Much has been said about Amazon Prime Video and the frequency with which it has been signing deals with India's comics. The streaming service is piggybacking on the boom of the comedy scene in India by flooding their platform with shows by young comics. It started with 14 comedy specials and a bunch of web series in 2017. Biswa Kalyan Rath's Biswa Mast Aadmi (special) and Sumukhi Suresh's Pushpavalli (series) did stand out, but most others were, at best, mediocre. This year, they further ramped up by announcing 23 more specials and Comicstaan, a talent contest they're calling 'India's search for the next big stand-up comedian'.
Comicstaan, hosted by Abish Mathew and Sumukhi Suresh, features on its judging panel seven of the biggest names in Indian stand-up comedy. The format of the show is simple – after an introductory episode that covers the elimination rounds in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, each of the judges mentor the participants in the genre of comedy they're known for – Biswa Kalyan Rath (anecdotal), Tanmay Bhat (topical), Sapan Verma (observational), Kaneez Surka (improvisational), Kanan Gill (comedy of terror), Kenny Sebastian (alternative) and Naveen Richard (sketch).
In each episode, the ten finalists are coached by a judge and then perform a 4-minute long set incorporating the feedback their mentor gives them. They are then scored by the judges and the audience in attendance, and an average of the two scores is calculated. At the end of the nine episodes, the participant with the highest score wins a prize of 10 lakh rupees.
The show is a breezy watch. While some of the in-jokes may be lost on those who are not already familiar with the comics, there is still plenty to chew on. The participants are an eclectic bunch – we see everything from awkward jokes delivered with a deadpan seriousness to hyper-energetic tomfoolery.
My personal favourites were contestants Rahul Dua and Sejat Bhat who should go on to have promising careers in comedy. Dua's Punjabi carelessness is instantly appealing and he has a very confident presence on stage. Bhat's feminism informs her perspective and enables her to talk about, in a unique voice, various issues that affect women. One particular bit about bras is one of the definite highlights of the show.
Hosts Mathew and Suresh keep the proceedings cheerfully alive. The judges each play their part too, however, given that there are seven of them, we hear feedback from only two or three after each performance. But it would have been nicer to see more of the mentoring – in every episode we are shown only a small montage of the workshops conducted. While this may suffice in giving us a gist of that genre of comedy, it would be rewarding to get more of a glimpse into the workshops to see more of the process that goes behind crafting a set – from the inception of a funny idea to its execution. This is understandable though, given that the material contestants work on in the workshop is performed later in the episode.
Comicstaan, that premieres on the streaming service on 13th July will not have all episodes for viewing available at once. Amazon have chosen to go the old-school way and will hope to build tension as they drop a new episode every week.