The Pant Rant—Sitting down with Sorabh Pant
Rated amongst the top 10 stand-up comedians in India, Mr. Sorabh Pant is famous for his fiery and manic style of comedy. The thirty-six-year-old standup comedian has performed over 250 shows in various cities across India and is known for his quirky tweets and shows. As MIT welcomes back the popular comedian for another hilarious evening organized by DL101, we, at the Post had an opportunity to grab a few words with him. Read on to find out more.
This is your second time performing in Manipal. How does it feel to be back?
I am very excited to be coming back to Manipal. I remember the first show I had done at MIT was one of the most fun college shows I have ever done. In fact, I do like about 40-50 college shows in a year and I have a feeling that, that might have been one of my top three favorite shows. I performed for two hours, 45 minutes, which is unheard of (chuckles). I was on the stage for so long, that after a point, they were like “Tereko admission de dete hai”. It was a super fun show. The director was great, the crowd was great. I had a blast. I enjoyed the campus and the entire experience of coming to Manipal. I’m looking forward to repeating this. Hopefully, I won’t be on stage for long. So, yes, I’m genuinely very excited.
The job of a standup comedian is not easy. How do you come up with fresh content?
Generating fresh content is a very hard thing to do. I have my Amazon Prime special coming out on August 3rd. It’s called “Make India Great Again” and is quite political. It’s basically about social issues and stuff about India. I am also writing content for “Rant of the Pant.” I think the simplest way to write fresh content is just to read as much as humanly possible. The more you read—the more information you get inside you. So, I tend to read a lot and consume a lot of material that helps me write jokes.
I think it also helps because I’m thirty-six years old, and the only way we can survive in this industry is to surround ourselves with young people to understand what is happening. For instance, I had no idea what PUBG mobile is. I was genuinely shocked and thought that people who are probably sixteen are going into this pub somewhere. So, yes, I think surrounding yourself with young people is a bit of a key that helps you with new content.
In India, most parents do not think of stand-up comedy as a viable career option for their kids. What set you along this path? Did you imagine being at this level someday?
I don’t think that this opinion is restricted to India. In general, no one thinks that stand-up is a viable career option. To be honest, it is not. Anyone who tells you that it is lying to you. Unless you put as much effort into it as you would into a normal job, you’re not really going make it. However, I do think Indian parents are a lot more involved in their kids’ lives and careers than parents in other places. I think my parents gave up on me pretty early. My sister was the one doing the good stuff. She won a scholarship and went abroad to study.
My parents were happy that I was employed. I think they were only convinced about my career choice when I turned 28. To be honest, I was only convinced about it when I turned 31. So, I guess I myself didn’t think of it as a viable career option.
Stand-up comedy is a rapidly burgeoning field. How would you rate the competition in this field?
I don’t really see it as competition. I don’t think we have as much jealousy as people assume we do in the comedy circuit. I’m always happy when somebody does well or releases a video because the comedy industry is so nascent right now that people think that you don’t have time for all that stuff. I do think that everyone’s constantly pushing the barrier which is really exciting. There was a point about a year ago where I avoided watching others’ stand-up comedy, not because of any snobbishness but because I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone else’s style or anything anyone else said. Now, I’ve rid myself of that stupidity. I really like the top 10-12 comedians in India, maybe even the top 30.
I think it’s great how the competition always drives you to do better. I don’t think anyone is popular or good at what they do on the basis of not working. If somebody’s a bad comedian and famous without doing anything whatsoever, then I would be annoyed.
You’re the author of the book, “The Wednesday Soul”. How did you like your foray into writing?
I have written three novels and the recurring joke is that they are all best-sellers and I’m trying my best to sell them. I think beyond being a different exercise to try and figure out a different field barring stand-up, it’s been a very interesting challenge with regards to writing a novel. You have to do some basic things really well. If anything else, I realized that when you’re writing a novel, you need to have your marketing plan in place simultaneously along with your writing plan. I didn’t do this for my novels. The Wednesday soul was a fantasy novel set in one’s afterlife. There was Under Delhi, which focused on the story of a girl who was fighting rapists who were falsely acquitted of rape in Delhi. It was really angry and fun. Pawan–the flying accountant was about an invincible superhero who is also suicidal. He doesn’t want to fight any wars and only wants to get drunk. I think that character is based on me if I had any powers.
The stories are all interesting, strange, and weird. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s exactly my intention. Stand-up is where I’m trying to be relatable and get everyone to like what I do, whereas novels are mostly for myself. I do put in a lot of jokes because I don’t want people to say that my stand-ups were funny but my novels weren’t. There is a fine line think that the new one is done relatively better than the other two. I think I should be selling a few copies when I come to Manipal too.
India as a country can sometimes be very quick to take offence. When you perform, are you afraid of saying something people will react badly to? Do you hold back sometimes because of this? Do you believe in censoring yourself?
You don’t usually hold yourself back in a live show-obviously, what’s the point? So, in such a live show, I just go for it. However, when it comes to releasing stuff online, one cannot put up a set that can cause them trouble. Also, to be honest, I don’t really say stuff that is too crazy or offensive in general. I do say things that are controversial or difficult to talk about. With Rant of the Pant, I spoke about a bunch of things like religious noise pollution, how Indian news debates are pointless, and how sanitary pads should be tax-free, which now, by the way, has been cleared. I unlike everyone else, am not accepting responsibility for me making it happen. (laughs)
For the forthcoming “Make India great again”, I had written a series of jokes about Modi, Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi, etc. and one month prior to the whole show, I decided to run it past a few people who are my friends and my producers. The basic feedback was like “Dude, how many FIRs do you want, just tone it down a little bit”. So I had to re-write a lot of content and get imaginative with my criticism of people, especially the ones who tend to file FIRs in India. I won’t name the political party. Oddly enough that made my set a little bit more interesting as opposed to being really stupid.
Sometimes, I do think censorship does help in toning down the content a little bit. I don’t hold myself back in live shows, but when you do put controversial things online, you do sort of make sure that it is not too far off. Also, to give you an example, I have been working on a set on depression and suicide for about a year now, and every time I plan on releasing it, I kind of make sure that its cent percent ready because I don’t want to send out a wrong message to people. I want to make sure that everything is right. So, that’s a challenge.
Do you think this field is experiencing a short-lived boom or is it here to stay?
I don’t think it’s a short-lived boom. I do think that right now, there’s an explosion of stand-up that’s happening. You can release practically any video, including something titled, ‘Haryana me mere papa Facebook pe kya karte the’, and it’s going to get a large number of views. However, that situation is not going to last forever. I think that after a certain point in time, people will become a lot more discerning. I’m really excited about the comedy boom but I do think we’ll plateau out a little bit and not everyone will make it to the other side. This might include me as well, who knows. So, you constantly need to recalibrate yourself. I’ve been here for about nine years and I plan to be here for at least nine-ten years more. You will find that the people who survive are the ones capable of churning out a lot of content on platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hotstar because these are the platforms where you can put out a lot of high-quality content.
Like any other industry, you will eventually figure out that you need to upgrade yourself to a new platform.
Manipal has quite a fan-following when it comes to comedy, and a lot of aspiring stand-up comedians as well. Do you have something you’d like to tell them, in terms of the risks, the opportunities, the chances of success, and how rewarding it can be?
A: Whenever I check my Facebook or YouTube stats, I notice that the number of views from Manipal and Mangalore isn’t phenomenally high but the responses are incredibly interesting. I’ve just done one show in Manipal and another two in Mangalore and all of them have been pretty spectacular. The people are super hospitable. I’m not disparaging Manipal or Mangalore but I think the main reason you guys are so enthusiastic is that you’re so far removed from humanity over here. I’ve traveled to XLRI, Jamshedpur to perform and the students there were so happy that someone’s traveled nine and a half hours to see them that they would have settled even for Whatsapp joke forwards.
If you’re a young comedian in Manipal, I will actually try to speak to my organizers and try to get a few people spots because I assume there’s not much stand-up happening here. I’ll tell my organizers to have three or four people opening for me. Barring that, I think Manipal and MIT in general, are places where you can have regular open nights where people can come and see you. My only suggestion for young comedians is to get on stage as much as humanly possible. There is no other way to make it happen.
On a closing note, I’d like to say that I’m very excited about this show. On my roster for the next month, I think these are the shows I’m the most excited about. I really hope to see you guys there and feel free to tune into my next Amazon Prime special, ‘Make India great again’ from the 3rd of August.
Rant 101, organized by DL101 will be held on the 12th of August, 2018 at Hotel Central Park. This is Mr.Pant’s second performance here and the college eagerly awaits it.