"I was born a caesarean baby…they had to pull me out of my mother's womb. She was not ready Da," says comedian Aravind Sa, explaining the title of his new Amazon Prime Video special I Was Not Ready Da. His second on the platform after 2017's Madrasi Da, the new special sees him discussing several firsts and milestone achievements from his life.
He opens the show by announcing to his Chennai audience that the entire set will be in English because occasionally veering into Tamil during his last Amazon special got him the tag of 'Tamil comic'. Strange, he observes, considering that when North Indian comics break into Hindi, they're still referred to as 'Indian comedians'.
Like Madrasi Da, Aravind relies on his enormous energy and exaggerated style for humour, rather than impressive writing or memorable jokes. But, while his animated style and rhythmic delivery are enjoyable to watch (that, and the fact that he's clearly having a blast), energy alone isn't enough to sustain over 70 minutes of stand up, especially when you're watching it online and not live with an audience. As a result, I Was Not Ready Da is yet another one of those 'try not to tune out while you wait around for the next big laugh' comedy specials.
The show is peppered with the comic merely listing various funny observations rather than fleshing them out in colourful ways. For example, he has a lengthy bit about the awkwardness of buying condoms in Indian pharmacies, but aside from that core thought, he doesn't take it anywhere. The same is true for another bit about the incessant need of Indians on a flight to jump out of their seats as soon as the wheels touch the ground.
But what does work and makes this an occasionally rewarding watch is the refreshing perspective of a Tamil comic speaking about his cultural experiences (Aravind is among a handful of comics from the South to have a special on the platform and one of the first to have two). Much of his material is based on the North-South divide, from questioning why Hindi is considered the national language to breaking down how people from Chennai use Tinder. At a time when the Indian comedy scene is largely dominated by Hindi voices, it's great to see stand-up used as a gateway to a different culture and its quirks.
While there aren't nearly as many as you'd hope, I Was Not Ready Da does have some memorable bits such as Aravind's commentary on how Indians behave in American strip clubs, how his attempt at getting a private dance from a stripper quickly escalated into an arranged marriage interview, and why he had to refuse another because their 'horoscopes didn't match'. Similarly I enjoyed watching him recount his experiences of being invited on multiple Indian news panel shows after his 2017 set on why Chennai Express' Lungi Dance is regressive went viral on YouTube. "You know the country has gone to the dogs when people are taking a comedian's opinion seriously and laughing at shit politicians say," he says.
What's also fascinating about the story is a throwaway moment in which he suggests that Amazon Prime only agreed to put Madrasi Da on the platform if he uploaded a clip on YouTube and proved it could go viral – if true, it's a telling moment about how the platform makes its decisions. Also, I'm not sure if writing about the audience is particularly valid when discussing a stand-up show but the woo-for-anything audience here is particularly annoying as they seem to erupt at literally anything he says. At times it feels like an episode of The Big Bang Theory where average jokes are met with inexplicably thunderous laughter.
In a 2018 interview to the Deccan Chronicle Aravind said, "It is not always about saying something funny. Sometimes you have to be the clown. You are the joke! It's all about entertaining people." That thought feels like the perfect summary of this special. Aravind is clearly a gifted performer and his delivery is a joy to watch. I just wish I Was Not Ready Da had the material to match.