It is quite an achievement in India if your YouTube channel shows up as the first result when you Google for ‘bakchod’. The word ‘bakchod’ basically refers to an Indian slang used for a person who talks nonsense. No dispute here, sex, politics and religion are the most used (and abused) topics during the cherished ‘chai-time’ conversations in India. Someone had to pick these discussions from the dining tables, offices, classrooms and restaurants.
Enter Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba, the co-founders of All India Bakchod, a startup that lives and sells humour.
India’s foremost comedy podcast, All India Bakchod has come a long way since they started in 2012. The duo is driven by their innate ability and curiosity to explore human follies. It seems to have worked every single time but how was it the very first time? What triggered or rather annoyed Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba to take their sanity (or insanity) to the nation, err... people?
Here’s an account of the ‘Comedy Kings’ of India by none other than Tanmay Bhat himself.
Not so embarrassing beginning
“There was a function in my society once, and they were distributing free gifts to all the new couples in the society who had had a ‘love marriage’. I really wanted a gift. So I walked up on the stage and said I want a ‘love marriage’ so that I can get a gift too. I grew up to be a comedian so really that was the least embarrassing thing I've done on stage,” recalls Tanmay.
All India Bakchod is now two years old. Last year, a majority of their work was around producing funny podcasts.
“I owe a lot of AIB's growth to OML and NH7. They're the only people we've met who 'get it',” says Tanmay. The making of AIB slaughtered many peaceful nights of Tanmay’s neighbors with the all-night yelling. It even tested his mother’s patience.
Tanmay considers Khamba and himself more or less on the same plane on most things. As an afterthought he adds, “Khamba is less frazzled and gives less of a fuck than me in general.”
It’s a funny world
For an artist, the whole world is a stage and for a comedian the whole world is funny. Tanmay says, “I'm an absolutist when it comes to what's funny and what's not. I think everything has the potential to be funny. Even cancer (Look up Tig Notaro), or religion (Look up Bill Maher, George Carlin, Bill hicks), and of course even death (Look up Louis CK).”
Raju Shrivastava is Tanmay's all time favorite stand up comedian. He looks forward to the legend Louis CK because of his raw and unapologetic humor style which kept pushing the boundaries of humor . George Carlin(for his 7 dirty words), Chris Rock (for the classic Black people v/s Niggaz) and Patrice O'Neal are other stand up comedians whom Tanmay look forward to for similar reason as Louis CK's. AIB also serves the same kind of humor, something which has not been tried before and that's what pushes the limits. But for someone who has made people laugh without going the raw and unapologetic way, Jerry Seinfeld is an icon Tanmay bow down to because he understands how difficult it is to tickle the funny bone with straight jokes.
So what do AIB joke about?
“Sex, politics, religion and tons more. We do stand up, sketch on stage, along with podcasts and a radio show, and now YouTube videos too. We literally do comedy every day of the week. So we get bored easily. Which is why the channel also has a bunch of really random ideas on it and all of next year we will just experiment with whatever we feel like,” answers Tanmay.
Tanmay claims that he runs to get fit and in the process he’s okay “shedding a Kareena Kapoor or two” (which makes total sense). For anyone who has brought up the topic of his weight, he/she has been slaughtered on twitter with the #Irshaad tweets. He says, “#Irshaad is a documentation of hilariously obnoxious things people say to me on Twitter.”
‘Nayak -2’: Dark Night-meets-Indian-middle-class
‘Nayak-2’ has been one of the biggest successes of AIB with over 3.2 million views on YouTube. The 'sanskari' Alok Nath himself has graced the satirical video on Arvind Kejriwal with his presence. But how well planned was all this? Tanmay explains, “We really just wanted to do a sketch on Kejriwal. At the same time we wanted to try and make a trailer format to see how easy or difficult it is.
The two just seemed to fit. We wrote a sketch on the day he'd won the election. It was a Dark Night-meets-Indian-middle-class kinda sketch. By the time we got into production and the edit, a lot had changed. There was much more stuff about Aam Aadmi Party in the news. We had to make changes, do some re-shoots and finally, the finishing touches really upped the sketch. I personally am still not a massive fan of the sketch though and I don’t think it was our best. For me, the takeaway was the huge learning from the whole process of sketch making. Now I feel like I’m totally over intellectualizing this. But hey, this creating video thing is new for us and we really love every tiny bit of it.”
The Viral 'Factor'
Tanmay said that virality has a very fluid definition. He mentioned, "Once you have a base (fan following on social media/YouTube) , it becomes easier a certain number of hits are assured. Having said that, there are two things to focus on:
a) What is the topic or new take we're taking in the sketch?
b) How funny and insightful the sketch is?
Today, unfortunately brands managers of bigger corporate are given a huge digital budget without having the understanding of digital marketing and how to make it efficient."
Election time, movies and acting – what does future look like?
Today, AIB is performing in Bangalore as part of their Royal Turds 2014 concerts series. This and more is what the future of AIB looks like. Tanmay says, “Royal Turds has taken a massive load off our backs because it was our comeback year (it started in 2013) and this year we've got a brand new audience thanks to YouTube and others. A sequel is always tougher to live up to but I think we've managed to do that.”
AIB just finished with the YouTube Fanfest as well.
“Elections are here, so expect a lot of stuff from us around it. We're going to be travelling all over the country to do shows till mid-year so that's exciting. Oh and we're also writing a movie script. And I will be acting in a Mahesh Bhatt movie coming out early next year. I'm terrible in it (smiles). Wow that's a lot of work I just realized,” he exclaims.
When the comedy was politicized!
Tanmay quoted an anecdote which took place few days back in Bombay, "After our first day of Royal Turds, we got threats in email that we should close the show as we'd cracked jokes on political leaders and parties. We even received call from a journalist asking about the threat and if we plan to take an action on it. We made sure that we perform even if it requires security in place and police guarding outside. We started with the 'threat mail' and mentioned that whoever wants to leave for his/her safety will get the full refund."
Comedy of 2020
Today there are a lot of virtual platforms to reach out to the audience -- social media, Soundcloud and YouTube videos, to name a few. AIB started as podcast and they have leveraged YouTube and twitter a lot to engage with the people. Tanmay adds, “Only YouTube has the capability of being a mass medium in the future. Soundcloud will always be a niche. It'll always be most fun to sit with Khamba at my place and record the podcast while laughing hysterically over stupid things. But it'll be even more challenging to write, shoot and edit a sketch. Videos are a huge high. Twitter is second skin now. It doesn't even feel like it's a new platform.”
The Viral Fever and the comedy around
The Viral Fever (TVF) is the only other name which comes to mind when talking about comedy videos on similar lines as AIB. Both of them have definitely raised the bar for the newcomers. “I'd texted Arunabh (creator of TVF) the other day about how much I respect him for having stuck to his vision. It's really a success story worth writing about. I think it's a pity that there's just an AIB and TVF. If there were 50 more, imagine the number of people who would be exposed to alternative comedy. It’ll only get better and better. I can already see so many creators around me who've picked up a camera and tried their hand at this. There are exciting times ahead,” says Tanmay.
The culture of laughing - Humor quotient in India
Tanmay feels that comedy has always been a great tool to talk about the society we live in. According to him, “Tragedy + time = comedy. This is the rule of life.”
He says, “I think it's growing very slowly, but the culture of laughing at oneself is definitely getting better every day. But all of this is still secondary. Until the day we can laugh at our sacred cows, we're really getting nowhere.”
Standup comedy in India is extrmely less. Besides frequent flights, Tanmay doesn't like the fact that Indian audiences are easily impressed. He mentioned, "I wish and want them to watch more of standup comedy.
For now, let’s stick to comedy
For Tanmay, standup comedy is the most gratifying art form. It provides a stage where the combination of writing and theatrics spokes come into play and every day is a new day.
If not comedy, Tanmay would have been a writer. In fact, he’s still a writer and probably will always be one. Travelling on the same boat, I realized that at times, we over think for our readers about giving them all the joys of the world. Well, at least that explains my request to Tanmay to share a joke, even after a 1400-word long interview.
“Ha! So here's a funny joke. This one time, these random dudes wrote to me to get an interview, and in the end they expected me to just tell them a joke -- like I'm some kind of show monkey. Isn't that hilarious? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.”