Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video
Comicstaan on Amazon Prime is in many ways a landmark show. Netflix and Amazon Prime may have been generous in giving a mass platform to various voices in the Indian 'stand-up' scene in the last, but there was a definitive space for a thinking Indian's 'Laughter Challenge'. Season one of Comicstaan filled that space last year; and quality and content issues aside, it was indeed a clutter-breaking and well-marketed show.
Comicstaan's Season two, which hit Amazon Prime last weekend, with a three-episode package, tries to carry forward what "worked" last season. It's about new judges, new contestants, new hosts and better production design. Season two feels no different in nature, scope and imagination – with the exception of Zakir Khan as one of the judges. One would assume that the producers have gone for the 'if it isn't broken, don't fix it' adage.
The first three episodes follow last year's format, with 10 contestants competing for judges and audience scores. Each episode tackles one genre/style of comedy – observational, anecdotal and improv, respectively. Each of these themes is mentored by a judge and we see Kanan Gill, Zakir Khan and Kaneez Surka impart their wisdom, experience and technical knowledge to the contestants.
Speaking of contestants, the line-up is strong this time. I found myself picking favourites within the first episode – and that's welcome change as compared to last year. There is visible diversity in the backgrounds and styles of each of these contestants, and thankfully less of the 'Bengaluru open-mic' stereotype. I already have my clear personal favourites, which include Shreeja, Sumit, Samay and Aakash – I'm sure you'll find yours.
The first episode, Eye Spy with Kanan, puts the contestants through the grind of observational comedy. The contestants bring their 'A game' to the stage and all-in-all the season is off to a good start. The second episode, Sunn Lo Bhai with Zakir is about anecdotal comedy. Zakir, male middle-India's darling and new judge on the show, delivers an earnest training montage for the viewers, with valuable insights on storytelling and the comedy medium. However, most contestants deliver routines that are just not funny enough. The anecdotal format isn't easy – and even some of the most experienced stand-ups globally are guilty of bombing sets. With that in mind, it would be wise to keep one's expectations in the middle for this. That said, it's all downhill from the second episode.
The third episode Making Stuff Up with Kaneez which focuses on 'improv' is an absolute abomination. Improv is tough, we get it, but this episode is equal parts awkward and boring. Both the judges and the contestants fall flat in episode 3 and the acts are grossly mistimed and/or unfunny. The only highlight of the episode is the sense of nostalgia it brings – in the manner of "Oh! I've seen something like this performed at my school farewell!"
In short, Comicstaan season 2 opens strong, maintains pace and then squanders it away in the third episode. Should one come back for the fourth? Yes, of course, there are a bunch of talented contenders in there, who I dare say, are better than the previous year's lot.
That said, each episode has a one-hour runtime. As the judges would say, it has "too much flab". "Tight karo!" is valuable advice that should have been given to the producers and editors.
Comicstaan season 2 works very well when the focus is on the contestants and what they bring individually to the table. It's when the focus shifts back to the judges or the awkward hosts, that it starts to flounder.