Anirban Dasgupta is from Kolkata, but he hates the city. Or, at least, he appears to, in his first stand-up special, Take It Easy.
Two years ago, he moved to Mumbai for brighter prospects and is now the second comedian from Kolkata to get his own stand-up special on Amazon Prime Video, after 14 stand-up comics had a splash on the streaming service last year. Right off the bat in Take It Easy, Dasgupta launches his assault by bemoaning the fact that his hometown has an abysmal comedy scene – “The entire audience could go home in an Ola share.”
“Unlike Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai or Delhi, where the stand-up target crowd is strong, in Kolkata, after school or college, people move out,” Dasgupta said. “The paying audience from Kolkata becomes a part of these other metros. Recently, I did a show in Bangalore, and in a crowd of 2,000, one-fourth were Bengalis from Kolkata.”
In his special that released on June 22, while Dasgupta takes his time to make mincemeat of Kolkata in every which way, he also celebrates some of the city’s dearest totems, such as its abuses. For example, he breaks down Bengalis’ dearest cuss-word “bokachoda” to the audience over 10 minutes. He explains the abuse as one employed to target one’s intellect, unlike other Indian variants that aim for one’s female relative. That is just how Bengalis roll, the comedian said.
Much of the one-hour special loosely revolves around India’s favourite hobby – getting offended – which is why Dasgupta named his show Take It Easy. “I just want everyone to calm down, and not take everything and everyone seriously, especially comedians,” he said.
But his decision to peg the special around offence-taking, trolls, online abuse, and freedom of speech, is not just because these are topical. It is rooted in a violent backlash he had to face in Kolkata a few years ago, when a video of him making fun of certain Bengali and Kolkata-centric peculiarities rubbed the city’s bhadralok wrong way.
Dasgupta, in that video, had joked about some of Bengalis’ absurd concerns – for example, the idea that Subhash Chandra Bose did not die in 1945 in a plane crash, and is still alive, waiting to come back when the time is right. As compared to the overdone roshogolla-maachbhaat-Leftist routine, this culturally accurate observation in Dasgupta’s video was sharp and inspired. But in Kolkata, his jokes did not find takers. And the video was taken down from YouTube after much outrage.
In his Amazon special, Dasgupta recalls his experience of having to face comments such as “You are a Marwari agent”, “How could you, being a Bengali yourself?”, and, above all, the threats of lodging cases against him for having engaged in “criminal conspiracy”.
Take It Easy, interestingly, does not have a structure but it flows well, pivoting around the central issue of offence-taking. There is no five-minute warm-up. There are no clearly defined routines. There are no topics that Dasgupta jumps into, suddenly, as other Indian comics do. The reason for this, Dasgupta said, was that he had been performing Take It Easy since October, long before he was signed up by Amazon Prime Video.
“Most of the jokes were never written,” he said. “I just kept developing the material on stage. So, the content kept evolving for the better. In each show of Take It Easy, I would add some impromptu jokes or new lines and if they clicked, I carried it on to the next show. So, there is no similarity at all between the one I did in October and the one that was shot last month and was finally released online.”
As an example of the gradual evolution of a joke, Dasgupta picked up a moment from his Kolkata-bashing routine. At one point in Take It Easy, Dasgupta mentions that when his video created a ruckus in Kolkata, and he was being threatened with lawsuits by anonymous trolls and strangers, he felt perplexed that lawyers could take this issue seriously. For a while, Dasgupta would stop at this point, and move on to the next part. But, once in Gurgaon, he suddenly slipped in, “And lawyers in Kolkata are... B.Com graduates.” It drew laughs and completed Dasgupta’s line of thought. Dasgupta retained that line for his subsequent shows, and it makes an appearance in the Amazon version.
Similarly, a topic that Dasgupta has been touching upon for quite some time in his shows has been his disinterest in having a baby. Under its umbrella, he creates new jokes every time. The starting point is his stubborn denial of his family’s wish to have children, and how people close to him, especially his mother and wife react to it. He has been married for five years, and his subjects are completely fine with his on-stage shenanigans – “My mother doesn’t watch stand-up but she knows I joke about her. My wife is cool too. When this joke became a hit a year ago through YouTube, I would get greeted with ‘Anirban ka bachcha kab ayega?’ on the streets.”
If Dasgupta’s special is an indication of his comedic signature, then he does seem to share a few qualities with Canadian comedian Norm MacDonald, who happens to be Dasgupta’s biggest inspiration. Like his idol, for Dasgupta, nothing is too taboo or too silly. Most noticeably, Dasgupta’s ability to squeeze in the punchline quickly instead of vocally highlighting it in bold is pure MacDonald.
Another thing Dasgupta does well is to get the audience to complete the joke for him by guessing the punchline, especially when the joke is a political one. For example, when he jokes about angry Indian online trolls uninstalling Snapdeal, mistaking it to be Snapchat, in 2017, Dasgupta says to the audience, “You can, of course, guess which party they vote for.” There is only one right answer.
“My humour is non-political,” he explained. “You won’t find politics in my YouTube videos. This special happens to be a little political, but I don’t really feel like talking politics on stage. I consider myself to be an equal opportunity offender and will make fun of any party as I see fit.”