Rahul Subramanian doesn't believe in a plan B Image: Instagram/Rahul Subramanian
So you think you're funny? Your friends love your jokes and you pride yourself as the wittier one in the group? You think you have what it takes to make it in stand-up comedy? Well, maybe you do, but if you think you've got it just because you're funny, think again.
Stand-up comedy, currently the most glamorous career one can think of, is as cut-throat, competitive, and slow-yielding as any other profession. You have to go through your initial struggling days where you can forget about making any money — consider it a pay cheque-less internship — and it's going to require years of hard work and quite a stroke of luck to make it big. Just ask Rahul Subramanian.
Rahul decided to quit his corporate job and get into comedy full-time years ago. But it was only after his show, Random Chikibum, co-starring Kumar Varun, became popular that he finally felt a wave of confidence. Even after winning the YouTube Comedy Hunt in 2015, he continued with his day job — financial stability, savings, insecurities... sound familiar?
But once he quit, he didn't have a plan B. What if he had failed? Well, we'll cross that bridge when we get there. T2 Online caught up with Rahul, who's now cracked a deal with Amazon Prime Videos with his show Kal Main Udega, a part of the video-on-demand platform's exclusive stand-up special, and asked him about his struggles, his insecurities and his journey. That could very well be your list of commandments if you're planning a career in stand-up.
You have said in interviews that a 9-5 job was not your thing. What made you move to comedy with comedy sketches on YouTube and eventually Random Chikibum?
I started doing stand-up a year before Random Chikibum happened, but I always wanted to make funny sketches, too. A year into comedy gives you that extra boost of confidence you require to do something different. Around the same time, two awesome things happened — I met Kumar Varun (at work) and Comedy Hunt happened. And thus, Random Chikibum happened. (Kumar and Rahul co-starred in Random Chikibum.)
Does stand-up comedy have its struggler days?
It is very difficult if getting noticed, becoming popular is a priority for you. For me, being noticed is not as important as being able to have a sustainable income to continue doing comedy. As long as that is happening, the focus will always be to enjoy performing rather than standing out.
When did you finally quit your cushy job?
I actually continued working until June 2016 before I decided to quit. That was a year after I had already won the Comedy Hunt. There are two reasons for that. I had to wait till I had some financial stability and enough savings to last me at least six months. And then, fear, insecurity, and self-doubt were worthy opponents till 2016.
Did you ever have a backup plan in case comedy wouldn't work out?
No, I did not have a backup plan as such but I had enough savings for me to have the freedom to do comedy for at least six months without earning, post quitting my job. In retrospect, if stand-up had not worked out in those six months, I think I would have tried to join one of the comedy companies as a writer, and if that didn’t work out, maybe writing for one of the websites, and if that didn’t work out either, only then would I have considered going back to my marketing job.
What advice would you have for aspiring stand-up comedians willing to quit their jobs?
A backup plan is as important for a planner as it is NOT for an adventurer. There is no right answer. Follow your gut and make the call. It’s completely okay to fail.
Moving on to your style and content, it is usually apolitical and non-controversial. Is it a way of playing it safe?
That’s actually because that’s the kind of person I am. I don’t have strong opinions on most things, and I have always been a non-confrontational person. Also, I can't force opinions which I don’t have on my stand-up. Stand-up is too personal for me, it has to be me expressing the way I see things. I completely understand when people look at my comedy and tag it as “playing it safe”. My response is that maybe cuz I am a “play it safe” kind of a person and would have been this way irrespective of what profession I had taken up.
Having said that, comedy is new and India is huge. You don’t need to be apolitical or non-controversial to offend someone. You just need to have jokes (laughs cheekily).
Kal Main Udega is your first show of this calibre. What is the biggest difference between a show like this one and just a live show? For example, in terms of the type of audience or the acceptance of a joke, etc.
Well, there isn’t much difference in performance. You always perform for the live audience present even if there are cameras recording it. The difference is seen mainly in post-production with the music, effects and other content packaging. There's also the editing of the content, where you take calls to remove parts of which an Internet audience, unlike a live audience, might take out of context and not find funny.