Hysterically yours: In Conversation with Kunal Kamra
After the successful house-full show at Fortune Inn, we at MTTN caught up with Kunal Kamra as he spoke to us about the life of a stand-up comic.
Kunal Kamra, a 28 year-old stand-up comedian, shot to fame with his YouTube videos. One of his most well-recognized videos, Patriotism and Government, has over one and a half million views. Aside from stand-up comedy, Kamra works in advertising.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
MTTN: Tell us, how did you get into stand-up comedy?
Kunal Kamra: I have been working in advertising for quite a few years now. Around 2013, my friend Siddharth Dudeja (a stand up comic himself) introduced me to stand-up and suggested I give it a try. I had been working with him for a few sketches back then. I decided to give it a shot and see how it goes; it somehow took off.
MTTN: With regards to your content, how do you write your jokes?
Kunal Kamra: At this point, I am not the funniest stand-up comic in any way. I am far behind the best joke writers in the country. I try to focus my set more on what I observe every day.
For a stand-up comic, observation is an essential tool. If you just open your eyes to daily occurrences, you end up with a lot of content. I try to provide my own perspective to daily struggles and everyday problems.
I make it a point to stay well informed about the jokes I crack, especially the ones which have more of a political tone to them.
MTTN: How did you come up with the phrase “Siachen ke jawaan”?
Kunal Kamra: We live in a country where there is a lot of problems. People are deeply affected by the class system, there’s poverty that is killing people and government hospitals that are completely dysfunctional.
With all these problems prevailing, Arnab Goswami went on and on about the army, Indo-Pak divides and how people are dying in Siachen. That time, I watched Times Now for 45 days straight and this is all he talked about!
Yes, that is very relevant but so are other problems.
After a point, I got fed up.
At an open mic, I was performing a set but the audience wasn’t reacting. Off-handedly, I threw in the phrase “Siachen mein humare jawaan ladh rahe he” and somehow, it got a lot of laughs. And it took off ever since.
MTTN: Why don’t you upload more content on YouTube?
Kunal Kamra: Firstly, It takes a lot of time and effort to shoot YouTube-worthy content. I had performed Patriotism and Government about 175-200 times and shot the same 13 times, after which were we happy with the final product. So yeah, it’s pretty taxing.
Secondly, my stand-up may not stand well with a lot of people because of its political jokes and the commentary I provide on a lot of sensitive issues. I have even received death threats from a lot of different people.
I can’t perform any material once it’s up on YouTube. Slight references, here and there is fine but I can’t perform that particular set again.
MTTN: You mentioned receiving death threats. How do you deal with such situations?
Kunal Kamra: Surprisingly, its quite common for stand-up comics to receive such threats. There’s a chain of misinterpretation that is prevalent. A person A shows person B a clip which A has misunderstood or taken out of context and A passes on this same notion to B and hence, there is a lot of manipulation happening. People don’t use their own senses to judge right from wrong. It’s best not to give heed to such situations.
MTTN: How would you rate the stand-up scene in India?
Kunal Kamra: It’s got a long way to go, honestly. We’ve had a decent start but one pressing issue is that till now, we have catered only to the top 4% of the population. 96% of the population still doesn’t care about this art form or probably don’t know about it.
As for comedians themselves, we have a great pool of artists. There is a lot of camaraderie amongst all of us. We meet up every now and then with each other. Say, when I return to Bombay, three comics would call me up and ask how the Manipal show went and in general, would take an interest in each others’ work.
MTTN: How did you like the Manipal crowd?
Kunal Kamra: It was a pretty good crowd. Everyone responded to all the jokes, they laughed, cheered and reacted; What more could a performer ask for!
It’s not my first time here though. I came a few times in college. Back then, my friends and I used to chill in EoTT quite often.
With that, we left Kunal Kamra to ride the high of his performance. The incessant Manipal rain had subsided and the weather gods favoured the night coming to a rather pleasant ending.
-As said to Reetobaan Datta.