Sorabh Pant talks to us about his new book, which comic artists he thinks will take the country by storm in 2012 and why taking up comedy was his only way to getting attention. Just like this – SEX! SEX! SEX!
Sorabh Pant is a stand-up comedian, author, and a possible face for Dr. Batra advertisements. We recently spoke to him about the stand-up comedy scene in the country, his book The Wednesday Soul and his plans for the year ahead.
I recently met Sorabh Pant at a fancy hotel by Juhu Beach. We weren’t there to use the room facilities, and neither were we working out a shady business deal that would possibly fall out. Stand-up comedy is a growing profession in the country, and Pant has been one of the early perpetrators having opened (he would have cracked a terrible joke, with some sexual reference here) for Vir Das, along with Rob Schneider and Wayne Brady on their India tours. Since then, he has literally been all over the place – playing solo shows, tutoring a few amateur stand-up comics and authoring his first book.
During an interview with Pant early last year, he mentioned that the book would be out in March 2011 but several edits pushed the release date forward by a year. The Wednesday Soul is about the afterlife of Nyra Dubey. Pant tells us why he chose to write about the subject. “I was actually thinking about it, and I’m kind of philosophical apparently… I think about all these stupid fucking macabre things. I guess it has to do with a lot of experiences where my auto toppled over. I almost fell off a cliff. But in seriousness, it has a lot to do with our religious philosophies (which) are based on death, like the ten commandments, which says, ‘You be nice now, we’ll take care of you later’.”
Pant’s book launch in January saw Hrithik Roshan and Farhan Akhtar make an appearance (who, according to him, he slept with for this) alongside old-time friend Vir Das and Gul Panag (photos here). “At the launch, Farhan showed up wearing my hat. Nobody knew this.”
Check out this compiled video of some of Pant’s earlier material.
Initially, Pant felt that comedians who sit in front of their computer and type jokes on Twitter were fairly ridiculous. However, he has become his own cliche and has taken to the medium over the last year. He admits, it’s a good way to get your act out there but still maintains that creating random trending hashtags in the middle of the night is not necessary. “I didn’t understand the point of Twitter, honestly. But now I’m somewhat obsessed with it, which is a pain in the ass,” he confesses. Of late he’s been cracking jokes about Kapil Sibal (who he thinks is “getting a bit of the wrong side of the stick”) and Mani Shankar Aiyar. Pant maintains that having a social media presence is one of the only ways he can get more people to attend his shows (he really wants more followers).
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Talking about 2011, Pant describes it as a very strange year despite the success that he’s seen. Solo shows, opening for international comedians on their India tours, writing scripts and his book, the now-not-so-young comedian (as he believes); he summarizes the whirlwind as ‘bizarre’. Until a year-and-a-month ago when he performed at a Pune college festival to his largest audience yet of about 400-500 people, Pant along with his opening act Kunal Rao were mainly doing shows at bars and clubs where they never knew what to expect. “I’ve been working on these things for a while now. I don’t mean to boast, but I now know that I’m one of the top comedians in the country, but it took a while to get there.” Pant has transformed from being a hardcore topical comedian to exploring a wider beat. He’s also been working on a lot of material that revolves around politics, pun-ny material and Indian-isms.
The last year has also seen a rise in the number of comedians and comedy circles - Weirdass Comedy, Schitzengiggles and Pant’s own group of comic artists (it hasn’t been christened with a name yet), out of which Vir Das’s Weirdass Comedy is the most well-known. I inquired about whether there was any rivalry between the comedy factions, similar to that of the Bollywood-like camps. “I don’t really think there are issues, but people are just different in their approach to comedy in terms of writing and their zones. Me, for instance, I’m cool with everyone. I like Abish Mathew’s approach to the whole thing. He believes it’s a step forward to the whole scene, and not one particular person in general.” On Pant’s team, are Sahil Bulla, Sapan Varma and Kunal Rao and he is certain that each of them will make a mark for themselves over the year. While still thinking about the camps, he confesses later, “I’ve never really thought about it, you know. But, it’s best not to. It may appear to be like camps from the outside, but it’s not like that.”
A video of Pant with Vir Das, performing a cover of a classic. He wasn’t bald then.
Most comedians also double as script writers for news television, columnists for newspapers, and the like. As Pant explains, “Where else will you write English comedy? Though, this is all going to change over the year, with Comedy Central coming in, and other avenues opening up.” The audiences at comedy shows are beginning to grow as well, and this is the year Pant believes that all will change. With newer venues opening up, more people are interested in organizing shows. Pant is certain the profession will expand in the public’s conscience. Recently, Weirdass Comedy put together the script for the 57th Annual Filmfare Awards.
Over our discussion about the newer comic artists, Pant was quick to praise Aditi Mittal, who performs with several comedy groups. He also spoke highly of young Sapan Verma, 22, who he feels will see a meteoric rise. When we discussed my age (21), he reacted with a “Damn you, dawg!” a la Wayne Brady. Pant had referred to Brady as a “fit guy” and proceeded to show me his own ’2-pack belly’ in full public view. We paused the interview, till I recovered. A couple of glasses of water later we got back to talking, and rounded off his praises by saying Kunal Rao will be on the upswing, only if he concentrated more on his writing, because he has an uncanny ability to churn out some absolutely original material. In Pant’s opinion Rao hasn’t devoted enough time to his writing of late, but comes up with great stuff when he does write though, which is almost always unique and observational.
Besides the way he looks (because he believes one could find comedy value in his appearance), and mooning his Principal in college, Pant took to comedy because, “You can do whatever the hell you want, and get away with it. But, I’m pretty independent with what I want to do. Even if I weren’t doing comedy, I would still be writing my books. I would have figured it out. I wanted to just be an independent voice. But, initially I never thought of this as a career option. I love attention; if 900 people are laughing at my jokes in an auditorium I’ll be getting mental orgasms.”
At the start of the interview, Pant had promised me coffee, jokes and sex. None of that really happened. No, not even the coffee. So much for honest, scam-free journalism.