LAUGHTER HOUSE FROM INDIA

150

KANEEZ SURKA is an improviser, actor, sketch performer and stand-up comedian. A formidable host, she currently presents ‘The General Fun Game Show’ which has featured popular comics including Kanan Gill, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Tanmay Bhat and Rohan Goshi. One of India’s first female improvisers, she has been invited to four international improv festivals and conducted improv workshops across India. Her latest special, ‘Improv All Stars’, is receiving rave reviews on Amazon Prime.
What content are you bringing to Melbourne?
With regards to my stand up material, I talk about what it’s like being a divorced Indian woman, a childless 35-year old, what it was like moving to India from South Africa and what it was like growing up in South Africa.
I’m also going to host two improv shows – India’s Improv Dream Team and who knows what content will come out of those shows.

One reason why Melburnians should not miss your show?
If you know any other 35-year old woman, who grew up in South Africa then moved to India for a gap year but ended staying for 14 years, got married, made her family and society very happy, then got divorced, was given up on by everyone and decided to then pursue a comedy career – then don’t come for the show cause you’ve probably heard the story before.
Do you feel that the perception of female comedian varies between India and other countries?
I don’t know honestly, I’ve predominantly performed in India and while I’ve done a couple of shows around USA, it wasn’t enough shows to know how people felt about female comedians.
How do you prepare for a new show?
For an improv show, we rehearse a couple of days before. I will personally work on developing new characters and try to get more info about any hot topics from that week.
For stand up, I write general ideas and then go to open mics and kind of improvise my way through those ideas till it becomes a joke and then I’ll write it down and fine tune it.
How much do you engage fans over social media?
Once a week I tend to go through my social media and reply to messages from followers. It’s tough to constantly engage but every now and then I will make an effort.

ANUVAB PAL is widely regarded as one of India’s top stand-ups. The first Indian to perform at London’s Comedy Store, he has since sold out houses from Mumbai to San Francisco. His screenplay for the global hit ‘Loins Of Punjab’ played at 20 international festivals and remains the highest grossing Indian English comedy film of all time. Known for his dry and clever humour, Anuvab has been called ‘India’s answer to British wit’ by the BBC and appears on ‘The Bugle’ with John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman.
What content are you bringing to Melbourne?
I’m talking about how the British Empire made India confused and confident at the same time, mainly because of the English language. I’m talking about Indian parents who say insane things and the fine line between love and insanity. I’m talking about how I am thoroughly unqualified to be present in, by all travel accounts, the most hip city on the planet. Yours.
So that’s three things. I’ll be talking about 11 other things. Including my colossally failed attempt at Yoga.
You have often said you want to bring some ‘stand-up to history’ because of the ‘boring shit about history’ taught at school? Do you have a favourite history joke? Or do you have to adapt your material for a new country?
I love a lot of British Indian history especially the idea that the British gave us tea, we drank it, paid double the price only to realise it was our tea being sold back to us.
With the general elections coming up in India, do you feel politically engaged?
I find political campaigning in India very funny because it is like stand up. Crowds in the hundreds of thousands. People can barely hear you. So the candidate has to do jokes and mimicry et al, to get attention. Policy speeches are a big no no. One footballer did his well-known header trick and won by a landslide.
Do millennials understand your jokes?
I have found that millennials speak English. Hard to fathom but they do. And my jokes are in English. So shockingly, we find common ground. Only briefly.
How much do you engage fans over social media?
Recently, someone made some ‘fan art’. I didn’t know what that meant on Twitter. I felt like I was obligated to pay this person. Till I was told, it is a thing.

NAVEEN RICHARD is perhaps best known as a member of comedy collective ‘Them Boxer Shorts’, creators of the acclaimed web series ‘Better Life Foundation’. One of India’s most versatile comedians, Naveen is celebrated for his perfect impressions of everyone from your cab driver to your landlady. His quintessential character, ‘Uncle Francis’, has a cult following in India and beyond. Since becoming a finalist on Comedy Central’s Indian Comedy Festival in 2012, Naveen has performed over 400 stand-up shows and headlined Festivals around the country.
From a lawyer to a comedian, how did the transition happen?
I realised a few years into law school that I would have made for a very mediocre lawyer. And a little bit later I realised I could be way more than a mediocre comedian. So it was easy for me to choose the thing that came naturally to me. I never really took up a job in law. I was doing stand-up in my last year of law school and it was paying my bills so I just stuck to it.
It is said that your videos have elevated you to internet celebrity status, do you find social media empowering? Is trolling a problem?
Yeah the internet is what obviously made us. I tried doing TV but realised there’s a lot more freedom on the internet. And yeah, our audience came in from YouTube and Instagram mainly. And now with Amazon Prime Video, we’ve managed to scale up our production and reach audiences in a different way. And we have different kinds of content for each of these platforms so it’s very exciting exploring so many different facets of comedy. Trolling gets to you initially but you learn to handle it and not let it get to you.
What content are you bringing to Melbourne?
I’ll be bringing a bunch of my observational jokes and a couple of personal anecdotes. That’s always been my style. It’s always been English. So I’m quite excited to see how it’s received there!
One reason why Melburnians should not miss your show?
The comedians on our line-up have very unique voices and styles. You’re going to see a whole different side of India represented by us.
What keeps you going when you hit roadblocks or receive criticism?
A quick nap always helps get over criticism. Sleep is a good balm for hurt souls. For roadblocks I always prescribe a good brisk walk to marinate on the problem or maybe even forget about it for a while and then come back to it.

SONALI THAKKER is a Mumbai-based comedian who has been writing, performing and convincing audiences (read: her parents) that she’s a stand-up comic for over six years. With an observational style peppered with self-deprecation, Sonali delights audiences at comedy clubs and festivals around India. Sonali recently finished touring her debut show ‘Almost There’ across India to widespread acclaim, proving to her family that leaving chartered accounting behind was the right choice.
From chartered accountancy to comedy, how has life changed since?
It has changed a lot. From filling out excel sheets to working out punchlines. Life has changed for the better I think.
Do you have any hidden talents you could put to use?
I’m a yoga enthusiast. It’s my dream to do a split on stage, you know how people have their mic drop moment, so exactly that but instead it’s me sliding down. It’s my final back-up in case a punchline fails.

Are you looking forward to performing here? Any challenges you forsee?
It’s been a good run so far. I am of course very nervous. This is also the first time I am performing in a country other than my own so it’s definitely challenging. India is primarily bi-lingual and we’re so used to having our set ups in English and punchlines in Hindi that two-three months before heading here, I completely stopped doing that so as to prepare myself for the festival.

What content are you bringing to Melbourne?
My content is largely based on things that have happened to me or to people who are near and dear to me. So you can say it’s pretty much autobiographical in that sense. You get to know a lot about me as a person after hearing the set.

One reason why Melburnians should not miss your show?
There are many reasons. All the comedians are from the comedy zone of Asia. This year will have very different styles and content. It’s like watching five shows in one night.

RAHUL SUBRAMANIAM had a stellar 2018 debut in the Indian All-Star Comedy Showcase with his solo hour Kal Main Udega. Rahul is a master of jokes that offer no opinion. Since turning his back on an MBA to take up comedy as a New Year’s resolution, the Mumbai-bred Tamilian Rahul has won favour with critics and audiences alike.

What content are you bringing to Melbourne?
It’s my new show called “Is this even comedy?” In this show I talk about harmless stuff like corporate life, motivational speakers, traveling abroad, going clubbing, and how some of these jokes got me in major trouble.

How do you describe your comedy style?
I would say my style oscillates between anecdotal and observational comedy with absurdity as a common thread. Basically I offer no opinion whatsoever. This ensures I am at a safe distance from any kind of trouble and can happily go back to living my life after comedy. Or so I thought…

Chucking your MBA degree to become a comedian, what does your family think about your job now?
My family is of this strong belief that “You should do what you want as long as you don’t come to us for money”. So yeah, they are supportive and I don’t get my pocket money anymore.

How do you select your material? What works best for you?
‘I don’t select my material. My material selects me’. I always wanted to say that because it sounds so inspiring. But the truth of the matter is, in my case it is because of sheer laziness. The mere thought of putting effort for anything gives me fatigue. So rather than being proactive I choose to not do anything until I naturally find something funny.

Anything else you want us to know?
I am doing the same show “Is this even comedy?” in two languages. From April 9 to 14, it’s in Hinglish (Hindi + English) and from April 16 to 21 I do the same show in English. This will be my first solo since my Amazon Prime Special and this will also be the first time I am doing a solo in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. So I am super kicked and can’t wait for you all to see it.

(As told to the Indian Weekly via email)
(For show details visit comedyfestival.com.au)