Stand-up comic Rabhinder Kannan, by his own admission, has not interacted with many human beings in the recent past (as is the case with most of us). And so, he tends to ramble on during phone calls and is well aware of it. So much so that, in this interview, he stops to clarify mid-chuckle: In the afternoons, I talk a lot.
Not helping his case is his dog, Mowgli, who looks at him every morning with disdain: He gives me the I-know-you-have-never-had-a-social-life-but-please-get-out-once-in-a-while look. Its an all-new low. This is why perhaps his first 60-minute special could not possibly have had a more appropriate title, None of this Matters.
The Chennai comic who is 31 and in strong denial, released the special, adapted completely for an online audience, early in the month of September. It adopts a narrative style that strings together incidents from different points in time, in a format where jokes are built on the course and frequent punchlines take a backseat. The opening, however, is riddled with a few numbers that attempt to ease the audience into the show: but, are not devoid of cliches.
Everything from why a Chennai boy has Rabhinder for a name to the shift from a corporate life to an artistic pursuit and his adventures with Mowgli make passing appearances in None of this Matters.
But, what is quite refreshing is the fact that towards the closing, the narrative deviates rather abruptly into dark humour rooted in realism. I didnt want it to be just 60 minutes of jokes. I wanted some bits of truth to be told.
None of this Matters had been in the works for about eight months, though the idea of a special occurred to him almost two years back. I wanted to launch sometime in March or April, but you know what happened. Now, I have 10 to 12 Zoom shows lined up and that gives me an opportunity to work on the material. So that, whenever the world resumes, I am ready with a tight script.
Each of the sets has been workshopped about 30 times. Those that made the cut were the ones that made sense for a Zoom setting. I feel the audiences have got a place where they want to talk about the times we live in. Because, everyone knows what everyone is going through, says Rabhinder.
Adapting from stage to screen is clearly not a piece of cake. However, as far as body language is concerned, Rabhinder thinks he got lucky. I am not the most animated, high energy person, on stage. So, being glued to a chair in front of a screen, did not limit him too much.
Having said that, he adds: Its nowhere close to being on stage. Not being able to feed off the energy from the audience is a big challenge. When a joke doesnt land, the most important thing that we do in a live show is acknowledge it and make a joke about it, maybe, before moving on. On Zoom, its a lot harder to gauge the response. This is also why the audience is encouraged to keep their video and audio on and make as much as noise as possible, during the performance. Ahh, the number of times I have heard pressure cooker whistles while performing...
On the positive side, online shows do enable less famous comics to get more stage time and reach wider audiences. Comedy in Chennai has not had that for a while. Getting that much screen time has also forced us to come up with more content. For instance, if I have a new bit, I have already tested it for at least 15 times in two weeks, which means I need to move on, he adds.
Rabhinder also notes that there has been a steady increase in the number of people wanting to do comedy in the past few months, thanks to the online medium: Its like, the world is ending so we might as well make some jokes!
(In October, the comic will tour with the show in East Coast timings aimed at the US crowd. By the end of the month, the show will be presented in Singapore and Malaysia as well.)
Tickets for the upcoming India shows (with Evam) on September 26 and October 3 are on insider.com. US timezone show (with Evam and United Media) is on October 11.Tickets on sulekha.com.