Stand-up comics Samay Raina and Aakash Gupta are like chalk and cheese, as are all the 10 contestants in Comicstaan season two when they perform one after another. Raina and Gupta are among the five comedians who have made it to the finale of Amazon Prime Video’s stand-up comedy competition series. The finale went live on August 16.
In Comicstaan, the participants, mentored by seven bigwigs in the Indian stand-up comedy scene, are tested on stage with a live audience. Each of the seven episodes throws up a new challenge. In one, the comics have to ace observational humour; in another, they have to perform anecdotal comedy. Sketch comedy, improv and topical humour are some of the other obstacles to be cleared.
Raina, 21, born in Jammu and Kashmir, got into stand-up comedy only a couple of years ago, while 26-year-old Delhi resident Gupta has been performing for over four years. While Raina prefers an old-school stand-up performance with a mic in hand, Gupta, trained in both theatre and improvisational comedy, can ace genres such as sketch comedy, as he has shown on Comicstaan.
“I loved watching The Great Indian Laughter Challenge and reading Khushwant Singh’s funny books in school, but it was only in my third year in college that I discovered the concept of open mics,” Raina said. A student of printing engineering (“a waste of a degree”), he is currently awaiting his results for his final year examinations.
His finale competitor, Gupta, having been trained in the performance arts, uses his physicality during his on-stage acts. “The first comic I fell in love with was Robin Williams, who also was very active on stage,” Gupta said. “Some people like telling jokes. I like to act them out.”
Both comedians were impressive from the first episode itself. Judge and mentor Zakir Khan told Raina, “I have only word for you: I am a fan”. Recalling how stunned he was, Raina quipped, “I slept early that day.”
Likewise, Gupta exaggerated the mannerisms of the host who stands beside a chef in a cooking show, shrieking and moaning in response to the taste of the dishes. The Comicstaan season two hosts Abish Mathew and Urooj Ashfaq immediately picked up Gupta’s act and performed it themselves throughout the series. Additionally, judge and mentor Kenny Sebastian professed his love for Gupta at the end of almost all of his acts. “I ended up blushing sometimes,” Gupta admitted.
Some of Gupta’s best bits can also be found in episode four, in which he sends up the Uttar Pradesh government’s renaming spree. His most colourful performance is in episode five, in which he plays a tailor whose dedicated female customer is found to be cheating on him with a rival tailor.
“I wrote the renaming act from scratch in exactly four days and found the ending for it on the night before the final performance,” Gupta recalled. “But I had no time to say the ending because of lack of time. As for the tailor act, having performed theatre, I knew we couldn’t get stuck on just writing jokes, which stand-up comics do a lot. A sketch has to be rehearsed again and again, from which the writing will develop.”
Raina’s big moment came in the last episode before the finale, where participants had to step out of their comfort zone and perform what the mentors called “alternative comedy”. Raina came on stage as himself, a comedian from the future who has been jailed for offending an audience member.
What was the train of thought behind this wacky routine? Raina revealed: “It’s simple – it came from my name Samay.”
Both comedians also had their tense moments. In the sixth round, aptly titled Comedy of Terrors, the participant had to make up jokes in real time by taking cues from a slideshow. Gupta’s rehearsals didn’t go well at all. “I then sat with Biswa Kalyan Rath for three-four hours,” he recalled. “Then, I finally did that round, and in fact, surprised myself with what I did.”
For Raina, his scariest moment was when he slipped down the rankings drastically after staying number one consecutively on episodes two and three.
All comics take inspiration from and build on the work of their star predecessors. For both Raina and Gupta, Delhi-based comedian Abhishek Upmanyu emerged to be the go-to funnyman. While Gupta said he preferred Williams, Dave Chapelle, Amit Tandon and Vipul Goel, for Raina, the inspirations include Bill Burr, Norm McDonald, Kunal Kamra and Kanan Gill.