Q&A: Sorabh Pant is the author of The Wednesday Soul and Under Delhi, and one of India’s most popular comedians with over nine hundred shows in forty cities and eleven countries. He is the founder of East India Comedy.
Your material covers, or makes fun of religion, politics, misogyny, communities, among several others, some would say “sensitive” and maybe even dangerous topics, at least for our region. Why do you choose to cover such material? What do you hope to achieve by covering such material besides the laughs?
Well, I don’t consciously aim to offend anyone honestly. In fact, I absolutely hate offending people. I like having people leave my show happy because, that makes them give me more money. Some people get offended but, there’s only so much you can pander to idiots.
Through my standup and especially my novel, Under Delhi, I want to talk about things that matter to me. And, as a comedian: when I take a tough topic like crimes against women – which is the central theme of Under Delhi – the intention is to make people laugh while helping them shed light on the awfullness of that crime.
Which section of society offers you the most material for jokes and why? Is it the politicians and bureaucrats, celebrities, religious fundamentalists, perhaps, journalists?
I would have said journalists but, since you’ve been nice enough to carry this I’ll let it slide! Oddly enough journalists have been surprisingly nice to me. I didn’t even have to pay them, it’s bizarre!
I find it very hard to write jokes on politicians, bureaucrats and fundamentalists because comedy comes from a happy place and whenever I write about these things it comes off as an angry rant.
I sound like someone on Arnab Goswami’s show. which is a comedy in itself. Did I just say I wouldn’t make fun of journalists?
The recent ban by the Indian government on pornography websites is a hot topic at the moment. In a way, is there some glee for a comedian that government’s, or for that matter, whatever institution or community, act in such conservative or extreme ways, providing material for so much humour, especially when it’s a profession?
They give us so much fodder to make jokes on. The previous government gave a lot and we were delighted, then this one came and doubled the fodder. I feel as a comedian that every day is Diwali.
The odd thing about the porn ban is that East India Comedy – my comedy company in India – had written and planned an entire satirical video on the porn ban. And, literally the day before we were about to shoot – the government repealed their ban on porn. I find that atrocious. They should have at least had the courtesy and waited for our video to come out.
Are you working on any jokes about the Bhutanese?
Look, I love the Bhutanese. I’ve been here before and I loved it. You guys don’t allow smoking which I hate but, you love your alcohol, cheese, pork, chillis – all of which I love. I think I may secretly be a Bhutanese. And, you guys have kept your cultural heritage intact across the country which I absolutely love. In India – everything has started looking the same expensive, tall structures.
Except, I wish you guys had some ATMs!! I forgot to withdraw money – I’m serious. I landed here and I have lots of money in my account but, barely any in my pocket. So, if you see me on the streets – buy me some of your whiskey. I’ll give you a copy of Under Delhi free!
Does being a stand up comic require preparation or is it something spontaneous for you?
It requires a horrendous amount of preparation. Also, since I double up as an author and a content creator and a column writer – my days are full of writing. I think I’ve written more than Shakespeare did in his lifetime though, my work is completely not worthy of celebration.
I do a lot of spontaneous bits but, oddly a lot of them that appear improvised tend to be stuff I’ve probably written at some stage. Shockingly, we comedians work hard. When we aren’t drinking.
What qualities does it take to be a stand up comedian?
A very,thick skin. You really have to not have got a lot of attention as a kid. Also, you have to be a bit a social. And, you know you’re asocial when you are more aggressive about not meeting people you know over people you don’t! I love people – they are great but, sometimes I don’t know what to say to half of humanity.
So, I get up on stage and make sure they have to listen to me instead!
What inspired or motivated you to become a stand up comedian? Who were your role models?
I got into standup comedy completely by accident. My friend, Vir Das and me were doing a lot of TV shows and he just asked me to try it out and I did. Never thought I’d be doing this full time and now I refuse to let go off it. I love being a comedian and I also love that I’m an author – living the dream.
My role models were varied: my dad is the funniest man I’ve ever met, my sister and mom are also nuts and my wife has a crooked sense of humour. So, I guess they inspire me. But, professionals like Johnny Lever, Chris Rock, Jaspal Bhatti, Robin Williams, Brian Regan, even a Cyrus Broacha – are all people that have made me laugh and hence, motivated me to do the same.