Rahul Subramanian’s Kal Main Udega was premiered on Amazon Prime Video on March 16 as the first of 23 stand-up comedy shows planned for 2018. The programming comes on the heels of 14 stand-up comedy specials released on the streaming platform last year.
Subramanian’s hour-long show makes a decent start for what could probably be a bumpy ride for Amazon Prime Video’s slate. Last year, only a few such shows worked, such as the ones by Zakir Khan, Kanan Gill and Biswa Kalyan Rath.
Subramanian’s humour is characterised by benign observations about life from the perspective of a middle-class urban man in his thirties. The humour is almost always apolitical and non-controversial. Kal Main Udega is billed as “60 minutes of comedy with no message”, and this is his USP, Subramanian says.
“There are many socially aware comedians out there creating comedy with a message, but I am not socially aware,” Subramanian told Scroll.in. “And the fact that a stand-up act has no message becomes funny.” For Subramanian, everything is permitted and no joke is too crazy to not crack, and he likes it that people have no idea what to expect from a show titled Kal Main Udega.
Is there a conscious effort to avoid political content, given the scrutiny faced by All India Bakchod and Kunal Kamra? “No, I am sure that I have very few opinions on things around me,” Subramanian said. “Opinions take a lot of time to form anyway, and if they are there, I prefer to keep them to myself.”
The attitude makes sense when you learn that one of Subramanian’s favourite comedians is Brian Regan, known for his family-friendly fare. Regan is also a strong inspiration for Rath, another comic who rarely broaches controversial topics or uses foul language.
The one-hour set of Kal Main Udega has three parts. In the first 20 minutes, Subramanian warms up with small jokes that have simple set-ups and easy punchlines. He starts off with talking about his corporate background, moves on to lampooning his company’s human resources department, and then jumps from topic to topic swiftly – from talking about his lazy domestic worker one minute to expressing his disgust for DJs and club-hoppers rather aggressively in the next. (“I don’t hate clubbing. It’s all for effect,” Subramanian later explained.)
Halfway into the set, Subramanian switches tracks for two longer narratives. One of them is set around his marriage, into which he puts in jokes about the peculiarities of Tamil-style nuptials, annoying nephews, and the wedding night. It segues into his experience as a married man and his inability to drive, which he shares with his wife.
A steady stream of jokes around sports, particularly tennis, follows. One of the funniest bits is when Subramanian acts as Roger Federer, high on marijuana and laughing his head off when asked to serve on court.
Keeping it simple
Explaining the Federer bit, and his style of enacting jokes with vigorous hand movements and gestures, the comedian said that he thinks of jokes visually. “I think in images and not in words, and so, I jump from topic to topic in my mind quickly.” He likes creating hypothetical situations, such as the imaginary ‘Federer vs [Rafael] Nadal stoned’ set, within which he can crack smaller jokes. As for acting out on stage, Subramanian credits his inspirations, Regan and Eddie Izzard, and his natural instinct for physical performance, previously honed by his appearances in YouTube sketches.
Though Subramanian’s comedy is safe and unlikely to offend any demographic, he does admire socially provocative humour – “the whole George Carlin brand of comedy”, for instance. Not that he can do a Carlin, or musical comedy in the vein of Bo Burnham, another comedian he appreciates.
Like any other comic, Subramanian hones his material during open mic sessions to gauge which joke might work. If he senses that a joke is first-rate even though the audience may not be receptive, he goes ahead anyway.
For example, during the gag about driving skills in his Kal Main Udega special, Subramanian says that the car has been serviced so many times in two months that none of its parts is original anymore. Subramanian’s father then tells his son, “Your car is like the Ship of Theseus...”
The reference to Theseus’s paradox has been missed by live audiences before, in Subramanian’s experience, and once again, brings a muted response from the audience at the Amazon special. “Initially, I set up the joke in a way that I would be startled to hear that reference from my dad,” Subramanian said. “I would go quiet and act shocked to put myself in the audience’s shoes but I ended up over-explaining the joke in trying to address it.” But now, Subramanian is fine with a section of the audience missing the joke and a few of them getting it.
Hobby to a career
Kal Main Udega is Subramanian’s first stand-up comedy special. He had been attending open mics since 2014, while he was working as a brand manager for Mahindra & Mahindra. But the nine-to-five job did not sit well with Subramanian and he delved into stand-up comedy as a hobby. In 2015, he started Random Chikibum with his colleague, comedian Kumar Varun, and they began creating and shooting comic sketches, which they uploaded to YouTube.
Comedy became a livelihood for Subramanian after Random Chikibum won the YouTube Comedy Hunt in 2015. He and Varun were signed by the artist management company, Only Much Louder, and Subramanian quit his job soon after to begin working on his stand-up acts and Random Chikibum’s videos full time.
Meanwhile, Subramanian gained greater visibility by appearing in videos alongside All India Bakchod and Rath, among others. Videos of his stand-up sets, particularly one titled Breakup and MBA, went viral in 2017 and now with the one-hour online special, he has broken into a select group of India’s stand-up comics.
A staple of Subramanian’s live acts – as well as Kal Main Udega – is the mandatory joke referencing his older company. Interestingly, his former colleagues and bosses are fine with Subramanian’s Mahindra jokes. “That’s because Anand Mahindra is a very progressive man,” Subramanian said. “In fact, they invite me to perform for them. I have performed for them at least five times since I quit.”