By Moumita Ghosh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
His dystopic YouTube video, envisioning India in the year 2035, created quite a stir last month. It forced us, internet natives – to question both the present narrative of our virtual existence and the potential future of the internet in India, as he slyly plopped the problematic yet probable notion of a “social approval card”. But Kenneth Sebastian, your everyday comedian, is rarely offline.
His seven-year old YouTube channel is a delightful amalgamation of v-blogs comprising hilarious sketches about everyday narratives of how Indians brush their teeth, drive on the streets, talk on their phones and aloofly treat their ‘resilient’ beggars. As an added bonus, Sebastian explores VFX effects and decodes trailers of upcoming movies with fellow comic, Utsav Chakraborty, while introducing his old man to superheroes. Add to that, spoofs, cover songs and of course, some guitar humour! Sebastian’s “Twitter Song In A Day” is quite a recent rage among fellow internet natives as #KennySing4Me trends almost every Sunday. The lyrics of one such random Sunday composition called ‘We Need To Save The Internet’ reads—“While watching Shaktiman/They used to say/Andhera kayam rahe! /Now with the TRAI policies/The internet is bound to cease/ Just like neon chaddis/ Equal rights should glow/ Telecom companies making me pop paracetamol/ We need to save the internet or else / Grow up / Take off your mommy poko pants/ We need to save the internet /Or else, we let down internet ourselves…”.
Ask him about how the idea of asking random strangers to tweet words to him and stringing those words together to make a song came about, and the 23-year old quips— “That’s how I ended my first, live, solo stand-up show. People remembered that bit the most so I decided to extend this onto networking sites when Twitter released this 30 second video feature, a while back. But 30 seconds is too short a time. So, I switched to a multiplatform sort of a thing, uploading the videos on YouTube instead. It is fun and a great way to connect with people.” Sebastian, who has even switched to rap to be able to include more words from his followers, admits that it is close to a ten-hour ordeal and his Sundays are “practically gone!” before adding – “People actually come on that platform every Sunday and it is something that they look forward to and so do I.”
But there’s more to him than just being an ambitious YouTuber and Instagrammer. Sebastian, who has grown up watching Seinfeld, has not shyed away from venturing into the space of television channels either, which oft enjoys the monopoly of most things not improv. He has scripted and performed along with a bunch of other well-know comics in ‘The Living Room: India’s first English improv sketch show’ which hilariously traces the perils of all things mundane from having a rather persistent landlady to an interfering mother-in-law and is, most importantly, one of the first two local shows to go live on Comedy Central. Of the experience, he says –“We shot in an insane deadline of 6 days straight for 20 episodes! We did not have the privilege to re-shoot. So, it’s basically an extension of improv. Also, I lost weight and slept straight for a week once I was back.”
When offline or not on television, Sebastian, who released an album with fellow band-mate Anup when “nobody gave a shit”, extends his guitar humour to his live stand-up shows which he feels gives him “an advantage” since he considers himself to be a “pretty mediocre comic”. But if the frequency of cheers he receives from his live audience is anything to go by, Kenneth Sebastian is the man of the hour.
How did it all start? He has this one “practiced”, he says, having made headlines in the recent past. As clichéd as it might sound, stand-up happened “accidently” to this navy kid who wanted to venture into the world of filmmaking instead. But winning a stand-up competition at an IIT fest changed everything, when, “like an idiot” , he declined an offer to perform at The Comedy Store, Mumbai because he had no idea what the Comedy Store was all about and had to catch a train back to Bangalore. Incidentally, two years later, he performed there when he felt “he deserved it”. He mostly performed in open-mic sessions in the interim, owning the opportunity to Sanjay Manaktala, Sandeep Rao and Praveen Kumar and his own stalking skills by virtue of which he tracked the trio on Facebook after reading a newspaper article, featuring them, about stand-up comedy hitting Bangalore. He took it as “a sign” and with the trio’s help, started doing spots. Kenneth Sebastian has come a long way since then, becoming one of the best-known faces of the stand-up scene in Bangalore and even having a solo, stand-up show—“The Journey To The Centre Of My Brain” to his credit.
Talking about the recent incident of comedian Abish Mathew being celled a “sexist pig”, Sebastian had an interesting insight to provide. He said—“If a man is hitting a woman on a street, one seldom says anything. But if a comedian cracks a joke which one finds presumably “sexist”, one puts up a long post on Facebook. You are fighting for women’s rights? No. You are being convenient about what you choose to talk about.” Ask him about how a comedian handles being offended and he says with a slight hesitation –“When I cracked this stupid, harmless joke about Sanskrit, I was told that I am insulting Indian culture and had comments directed towards my religious affiliations. Or sometimes, there are a few rude comments on YouTube, maybe. One has to learn to ignore them. A comedian can’t get offended.”
He signs off by saying- “My last intention is to ruin somebody’s mood. I always try to make sure that everybody is having a good time. I am living a dream job!”.
For now, he is off to New York for two months with fellow comedians, Abish Mathew and Kaneez Surka and will be busy doing shows and conducting improv workshops across the US. Here’s wishing them loads of luck! [/su_column]
[alert type=white ]
What does your work space look like?
What do you do when you hit the writer’s block?
I go outside, workout, or play music.
And where do you find your mythical muse?
Discovery and National Geographic channels.
Tell us something about you that most people don’t know.
I am the shyest guy in front of new people at parties. Mostly because I don’t smoke or drink.
What are you reading right now?
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell.
And listening to?
YouTube parody songs by Ylvis.
Tea or coffee? Early bird or creature of the night? Road trip or flying?
Tea. Any freaking day. I don’t drink coffee. Creature of the night. Road trip.
What is the one thing you know you need to stop doing?
Getting up late.
The weirdest word you have received as a tweet?
“Tushar Kapoor’s left butt-cheek.”
What aspiring stand-up comedians must not do?
Take themselves too seriously and forget that it is a privilege to have an audience.
Among your contemporaries, who are the ones that feature on your list of favourites?
I call him my senior, Tanmay Bhat. Then there is Abish Mathew and of course, Kanan Gill.
Critical acclaim or crazy screaming fans in a mosh pit?
If not stand-up, what would you be doing right now?
Making films or releasing an album.
Words of wisdom on the importance of fighting for net neutrality?
If you don’t fight for net neutrality, you have to sleep early at night. You can’t afford to endlessly scroll on any website you want!
A stand-up comedian you would want to swap your life with?
Louis C.K. [/alert]