The news is every Indian comedian’s prime source of punch lines!
Recognized as one of “India’s top ten comedians”, Sorabh Pant’s brand of comedy has gone viral. With more shows that one can count under his belt, his is a name that has gained international recognition. A stand-up comedian, a writer for shows on Star World, Pogo and Channel V along with being an author, Pant has created a rage in the digital space. In a humorous conversation with Pandolin, the comedian talks about his company, ‘The East India Comedy’, ‘Traveling Pants’, ‘The Ghanta awards’ and more.
Let’s start with your process of writing your sketches. Where do you draw inspiration from?
You start like you always do – at the beginning. It’s not like there’s a standard process. But, invariably it comes from some ridiculous story we read in the newspaper. I think that the news is every Indian comedian’s prime source of punch lines! However, we’re constantly wary of ideas that were funny the night before when we were really drunk. Those are the ones that are the bane of our existence!
Why did you enter the digital space?
We started way back in 2012 when nobody was there and we made a bunch of videos that were awful! Which explains why nobody was there. The reason to do videos was largely as a marketing exercise i.e. to get people to come to our shows.
Of course, over time it’s evolved into us doing videos because we like doing them. Now, brands and some pretty big ones at that, are interested and showing considerable confidence in East India Comedy – which gives us hope!
And then how did you get started on digital platforms?
We just started. I don’t think in 2015 you have to contemplate for years on how to create videos online. You can do it on your phone, your friend’s camera, on your laptop, whatever. Obviously, Sapan, Sahil and our video BFF, this wonderful DOP called Siddharth Vasani, came from a different POV – where they wanted to make the product much, much better. And, transcend the status quo.
Which it did. I think especially because of Sid’s insights – it’s really helped make some of our videos look incredibly good and possibly better than we imagined.
According to you, what is the scope of digital in India?
Well, Yashraj and others are entering into the fray more seriously than before. Everyone under 21 is consuming most of their content off YouTube. Every college I go to, they name some YouTube channel I’ve never heard of in my life! So, the scope of digital is colossal. Also, since it’s – at least for the time being – the last true platform of freedom of expression, that helps.
How long has it taken you’ll to establish yourself in the digital space?
Well, we entered when there were effectively four comedy channels so, the first mover’s advantage helped. But, fortunately our first big video – ‘Sex Education’ – worked brilliantly to set us apart. Then, ‘I’m Not A Woman’ also helped and, then of course, ‘The Ghantas’ etc. So, I would say about 6 months.
And how has the digital space benefited stand-up comedians?
It gets more people to our shows. And, frankly: that’s all we initially cared about. Now, of course – people are allowing us to do much more. Whether its news comedy – which I think EVERY single comedian is attempting now – or, doing sillier more pointless videos. It’s going beyond stand-up comedy but, for us stand-up is always the king. Which is why we have over 60 stand-up videos on the channel.
How was the ‘East India Comedy’ started?
It was basically started so that Kunal Rao, Sahil Shah, Sapan Verma and me could do shows across the country. That’s about it. There was also a very ill-fated plan to do Improv which we quickly realised we sucked at. Then it kept evolving and we kept doing more things. It helps that Kunal is great at managing people and different idiots at EIC (East India Company) so, we stayed afloat even when Angad, Atul and Azeem joined.
And ‘The Ganta Awards’ – what was the idea behind them?
A friend of mine started the Awards 5 years back – I had prior commitments so couldn’t do it then. I eventually got free and thought – might as well. The idea came from Prashant Rajkhowa, Karan Anshuman, Gagan Takiyar and Shruti Seth. So, we’ve been doing it for three years much against our own reservations of talking about Bollywood, which I find extremely frivolous. I think that’s what makes it work! We’re not inherently assholes and try to critique films as opposed to actor’s personal lives etc. I guess that works.
Your show ‘Traveling Pants’ has got quite a lot of followers on YouTube. How did the idea come about?
I love traveling, that’s about it. Traveling is my second favorite part about being a comedian. The first is obviously the actual comedy part. I love being called to new places to perform; wherever it may be. If they have budgets – I’m there. So, this year I did shows in Bhutan, Jamshedpur, Singapore, Nagpur, Solan and others. So, Traveling Pants is just that – it’s me talking about traveling with a shit ton of sex jokes thrown in for no real reason. My love for travel combined with my love for being disgusting.
What is the difference between YouTube/digital audience and the television/cinema audience?
It’s the same crowd. But, it’s also added on to the crowd of people that watch videos and TV shows and films online. Also, the standard motif for any creation in India is this: the wider your canvas, the more the number of people waiting to get offended by you.
So, on that front: I feel bad for Bollywood, Indian TV and Indian radio – where they are rarely allowed to be anything, but subtle about their critique of Indian life. Indian radio especially is not allowed to criticize government or politics – which I find ridiculous.
You used to write for TV as well. How different is the writing process for the digital/medium?
Oh, it’s completely different. TV is so sterile and forced to be sterile. I think in my entire 6 years as a TV writer I only enjoyed writing for Pogo – because it was for kids, CNBC – because Vir and I were ripping on the news. The others were just things to pay the bills. Again, censorship as always ruins the fun on those platforms. You can’t discuss anything without worrying about offending some unknown/unseen entity in Chinchpokli or whatever.
It did teach me how to be disciplined as a writer. While there I worked on my novels etc. and wrote my first published novel, ‘The Wednesday Soul’. So, that proved to me that things can be done if you want them done.
What differences have you seen between the digital audience and live audience?
I don’t know how to pinpoint it, honestly. In Digital you can do a lot of sillier things because little tricks allow you to do that. But, even there you still do a mild amount of self-censorship. Otherwise, there is barely any difference.
Writing sketches for which audience is the most difficult and relatively easy – digital, live audience or the television/cinema audience?
Easiest is digital, strangely. Because, you can still make an OK script really shine out with great acting or direction or whatever. But, that’s rare. We always ensure our sketches run through at least seven drafts.
Live is next – harder to nail because, you need to ensure it kills. And, the only way to know it kills is by doing it live. So, it takes longer.
TV/Cinema – is still harder, to find the funny while toeing the ‘corporate’ line. Everyone has their hands tied and it’s really no one’s fault – so, you just got to be funny under very strict parameters.
When it comes to a live performance, there is a very selective crowd that generally comes. But that is not the case with digital. On what basis do you create content for both audiences?
On precisely that basis. You tone it a little lower for online and for live it’s much freer. However, our live comedy also tends to not be offensive for the sake of it. I don’t think there’s a single joke that’s worthy of me never having to do comedy again. Plus, I like leaving the audience happy and no one unhappy. Some people do leave unhappy but, there are some people that just hate everything and there’s no point worrying about those unhappy idiots.
When talking about the maturity level of audiences, which one shows more maturity?
Both do. I think it’s a misnomer that people in authority want to perpetuate that Indians are immature. Most informed Indians are mature. But, ANYONE with a political bent is immature, inherently and also a little evil and self-interested. That toxic mix ensures that they speak on behalf of a public they don’t really know at all. Their maturity levels are below sub-zero levels.
You are considered one of the coolest people to be followed digitally. What did it take to get there?
A bunch of nude pics. I threatened to release those unless people followed me – so, they did.
But, it’s simple: I make sure I put out about 6 jokes on Twitter a day. Some will be shit, some will be good, some will be stupid. But, regularity helps. Also, I try to answer as many people as possible and block a lot of idiots – both help. Also, I think as a comedian social media is a job almost. It’s a fun job but, a job and you treat it as that.
Thousands follow Sorabh Pant. But whom does Sorabh Pant follow?
God. God is my only follower. He/she is my guiding light. Or, maybe I need to stop looking at spotlights so intensely.
I follow lots of stuff but, I think I’ve reached a point where I consume content that is either really bizarre comedically or dramatic. So, I’ll watch all the drama shows: GOT, Homeland, Mad Men, and Black Mirror etc. And, strange comedies like Bojack Horseman, Jake & Amir, Ugly Americans, weird shit.
Also – I read a bit. I don’t think I’ve read a funny book in eons. Fiction, non-fiction whatever.
Digitally, I tend not to watch too much stuff because I get jealous easily. I’m proud of both, AIB, TVF, Kanan and even, ourselves but, I’ll only watch most of their content after it stops being viral. It’s deranged, I know.
Also, I follow myself on Twitter @hankypanty.