Do standup only if you love comedy and stand up for nothing else - Kenneth Sebastian


Names like George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams are simply legendary in the comedy circuit. They have sent audiences cracking up within seconds of being on stage, their one-liners and turning mundane and ordinary details of life into jokes are legends in themselves. At one time, most of us in India would simply have to wait for these snippets to be released, but today the scene is changing fast.

Whether it is Russell Peters or Seinfeld, who was supposed to have his first stand up show in Mumbai (unfortunately, it got cancelled), the scene of stand up comedy has seen a significant rise and popularity in the country over the past couple of years. There are several young comedians in the country who not only seem to be gaining a lot of popularity, but are also changing the way comedy is received in India.

One such name that has been creating a buzz in the comedy circuit is Kenneth Sebastian. Talking about the comedy scene in Bangalore, he says, "The best thing about Bangalore is that it doesn't have a pre-written palate like Mumbai. In Mumbai, since there has been comedy for a while now, they know what works. Bangalore had access to standup through YouTube. There are a lot of open nights in Bangalore, because of which we write a lot of new material."

Further talking about the comedy scene in India, in general, Kenneth says, "With the opening of several mediums, comedy is growing at an insane rate. Thanks to internet and the rate at which viral marketing is happening, TV channels and films are looking at the Internet, and the only people actively doing content on the Internet are comedians. So automatically, you start getting a lot of work, with people approaching for space and spot plus you are touring."

Hailing from a defence background, Kenneth Sebastian spent his schooling years across different parts of the country. After his father's retirement, the family settled down in Bangalore. "When I was in the 9th or 10th grade, during 2007, YouTube was just catching up. I saw this video of some kids who had created the lightsaber baton from Star Wars on their own. There were tutorials as well, and this is when I really got interested in filmmaking," says Kenneth.

Borrowing his neighbour Aniket Dasgupta's camera, Kenneth began making special effects films on YouTube. "I possibly had one of the earliest Indian YouTube channels," says Kenneth. He kept making small films during his undergrad and graduation course at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath.

While in Chitrakala Parishath, he joined a theatre class, where he met Siddanth Sundar. "When I showed him my films, he said these are really cool and I should edit some of his films. So I edited some of his films and began doing corporate films. So my nights would be spent doing corporate films and other projects, and my day was spent in college. By this time, I would be on YouTube for at least three hours in a day. I had begun watching stand up comedy shows and my favourite shows were, 'Whose line is it anyway?' and 'Seinfeld," says Kenneth.

Talking about his journey into the world of comedy, Kenneth says, "One fateful day when I was 19 years old, we went to the IIT fest in Mumbai. There was a standup comedy festival, and I thought I should take part in the competition. I came in the final 10, eight of whom were not great. I was thinking I would easily be able to crack this, but then this professional comedian came from Pune and completely owned the stage."

While a little nervous, Kenneth, nevertheless, got on stage. Reminiscing his first on-stage experience at the IIT Mumbai fest, Kenneth says, "My strength has always been improvisation. I have never been able to remember scripts. So I just got on stage and spoke of my experience in IIT Mumbai so far. The crowd loved it and I won the competition and won 10 grands; it was a big deal for me. It was the very first time I had won something."

The first prize was a chance to perform at 'The Comedy Store' with Vir Das as the host. "I didn't know anyone, so I didn't go and I came back to Bangalore," adds Kenneth. After coming back, Kenneth wanted to do more standup comedy shows. "Quite coincidently, the day I got back to Bangalore, on the very front page of the paper was the headline 'Standup Comedy hits Bangalore,’ started by Praveen Kumar, Sanjay Manaktala and Sandeep Rao. I was excited and took it as a sign," says Kenneth.

Finding them on Facebook, Kenneth sent them a message that he wanted to be a part of their group. After meeting them and performing for them, Kenneth told them about the competition and winning a spot in 'The Comedy Store.' Talking about the incident, Kenneth says, "When I told them I got a spot in, didn't know what it was, so I didn't go, they stared at me and were like, ‘Do you what a big deal that is? The Comedy Store is a Comedy Club from London, and it's the only comedy venue in India and you got a spot there and you didn't go?’ I felt horrible. But the funny thing was I got a chance to go two years later."

With a lot of help from Praveen, Sanjay and Sandeep, Kenneth began doing spots. He would do five minutes, 10 minutes, then 20 minute spots, but he wanted to do something more. "Being good at improv comedy, I would take my guitar on-stage and make songs on-the-spot, which was easier for me than remembering a song. I would do on-the-spot imitations of musicians, because that's the way I learnt music. I didn't have formal training in music. This became a complete rage," says Kenneth.

Soon Kenneth entered into the foray of guitar comedy, and it became a complete hit. During one such show, a comedian from Mumbai, Daniel Fernandes, asked Kenneth to go with him to Mumbai. "Sandeep was going to Mumbai, and he told me he would get me a spot in The Comedy Store," says Kenneth. By this time, he was doing comedy for over two years.

After the show, the owner of the Comedy Store told him he was good and gave him the spot over the weekend. While working with the other comedians, he met Kanan Gill and began a show Sketchy Behaviour. The show began doing well. He also happened to meet Tanmay Bhat during his performances and took his help and guidance to improve on his skills.

By 2014, Kenneth, along with Kanan, got an opportunity to be a part of OML. They were even called to Comedy Central India, but they passed and didn't go back. However, when Kenneth was a part of OML, he got a contract from Comedy Central, but the video format wasn't working. "With a lot of goodwill I was able to bring down some of my friends from the comedy scene like Sanjay, Kanan, Biswa who helped me with the script. We did a marathon. In six days we shot 20 episodes, working close to 20 hours in a day," says Kenneth.

Talking about the challenges, Kenneth says, "You need to keep working and reinventing. Nothing is guaranteed. If you have one viral video, you need to ensure the other one is better; you can't get just a 100 views then.”

After meeting a fellow comedian Thomas, he got the idea of realising his one hour show on YouTube, which was the first of its kind in India. Taking a cue from Louis CK, Kenneth has decided to release a special of his every year. Kenneth also plans to go international; this year June he is headed to New York with Abhish Mathew to do sketch writing and improv.

During the Pyjama Festival, he also met an LA Indian Comedian Tushar Singh. "When I told him I was coming to New York to tour, he suggested we do a US tour. So we’re doing a US tour this year," adds Kenneth.

"Don't do comedy and stand up if you don't love it. Don't do it for money or fame, because you don't make money specifically out of comedy. If you can make money out of anything, then you can make money out of comedy. We make money by being very intuitive; nobody makes money by just being on stage. It depends on you and not the comedy scene. None of us got into it for fame; we did it because we love doing stand up. It's a dream to go up on stage and talk about stuff. If you love that, then go ahead; if not, then don't do it," advices Kenneth.


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