Kunal Rao, one of the top stand up comedians, is one of the few comics who has taken it upon himself to explore the infinite universe of human emotions and the intricate behavior of the human mind. Kunal has been a Bombay boy all his life except for the four years when he worked in Dubai and London (two years each) as a Chartered Accountant at the Big Four accounting firms.
At some point, he realized that he wanted to do something creative. So he dropped everything and came back to Bombay “in search of inspiration and rent-free accommodation”. He happened to watch Sorabh Pant, a college friend of his, open for Vir Das at Sophia Bhabha hall in 2009, and decided to give stand up a try, on the encouragement of a friend. Next thing he knew, he was a comedian making as little money as comedians make. Kunal’s upcoming show ‘DONE’ will premiere on 18th Oct 2019 on Amazon Prime.
Kunal’s comedy has a personal style, digging deep into his own experiences, dipping in and out of existential questions with ease, making the viewer connect to what could only be described as “real-atable” content! In conversation with IWMBuzz.com, Kunal spoke about his journey and more…
First of all, thanks for your time. Kunal, how does it feel to be a digital star?
Haha! I am not a digital star by any standard! In fact, I struggle to keep up with digital evolutions! (recently created a TikTok account but couldn’t lower my intellect for more than 4 videos!)
How has your journey been so far and what were the challenges or difficulties you faced?
Stand up comedy looks like heaven from the outside, but it has its share of demons. It’s a very new sub-culture, so there isn’t quite as much stability in it. Every day is a hard day at work. Plus the constant battle between creative and financial goals leaves most comedians confused on a daily basis – “should I push myself creatively or give the audience what they want?”! I have been lucky to have it relatively easy – I started out early (2009), kept my day job until this earned enough, and I worked closely with some of the best talents in the business (East India Comedy). But finding my voice has been the sharpest pain in my backside!
Tell us something about your show ‘Done’
It’s a result of three years of a midlife crisis, me hitting the big four-oh (age 40), and trying to find my voice as a comedian. The show is mostly funny, often relatable, sometimes silly, occasionally dark and intermittently thought-provoking.
The show asks questions that all of us are thinking, but don’t have the courage to speak up about, like “Why do we chase happiness?” and “Do we have any idea what we’re doing?” and, “Why don’t we have plants rights activists?”. It’s the most personal and intimate show I have ever created, and for that I am quite proud because I really wanted to break the format of stand up comedy in the country – I hope I have done it with this!
What is the one thing that you need to do to be different from the other stand up comedians?
I think you need to know who you are. The beauty of this art form is that you get to tell your story. Everyone’s story is unique, and that’s what people want to hear. The second you try to sound like someone else, the audience will smell it and you’re out of business!
If you have to explain Kunal in one word, it would be…
How do you see the digital space evolving in the next couple of years? Will it eventually find precedence over television?
It has grown massively. But it is still stuck in the urban areas, at least in India. Also, numbers don’t necessarily mean views, because India is such a dynamic country that each village, let alone state, has its own consumption pattern. There are far more content creators now, so the competition is phenomenal. You really need to do something unique to be noticed! In my opinion, the way forward is platforms like Amazon Prime Video. Subscription-based services will make a mark, and we all need to watch out for that.
There is a lot of ‘uncalled for’ sex and cuss in digital content…your take on it…
Well, I have done enough comedy in the last 10 years to know that there’s an audience for everything. What is “uncalled for” for one is “essential” for another! The market always decides what works and what doesn’t. Personally, my special, ‘Done’, is mostly clean, with no “unnecessary foulness”! But we’ll wait for the people to decide!
Censorship in web entertainment: should it be there or not?
I think times are changing… rapidly! And I think censorship has also been misused. The audience has a voice, and I think they’re not keen on censorship! After all, we are not in Victorian times anymore!
What has been the biggest learning in your journey so far?
The journey is long! That’s my learning! And there are plenty of distractions and options. But it’s better to treat it as a marathon than a sprint. Pace yourself and enjoy yourself!
Ever fancy working for television or movies… or the internet is your preferred choice of medium?
I believe one must try everything once! So if you’re offering me a role, I’d be happy to audition!
Too many to list!
How do you keep yourself updated in the competitive space?
I don’t, actually! I do my own thing. I feel that’s how I create best – by tapping in to my inner craziness and letting its uniqueness show in my content! I really doubt I would have created this special without doing that!
What do you think are the pros and cons of the digital space?
Pros: Lots of options. Cons: Lots of options!
What is that one thing/dream/ambition that keeps the fire burning within you?
I want to share as much insight and knowledge as possible with the world!
Tips for aspiring standup comedians and YouTubers out there…
Write write write write write…
Perform perform perform perform perform…
Fail fail fail fail fail!
Final words for your fans…
I exist because of my fans!