The Coronavirus, lockdown, TRP scam and Bollywood drugs allegations are all topics that should, by now, evoke a deep sense of exhaustion. It’s only fair, they’ve dominated news cycles for months now. So it’s to Saloni Gaur’s credit that she manages to mine these well-worn subjects for fresh jokes in the opening monologue of her new Sony LIV show Uncommon Sense With Saloni. But just when it seems like the show’s headed down a standard stand-up path, Gaur does something surprising for an Indian comedy show. She gets political.
“Why isn’t the mainstream media covering the student protests against unemployment?” she asks, “Because no anchor wants to join the unemployed crowd by discussing this.” The topic of episode 1 is ‘Students and Unemployment’ and Gaur pulls up news reports to illustrate why it’s a growing problem. It’s a good start, but the 18-minute-long episode progresses, it becomes clear that her handling of the issue is surface-level, with her more interested in converting headlines into punchlines rather than using comedy to provoke thought. She undercuts every serious report with an immediate follow-up joke, which dilutes the subject and eventually gets repetitive.
Gaur delivers this monologue onstage, standing in front of several television sets. It’s a visual that’s reminiscent of Hasan Minhaj’s refusal to be confined behind a desk for his Netflix show Patriot Act, but while she shares Minhaj’s frenetic energy, Uncommon Sense lacks the depth or perspective of his show or that of other late-night hosts like Trevor Noah and John Oliver. Gaur brings the facts, but doesn’t mould them into a narrative.
A too-long sketch, meant to explore unemployment from a first-person perspective, follows her speech, but is too silly to either spark laughter or a real conversation. She rounds off the episode by delivering her closing monologue as Nazma Aapi, the character that shot her to fame. Though sporadically funny, it’s a rehash of her earlier speech and touches upon the same subjects.
Gaur does have a talent for comedy. It’s evident from her turns as Nazma and Kangana Runout on social media. Flashes of it appear in the show’s opening monologue, in which she acknowledges the fake laugh track while simultaneously demanding more of it. Uncommon Sense With Saloni has six writers and for it to work, it either needs much sharper writing or a full-blown commitment to silliness without the baggage of an ‘issue’ to discuss. Its current form does justice to neither. Still, it’s worth noting that Gaur is just 20, this is just episode 1 of her show and if she keeps playing to her strengths, what comes next holds promise.