeans),” he says in the show.
Nishant Suri doesn’t really use Twitter. “I just don’t like it, it’s too much work, and a lot of platforms can be very toxic spaces,” he tells ThePrint, adding that he would “rather not read a bunch of comments in which people are abusing me. I’m happy in my bubble.”
When Suri, who describes himself as an “introverted comedian”, won Comicstaan 1, it “changed his life.” Suddenly, the engineer-turned-investment banker-turned-wedding photographer was making national headlines, being signed by OML, and being asked to ‘open up about his journey on the show, and life before comedy.’
Suri, who is known for his evocative delivery style and self-deprecating humour, says he didn’t become a comedian for the limelight.
“Before I start, yes I know, I look like a young Saddam Hussein.”
“The spotlight will come on you and it’ll eventually go away as well, right, and I’m okay with that. I don’t want to do work based on what other people’s expectations of me are, I just want to do it at my own pace. I don’t plan to participate in the rat race even now,” he tells ThePrint.
Suri and Dua have frequently done live shows together, including in Dubai last month. Currently, he’s writing new material for videos and plans to go on tour in October-November.
“Main jabh bhi yeh (ulti wali) joke karta hoon, saari audience ‘aye haye, chhee chee’ shuru kar deti hai – jisme se mostly hoti hai ladkiyan. (Whenever I make jokes on vomitting, audience, mostly girls, start saying yuck, yucky). I’ll tell you why.”
“Ladkiyon ki visualisation power hi kuch aur hi hoti hai yaar. Aap ulti bole, unko taste aa jata hai (Girls have tremendous visual power. You just say vomit and they get the taste of it).”
As a member of the theatre club in Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, Gupta always harboured a love for performance. Improv comedy has “really liberated me as a performer,” he tells ThePrint, as “so I started signing up for different kinds of comedy opportunities as well.”
Two years of open mic nights — from a four-minute set to a half-hour slot — finally made Gupta confident enough to put two videos on YouTube in 2017, which currently have 5.9 and 6.2 million views.
While we don’t yet know who will win Comicstaan 2, the 27-year-old has left with an OML contract, the determination to write a solo one-hour show, and a multi-city tour in August.
“From Sarojini Nagar markets to my school life, my style is to explore as many themes as I can, both in my life and what I observe around me,” Gupta says. And he’s proficient in, and enjoys, varied forms of comedy — observational, improv, stand-up and sketch writing.
“When I was a kid, I really had nothing going for me. I studied in school full of rich kids, and while some were great at sports, others excelled in academics, but I didn’t really fit in,” the 24-year-old from Mumbai tellsThePrint.
He developed his comic timing “like a defense mechanism around me – so that I could convert my low self-esteem into something worthwhile.”
“I was raised in a very conservative family, you know. I was one of those kids who would not study for the exam, par mein margin mein ‘Om’ likhta tha (I used to write ‘Om’ on the margins).
He says there was a time in his life “when I was very serious about being a real estate agent.”
But eventually, Rajani realised that he “doesn’t want to live a life where I don’t do stand-up.”
As a Comicstaan contestant, he has also scored a contract with OML and plans to create his one-hour show to take across the country, or perhaps collaborate with an OTT media house.
Anubhav Singh Bassi
“Pehle toh main college pahuncha, mujhe gaanja mil gaya. Maine phooka, semester khatam ho gaya. Woh bahut sahi cheez hai. Maine chhe mahine itna phooka na, do bar toh main Shiv ji ke sapne mein aa gaya (I went to the college and got ganja. I smoked up and my semester ended. I smoke up so much for six months that I ended up coming in Shiv ji’s dreams).
16 million views for Cheating and 8.3 million views for Waxing — Bassi “went viral like Zakir Khan,” an OML employee said.
Most would describe the former Supreme Court lawyer as a humourous narrator, who has perfected the art of comedic storytelling for Indian audiences.
With Bas Kar Bassi, a 50-minute show on his lifestyle choices and career, he plans to perform in multiple cities, including Bhopal, Guwahati, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Gurugram, Surat, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Jalandhar, Kolkata and Mumbai.
Srishti Dixit became internet-famous as a content writer with BuzzFeed India, where she continues to work as a celebrity/Bollywood writer, although she has decided to freelance instead of writing full-time for BuzzFeed, in the hopes of exploring more acting roles alongside shorter producing projects.
Her 2016 video, If Real Life Was a TV Serial, put her on the short, but celebrated list of viral female content creators. While her sketch comedy videos have helped her gain traction online, it’s her ability to respond to contemporary news in a socially aware yet hilarious way that makes her a name to remember.
“Toh chaliye shuru karte hai, ek swast, taazi twacha ke saath (So, let’s start with a healthy and fresh skin)
*Starts washing her face*
“Waise I would suggest ki agar aapka character mere jitna impure hai, toh aap naha hi leejiye (But, I would suggest that if your character is impure like mine, then it’s better to take a showe)”.
Dixit’s humour is the comedic embodiment of IRL — In Real Life. A number of her sketches even incorporate that very phrase.
Through humour, Dixit manages to highlight the absurdity of conventional societal norms — whether it’s men thinking that sending dick pictures is normal or the internalised misogyny peddled by makeup companies, the assertion of the self, particularly as a woman, forms the core of her comedy.
“Female comedy does have to be slightly different, because our experiences are different,” she had said in an interview last year.
“Many men won’t laugh at jokes about periods or bra straps, but we are building a strong female community — and some progressive men too —that is waking up to content that makes them laugh,” she added.
You might not have heard of the name Pavitra Shetty, “but she’s one of the most well-respected comics here in Mumbai,” an OML employee tells ThePrint, adding that “every well-established comedian is following her work and respects her a great load.”
As someone outside the umbrella of OML, Shetty is building her reputation the old-school way — one stand-up gig at a time. She doesn’t have a YouTube channel, she has just close to 2,000 followers, and only 872 people like her Facebook page.
But with endorsements from comedians such as Kunal Kamra, Naveen Richard and Amit Tandon, and an upcoming weekend show with Urooj Ashfaq in Bengaluru, Shetty is laughing her way to the bank.
“Watching Dear Zindagi cos too poor too afford therapy,” her pinned tweet reads.
Shetty launched her trial one-hour solo show in Mumbai on 13 July this year.