Kenny Sebastian: ‘Everyone Warned Me that Comedy is a Bubble’
The comedian on his latest stand-up special, 10-years of comedy and his honest secret to staying in the game
“I want to be as comfortable on stage as I’m in my living room,” says Kenny Sebastian. The comedian who recently dropped his third solo one-hour–The Most Interesting Person In The Room–admits he was on autopilot for part of the process. “When you see the special, I look very confident and happy. That is not how I felt,” he says.
Following in the tradition of noted American comics Jerry Seinfeld, Ali Wong, Tina Fey and Dave Chappelle, Sebastian chose to skip the small talk and take to the confessional for his Netflix debut. Opting for an uncharacteristically bare set this time around, the comedian invokes ghosts of carpets, couches and the good ole’ cup of chai (tea) to slay the ever-looming dragon of stage fright. “I’m very good at hiding it but I wasn’t born funny. I didn’t have this figured out since day one. I just made it my central goal in life to be good on the stage,” he says.
Arriving on the heels of having completed almost a decade in India’s evolving comedy scene, The Most Interesting Person In The Room is Sebastian’s way of voicing his insecurity (“Am I good enough?”) in the only way he knows might meet laughter: honesty. “I wanted you to see me do jokes very easily. And then suddenly, I tell you that I’m actually very nervous and I don’t get why you’re listening to me,” he says.
A couple of viral YouTube sets (Middle-Class restaurant Problems), stints on television (Comedy Central’s The Living Room), hilarious sci-fi/romantic comedies (Star Boyz, Die Trying) and a bunch of collaborations later (The Improvisers, Sketchy Behaviour), the comic still feels somewhat untested. Sebastian ergo sets out to challenge the notion of artistic evolution and utility in The Most Interesting Person In The Room, centering the special on the themes of status and power. He says, “The special is all about value; the more useful you are, the lesser you tend to be valued.”
Over the course of the roughly 70-minute set, the comedian opens with his fabled tyrannies of school (a staple since Sebastian’s very first 2014 special–Journey to the Center of My Brain) and hearkens back to the humble chappal (fans know how passionate the Bengaluru boy is about flip-flops). The comedian busts out long-time partners in crime, the guitar and the harmonium, bringing both cheeky tunes and musical interludes to the special that at times finds itself digging its heels too deep, standing its ground aimlessly. Sebastian then takes an inching detour into the perils of dating (are people body positive about height?) before finally skipping to birds and the Billboard charts. What follows are some bizarre but astute observations about racism (crows and doves are treated the same, right?) and the music business (where is the effort?!); all punctuated by the comedian’s zany aphorisms and trademark awkwardness. “Self-worth is very fragile. We have to protect it. But instead of protecting it, we lead with it,” he says.
There’s a lot going on in this special. And Sebastian links the flurry of activity to his daily battle which is also where the title of the one-hour comes in. “I’m always trying to be the most interesting person in the room,” he says. Stitched together after the comedian debuted his second one-hour, 2017’s Don’t Be That Guy, the Netflix stand-up special was a way by which Sebastian made good on his biggest learning since entering the world of comedy. “It’s not about making it. It’s about staying,” he says. Having observed his fellow comics grapple with bouts of self-criticism and doubt, overtaking a chance at creating things, Sebastian believes that it’s important to keep walking on anyway. Everyone tells a version of the truth after all–both the trolls and naysayers as well as the friends, fans and confidants–but the comedian maintains it’s important to find a reference of reality to keep bettering one’s craft. Slipping into a reverie, Sebastian shares a zinger that a hip-hop artist’s manager once told him: “The only thing standing in my artist’s way is themself.” The reflection then reinforced the comedian’s belief to take a bet on the card that wasn’t going to be the safe play.
Sebastian recalls his first special in 2014, uploaded to the comedian’s YouTube channel and financed by all his savings, the one all fellow comics warned him against putting out. “Back in the day, if you released all your content, you were an insane person. Everyone told me that ‘if you drop this now, who will come see you perform? How will you make money?’” he says. Post its debut, Journey to the Center of My Brain pulled in a paltry 60,000 views and Sebastian was devastated.
“I was so passionate about humor but everyone had warned me that comedy is a bubble. That the profession is a fad and it’ll eventually burst,” he says. Luckily for the comedian, it turned out digital content had a great shelf-life and the one-hour pulled in more viewers over time as Sebastian continued to write and upload sketches to his channel. The special itself has now been viewed over 1.6 million times, an unassuming feat Sebastian didn’t see coming. “I tell myself that if you’re good, you’ll stay. And if my friends can laugh at what I’ve to say, it’s going to be a good run,” he says.