By Zaiceka Ahmed
Indians have come a long way from a time when we couldn’t think beyond Russell Peters at the mention of stand-up comedy. Today the internet is teeming with fresh talent, and admit it, these guys are the ones whose gigs you exhaust your internet package watching when you should be doing your homework.
And if so, Rahul Subramanian is a name you probably know already. A thorough entertainer, I remember seeing him perform first at Pajama Fest in 2015 organized by Vir Das’ company, Weirdass, and stumbled upon a routine of his (India and Pakistan; Dad on Facebook – you will find a link to the former below) on Facebook a couple of days back.
And when you see such a talent it doesn’t take any persuasion to immediately want to speak to the person!
So that’s what I did.
Rahul Subramanian, one of the newest faces in the comedy circle leading in the popularity race among audiences answers questions that every fan has about him –
For a man with two fancy degrees (we know it takes a lot to get into engineering and business schools), pursuing a career in stand-up comedy sounds mind boggling! What made you choose this over a corporate career?
I did not start doing stand up as a career option. When I started in May 2014, it was more out of frustration of not knowing what I really like doing and the fear of ending up doing a desk job in marketing for the rest of my life. Stand up happened to be a hobby that also doubled as vent to express myself, and because it made me happy I was performing better at office too! As time went by, I started investing more time and effort into it and I also started earning a bit out of it. You can say I was working two jobs, but I realized I gravitated more towards the path of showmanship and had this incredible urge to do better every time I got on stage. When it came to choosing between the two professions, the choice was obvious, and I decided to quit my corporate job. Of course it took me a good 5-6 months, after realization, to actually do it
“Was the transition from a desk job to a stage performance a difficult one?”
Not at all! Stage was so much more fun… in fact, going back to the desk was boring.
“How would you describe the difference in experience between the two?”
Going on stage is exhilarating – you experience an incomparable feeling of complete freedom. The onus of capturing the audience’s attention and making them live your jokes and stories with you is challenging and hence a extremely satisfying when you pull that off. The adrenaline is high and the energy is contagious when you are on stage, and nothing validates that more than the drop in energy you experience the moment you are off stage.
Your routines are generally minutes long… how much time does it actually take to write them up?
So a new routine/set takes a long time before it is ready to be done consistently on shows..
Typically it starts with a premise which comes to me while day dreaming from which I jot down points that I find funny, then incorporating them in a 3-4 minute routine which I try it at 3 – 4 open mics. I retain the parts that get laughs and replace the parts that didn’t with new content. So for me (and I can be slower than others) a good bit takes on an average of 3-4 months to get formed, and another couple to get it really tight.
“Where was your first gig?”
Hive, Khar West, 2014 April, open mic.
“What was it like?”
I had not registered for the event but still turned up at the venue, hoping that I would be allowed a slot if I made enough requests to the host. It was an open mic, and I prepared some 4 minutes of jokes. There were around 20 people there, of which 13-14 were comics and rest audience.When I saw others perform, my confidence oscillated between “I can easily do better than them” and “This is so tough. I am nowhere close to as good as any of them” By the time the last comic went on stage, it was already midnight and only five people –all comics – were left in the audience. I had almost decided to not perform. The host was about to close the show and at that moment (perhaps of stupidity)I raised my hand to ask if I can do a spot too. I was given 3 minutes only – throughout which I stammered, realized that I couldn’t form coherent sentences and most importantly none of what I said was funny. I got off the stage completely depressed, almost about to cry… took an auto home (1 hour ride) and very few times in life did I feel so low. So basically it was a complete disaster!
“How many shows did it take before you realized you were great at this stuff?”
I still don’t think am great at this stuff.. Long way to go. But it took my about 15-20 shows to realize that I can be comfortable expressing my thoughts on stage without the fear of being watched, and also comfortable with the knowledge that not all shows will turn out to be great – in fact 5 out of 10 times I will be somewhat disappointed with how it went. These are phases one has to confront – sometimes you do well, most times you don’t.
“How would you describe your ‘benchmark’ gig?”
Benchmark gigs for me are not necessarily the ones with most number of people in the audience. These would be the ones where I have felt completely free on stage. One specific gig that comes to mind was the one I did at Manhattan Brewery, Gurgaon, in October 2016.
“A lot of people come up to give you a feedback after a performance. What has been the most memorable critique till now?”
A 50-55 year old man after a show spoke to me in all honesty, “You are not as funny as you think you are but I laughed a lot.”
“Highest point in your career till date?”
That would be winning the AllIndia Youtube Comedy Hunt 2015, an event that had over 1500 teams participating, and more than 6-7 rounds of making videos under strict timelines. Our team Random Chikibum, that is run by me and my buddy Kumar Varun, was born out of this competition. We had no experience in video making and thankfully had our good friends Sunny (Direction) and Abhinay (Editing) to help us out make all our videos.
“…and the lowest?”
I performed in a show at Bluefrog, Mumbai, where it was a packed house due to an office party. I was very excited (because that venue is never so full) and was looking forward to it,but once on stage I ended up forgetting lines, jokes and completely self-conscious. Had a terrible show in front of a great crowd. P.S. – The amazing Vipul Goyal went on to close the show to one of the best performances I have ever seen and it just made my failure feel even worse 😀
“Who are your favourite stand-up comics from India and abroad?”
Favourite Stand up comics from India (in no specific order) – Biswa, Karunesh, Sourav Ghosh, Kenny and Abhishek Upmanyu.
Favourite Stand up comic from abroad (and also overall) – Brian Regan
Favourite Comedy performers from India – Kaneez Surka and Kumar Varun… Funniest people I know
“What do you enjoy more – live acts or making sketches?”
Live Acts – The experience of being on stage, physically present in front of an audience is an exhilarating feeling. Sketches on the other hand are quite tiring to make. The process of shooting and preparing for a shoot is quite tedious. What I love about sketches, though, is the process of coming up with ideas and scripts, and to see the end result (the final video) once all the work is done.
“Your fan base has grown very rapidly and your popularity continues to accelerate – how many cities have you preformed in till now?”
Long way to go before I consider myself that popular and honestly, being popular is not even the point.. As long as am able to fill my calendar with shows and shoots for sketches, I am happy. In India, I have performed in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai,Coimbatore, Pune, Ahmedabad, Surat and Baroda . Abroad, I have performed in Dubai twice.
“When do you plan to make a stop at Kolkata? 🙂“
As soon as someone invites me! I have been asking my friend Anirban Dasgupta to help me out.
“Your India Pakistan routine is making waves – but you say you have received mixed reactions for it”
Would be unfair to call it mixed reactions.. It’s been 95% positive. But there are a few who got offended and this happens when people start making judgments about your beliefs on the basis of their interpretations. Which by the way, I think is fair because as I have a right to put a video out they have a right to interpret it
“What is the genesis of your humour?”
Most of my comedy is about taking existing experiences and perceptions and adding a third person’s perspective to it. Jokes are not statements, they are not facts, they are not coming out of a news channel. Jokes are meant to make people laugh because a comedian has brought in an angle which others haven’t seen it. And that is what we try, and I am sure we succeed some of the time, and other times don’t.
“Are there any topics you steer clear of?”
I don’t believe any topic is off limit when it comes to humour, but the key is to do it right, which is tough and the margin of error is very low when it comes to sensitive topics. Every part that ends up being a good bit goes through lot of trials and failures, a time during which you might come off as offensive because you have not nailed it yet. I, personally, am trying to not do jokes which are sexist or ones that look down upon the lesser privileged. I say trying because I have done such jokes in the past and they have been received very well. But the more I am educating myself about feminism, sexism, punching down etc., the more reasons I see why I shouldn’t do such jokes. I don’t know how far I am from actually being there but I am on that journey. In the end, it’s a personal choice. Comics should be allowed to do any jokes they want and people should be free to like, dislike and criticize them.
“Given a chance, what would you choose to be if not a stand-up comic?”
A receptionist or a secretary… I think I am good with people.. Am very courteous and I can be meticulous if told to be.
For more acts by Rahul Subramanian, check out his Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/RahulSubramanic
Find him on Twitter @RahulSubramanic