With his first special on Amazon Prime, Ashish Shakya, one of the founding members of All India Bakchod (AIB), aims to create a stand-up special that is meant to stand out from the crowd. Ashish’s Life is Good is observational, reflective and unique in its approach. It’s an attempt that works in segments; but as a sum of its parts, Life is Good falls flat on its own promise.
In Life is Good, as the title suggests, Shakya takes the audience through the journey of his life, life in the 90s and life as a 30 year old – the latter being something his former AIB counterpart Rohan Joshi also touches upon in his special Wake n’ Bake. While the material they work with are different, one wonders if they looked at each other’s sheets in the exam hall and came up with two different, but reasonably OK answers to the same questions.
As the special starts, Shakya sets the context with what is probably the funniest line in his special – asking the audience present (and watching on screens) whether comedy and internet would exist without the 90s as source material. He builds on that gag using both his writing, observational and narrative skills deftly. But when the segment devolves into fart jokes I found myself losing interest. Not that the fart jokes aren’t funny, they just didn’t seem to go with the flow.
Speaking of other things that don’t land, the segment on the advertising life is another ‘ho-hum’ bit and doesn’t lead to much pay-off. As the special moves to the second act, one can observe that while there are some good (yet juvenile) punchlines: for example, the “trans fats” jokes, or the “Alka Yagnik” one. But there is no narrative cohesiveness. It would seem that Shakya wanted to build up to Life is Good’s strong and distinct third act but didn’t know how to get there in the best possible manner. Instead, he serves us the usual Indian English stand-up comedy Khow suey of relatable jokes, 90’s throwbacks, growing up as a middle-class elite and life in the thirties.
These are hard questions that have been tackled brilliantly before by Western and Asian comedians, and it is great to see Shakya push that boundary as well. When most established comedians tackle serious topics in their sets, they try the ‘punch and distract’ formula that leads to a ‘big blow’…
The third act is where Shakya’s show shines. You realize that the title is ‘Life is Good’ for a reason. He attempts a bold and mildly philosophical segment here – taking on ageing and meaning of life with some depth and poignancy. As someone who may have achieved all that there is to achieve in many ways, what’s next? And does a lack of What’s Next mean that a life that has been good so far is over? Is a life now headed towards mediocrity not worth living? Or is there more meaning to it than one would see?
These are hard questions that have been tackled brilliantly before by Western and Asian comedians, and it is great to see Shakya push that boundary as well. When most established comedians tackle serious topics in their sets, they try the ‘punch and distract’ formula that leads to a ‘big blow’; you pepper your deeper, more reflective segments with segues into absurd or simpler punchlines and anecdotes, keeping the audience engaged till you land at a big payoff.
Shakya tries that formula too, but sadly, not very effectively. One almost wants him to stop doing the segues, talk through the portions that are genuinely poignant about life, depression and quarter-life crisis and land straight at the payoff. The ‘sexual prowess’ led segues contribute nothing to the narrative, and there is nothing genuinely philosophical, or even downright funny.
It’s almost as if Shakya is too scared to lose the audience on what is truly the only original and unique portion in the special and he has to jump to ‘Akbar, Birbal and Infosys’ jokes to conclude. You are rooting for Ashish Shakya to stick the landing on a relatively unique segment for Indian comedy, but the demands of ‘dumbing down’ take over.
Life is Good’s third act is what makes the special worth your time, but it’s a tragedy that Shakya’s unable to deliver a hallelujah.