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Weirdest Tweet? “Tushar Kapoor’s Left Butt-Cheek”: Meet Comedian Kenneth Sebastian

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By Moumita Ghosh for Youth Ki Awaaz:

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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]

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ken seb

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Quickies!

What does your work space look like?

Very organised.

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?

Both.

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]

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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