In 2016, at the sidelines of a fan meet-and-greet with YouTube creators, a popular English language stand-up comic (let them remain unnamed) was asked by a fan if it irked them they weren’t as popular as Kapil Sharma even though their jokes were ‘classier’. Without missing a beat, the comedian replied, “Kapil Sharma actually has great comic timing. He is just doing what sells. Just give him a stage minus the distractions and you’ll see.”
I had always wondered what that would be like. As someone who was not a regular viewer of his shows, over the years, my exposure to Kapil Sharma’s comedy was only at award functions and random YouTube clips. I liked his comic timing there but whenever I tried watching his shows, something put me off. And I would go back to what I had heard in 2016: someone give him – just him – the stage, please.
Well, it took six years but Netflix finally gave Kapil that stage in the form of the actor-comedian’s first ever comedy special Kapil Sharma: I’m Not Done Yet. The special premiered on Netflix on January 28, receiving largely favourable reviews from critics and praise from fans.
Kapil Sharma is essentially a part of pop culture in India currently. His shows – first Comedy Nights with Kapil (2013-2016) and then The Kapil Sharma Show (2016-present) – have been on air for close to nine years. Probably because of that, it is hard to remember that Kapil actually came to our screens as a stand-up comic.
It was in 2008 that we first saw him on The Great Indian Laughter Challenge when a younger Kapil won the competition with his hilarious stand-up acts and impersonations. At the Netflix special 14 years later, it was once again refreshing to see him minus all the frills, glitzy sets, a loud TV star, and men in drag around him to distract us. In fact, Kapil himself highlighted the difference immediately after his first joke. As the band on the stage gave him a drum roll after the joke, Kapil told them “Yeh sab yahan nahi chalega (This won’t work here).” That set the tone for how different the special would be from Kapil’s usual brand of comedy.
There was a segment on battle with depression that never felt insensitive. He joked about alcoholism and therapy but never made it seem he was ridiculing either. Probably because he was talking of his own battles, his own demons. And that it was genuine and respectful, is something rare in the comedy space in India.
He even found space for some subtle political jokes, something most comedians stay away from. It was interesting coming from someone particularly as popular as him, though who else is as popular as him right now. He name-dropped PM Modi, joked about his meeting with former PM Manmohan Singh, and rounded it up with a subtle dig at Twitter trolls. By no means were they sharp, incisive political jokes. They were not in the same league as Shekhar Suman’s scathing satire some two decades ago but in today’s times, they were enough for many.
Was this his funniest bit? No, far from it. But it was entertaining, and one that may earn Kapil some new fans – people who think his show is ‘low-brow’ or ‘cheap comedy’. They might do well to have a look at this special and realise there is more to the man than drag acts and jokes on wives. Many felt that his song at the end (spoilers alert) was a bit on the nose, a bit too cheesy perhaps. But in times where so many people have lost someone close to them, a song about his father watching over him resonated with some. Like I said, this wasn’t a comedy routine. It was entertainment, a journey of his life that Kapil took us along for. And such journeys have a bit of every emotion.
We can only hope that this is a stepping stone for the man to further develop a second brand of comedy for streaming services, one that is distinct and more performance-based than his TV bit. But whatever he may decide, Kapil Sharma has certainly sent one message across. He is not averse to trying new things. As he says, he is certainly not done yet.
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