Danish Sait and Kusha Kapila, two of the most popular influencers and faces of comedy online, in an exclusive session on FC Front Row, spoke about how they discovered and honed their love for comedy, the importance of understanding one’s value in the industry and the myths that their profession holds.
Sneha Menon Desai: How and when did you realize that you were onto something really good and this could become a career?
Kusha Kapila: I had seen Danish perform around two years ago. He was doing one of his improv shows. When I watched him perform, I was like: “What are we even doing on video, online? This is insane!” The live show was stunning. I happened to meet him after that and he said something really interesting to me, which I always keep close to my heart: “Your comedy is something that bridges the gap between generations, which means that a mother and her daughter can laugh at the same joke at the same time.” I think it was such a deep insight into the kind of content we both make, but I did not have that kind of clarity on my content at that point of time. It came from Danish. After that, I realized how it made so much sense. When you look at certain Delhi nuances and Delhi things you realize that it’s something that people share across generations, class and different parts of the city. So for me, the first taste of “Oh, it’s become really big,” was when people just downloaded my videos and started sending them on WhatsApp. My mom received one from a WhatsApp group of hers and when she told me about it, I was like, “That seems like I might have done something right.”
Danish Sait: I think I knew that this was something I wanted to do because of my childhood. I went to a boarding school. I used to be the guy who’d make people laugh. I used to do silly things even whilst we were in our rooms. I always wanted to do this, but now it seems more tangible with numbers. Like you have a billion on Instagram, you have a million on YouTube. I think even if I didn’t have the numbers, I would still do what I am doing right now because there is no other way or form in which I know how to exist.
SMD: Coming to the business aspect of your profession, was asking for money from brands something that you struggled with when you started off? Because you don’t know how to make it tangible for what you do otherwise?
KK: I honestly really enjoy brand deals. I look at them as challenges. I don’t do run-of-the-mill brand stuff, I don’t hold a product and say, “Buy it.” I’ll think of a narrative, a story, fight with brands about integration. I’ve had e-mails written to brands that, “This idea would not work. I need a confirmation from you that you’re OK with the idea of paying me, and this video not working.” By now, most brands know how I work. So if there is a blatant integration, I would not do it.
As a woman, I’m hardwired to not negotiate, so I would have problems negotiating things in my job also, when it came to negotiate salaries with my bosses. And if it wasn’t for the people around me who really saw the scope of me growing and improving in my negotiating skills, I really wouldn’t have. I feel now I have a little bit of courage to do this, but most talents have managers, they have agencies, who are their fronts. They have people negotiating for them. And with me too, from day 1, I’ve had people to negotiate for me. I don’t think I have ever negotiated for myself. At the core of it, this is how business works. Perhaps you’ll work solo for a month or so, but if If you’re talented and you really explode onto the scene, agencies will sign you. For me it was the person who created the South Delhi series, Santu Misra. He’s been my partner, mentor, best friend. He does everything when it comes to me, and now we don’t settle for less, we refuse to. And I think most people should be like that. You know the game, you know what you are bringing to the table. I don’t think you should be ashamed to ask for the price for sure.
DS: Even I am a bad negotiator. For me, work is more important than the money I make. Fortunately, I have a system in place where my manager Natasha negotiates with people. Sometimes, what happens is that brands come with an idea themselves, and that idea is nowhere in the zone of what I’m doing right now or what I’ve built. Or they’ll carry my idea and come back to me and say, “Do something like this.” I refuse to do that, because at the end of the day, people need to understand that it is influencer marketing, which means you are collaborating with me to use my strengths. Not for me to use what you think my strengths are. Initially when I started off, I think it was like, “Fine, we’ll do this too, we’ll do that too.” But with time, I’ve realized that I need to push back and do it the way I believe in. How she has Santu, I have Vamsi (Vamsidhar Bhogaraju) to help me here.
SMD: What is the most misunderstood thing about your job? What are the myths you’d like to bust about digital content creation?
DS: “I’ll make a viral video”: I think that’s the biggest myth. If anybody ever tells you, “I’ll make a viral video,” run in the other direction, because that person has no idea what they are saying. Nobody knows how to make a viral video. We’re all just trying.
It’s all about waking up in the morning, making a video and trying to figure it out. You put it out there, if it goes viral, it goes viral, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.
The second myth is that if people (like me or Kusha) share your content, then it will go viral. If it has to get picked up, it will get picked up. I assure you, it will. I get messages everyday, saying “You have a fan following, please share it.” I’m like, “Bro if it has to go viral, it will go viral. I don’t have to share it.” Because I have never gone out and asked someone to share my work, it has been shared organically.
KK: Writing is at the core of this job. My notes are filled, my voice notes are filled with ideas too. Anytime I see something, I just record it. It’s not like, “Oh, today I want to make content, what should I make?” I don’t work like that. I’ll keep that idea, it will keep brewing in my mind for weeks.
In one video regarding mental health, I played all the members of my family. I didn’t want that video to be written. For that video, every single day, I would act like different members of my family, and just start talking like them. And then on the day when I had to shoot it, I just did 7 minutes of improv of each character, and then I just put it all together on edit. When I am making original content, I don’t let anybody touch it. I know exactly how it is in my head with the edit too. I feel everyone has a process, find your process. Do you like to write? Do you like to take voice notes? Comics actually store their ideas by recording voice notes, this is what I found out recently. So figure out your process, You need to have a process. It’s not that easy. Don’t think that, “It’s a relatable idea, I’ll make a video on it and it will work.” No. You’ll need to have an edge, you’ll need some sort of writing prowess there.
DS: Don’t let the tool use you, use the tool. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter – these are places where I put out content to generate views, shares and hence, the eventual idea is that brands will come back to me. I have understood that, so I use it that way. I’ll never let the tool use me to compel me to put something out there. The moment I’m compelled to put something out, I’m under constant stress: “Oh my God, I haven’t put out a video, I haven’t put out an idea, what if people forget me?”
There is a huge difference between presence and relevance. If you’re doing something for presence, you’re going to burn yourself up and you’ll not feel good about it. The moment you do it with relevance, if the content is relevant for that time, it’s relevant to people who understand it, it’s very different. Then it’s content that people share with their families, friends and so on and so forth.
KK: A great example of what Danish said is, for example, when you get a brand deal. A good way to work around that is instead of thinking of content pieces to fit around the brand, make a compelling content piece, and then seamlessly fit the brand if you have to. Think of your content first before integration. People should still get a story, they should still get entertained while you’re trying to sell them a product. I do that and know that it’s a lot of work, and I don’t know why I do it, but that’s the only way I can sleep at night. Have a fantastic idea and then find a way to integrate it. If you’re a smart writer, you’ll find a way.