Indian comedian Kunal Kamra on political satire and death threats

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Indian comedian Kunal Kamra on political satire and death threats

The comedian caught up with City Times ahead of his international tour 'Fresher Thoughts' in the UAE on December 13 at the Hartland International School Auditorium.

by Dhanusha Gokulan

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Published: Thu 12 Dec 2019, 10:46 PM

Last updated: Fri 13 Dec 2019, 12:57 AM

Unlike the tours of politicians meant to raise funds for their personal charities, aka political parties, Indian comedian Kunal Kamra says his tour is 'for artistic and capitalistic motives'. One of the country's most popular stand-ups, Kamra has been very generous while taking potshots at the Indian right-wing, and criticising the establishment.
Between the heights of Siachen and Antilia, his jokes have entertained everyone in this valley he calls 'reality'. The comedian caught up with City Times ahead of his international tour 'Fresher Thoughts' in the UAE on December 13 at the Hartland International School Auditorium.
Here is a few excerpts from the interview with Kamra.
City Times: You're being called one of India's bravest and most outspoken political satirist. Is that a title you are proud of or do you shirk away from it?
Kunal: I think whenever someone calls me brave or outspoken it's more than worrying for me because I'm not outspoken. I think of ten things, and then I censor my own self and put one of them out. I hope there is a wave of comedians who come after me who are more outspoken and they don't censor themselves as much and they actually speak everything that comes to their mind. I do not take that title proudly, I just hope we become into a country where everyone can just speak their mind and I hope we are headed there at some point. 
City Times: What does it take to be a political satirist in India today? Also, do you, or do you not receive death threats? If you do, how do you deal with them?
Kunal: I think it just needs to be - a comedian just reads the newspaper and just commenting on it - that's what it takes to be a satirist in Indian right now. As Varun Grover once said - we are competing against reality. The reality some days is so bizarre that satire cannot compete with it.
I don't think the death threats that I receive deter me in any way because most of them are empty from anonymous accounts and there is nothing to be dealt with because the more you focus there the more energies you have to give on that front. Just to be true to yourself and create and that what my motto is. Just keep creating content.
City Times: What do you have in store for your audiences in UAE? Do you enjoy performing here? What do you think of the audiences here?
Kunal: Yes, I think it is a lot of fun to perform outside India for the Indian diaspora. There is a lot more warmth and love. And it's a once (or max twice) in a year the event, so people who show up are very excited to see you.
I do enjoy performing everywhere outside India. Because it is just very different lives and very different people. And connecting with them with the same jokes I connect with people back home, it's a different feeling. The audiences here are pretty cool, smart and aware - interested in India. So, it's a fun experience.
City Times: You have approx. 1.24 million followers on YouTube and huge numbers on other social media platforms. Do you think that's happening because India is hungry for liberal content as a respite? Or do you think comedy is just comedy, and no activism really comes out of it?
Kunal: Eh, No, I think 1.24m is not a huge number at all considering we are 1.3billion people in India. It's just a minute percentage of people who follow me on social media. The internet penetration will hopefully be double of what it is right now in the next 3-4 years, and our numbers will go higher and higher and we will connect hopefully with the masses and I think currently also comedy is floating around in the ten metro cities of the country. I hope we seep deeper and deeper into the masses with more Hindi content. I think people are just hungry for content, I don't think they divide it into liberal/non-liberal, political/non-political, etc. I think if you are a content creator today - people are online and living their lives through a mobile screen, so whatever you can get to the table there is always somebody willing to consume it.
City Times: Would you like to have a presence on Netflix, Amazon?
I think the moment I have something special, where I can hold the audiences' attention for an hour odd through a screen, I would pitch it to Netflix or Amazon. I just feel that the attention span of people is so small right now that they can barely go 15-16minutes without looking at their phones or without being distracted. Hence my current aim is just to put YouTube videos but yea soon enough if I have a special that is a story that strings together for 70mins and its cuts through the clutter, I would totally like to be on this platform.
City Times: If someone wants to become a stand-up comedian in India now, what does he or she have to do, or where do they have to start?
I think if someone has to be a stand-up comedian in India, now is the time the industry is growing. Just go for open mics, just look at what you write, How you write it, I mean if you are able to construct a funny joke on Facebook, You can try your hand on stand-up, it's no rocket science, But it's just that you need to enjoy jokes, You need to be passionate about creating, Joke is basically unique perspective on a Monday and think, If you are good at that stuff just hit the open mics and get addicted to making people laugh and that's how you will become a stand-up comedian.
City Times: Can you tell us a little something about yourself Kunal; where did you grow up? Your early influences?
Kunal: I was born and brought up in Bombay, I started doing comedy in 2013. Tanmay, Varun Grover and Anubhav Pal were the comedians who really inspired me and pushed me during my early days and just seeing them do what they do make me want to be like them and do this full time and I am just grateful finally this is working out and I am now doing comedy full time and travelling all around and doing shows and meeting very interesting people so I am just grateful for that and thank you so much for doing this and I am really sorry if I delayed answering these questions it's just been crazy travelling currently.
City Times: How do you deal with hostile crowds?
I think hostile crowds are those crowds that don't buy tickets. So maybe a corporate show, a private show, a college show. That's when the crowd gets hostile. Mostly I play ticketed events where people buy a ticket and they are willingly there to watch me so I have not dealt with hostile crowds especially in the last one year but I think if you are honest to yourself and the crowd is hostile you would address them being hostile, figure out why they are hostile and joke about yourself. I think any crowd deserves, if they are paying attention they deserve to laugh and if you are unable to make them laugh then you just address the situation and make jokes on yourself.

Dhanusha Gokulan
Dhanusha Gokulan

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