Pop Culture and Personal Experience in Kanan Gill’s ‘Yours Sincerely’
The comedian on tapping into his childhood, breaking metaphors and getting vulnerable in his latest stand-up special
“I just want to come out and say it’s a TED Talk,” declares comedian Kanan Gill about his latest stand-up special Yours Sincerely. Stitched together while on the road for his show ‘Teetar’ (2019), the comic first began penning the rough draft for the Netflix special in 2017, just after the release of his one-hour set Keep It Real.
Two years of touring would leave anyone with tall tales for telling and for Gill, things were no different–except that the comic turned introspective. While Keep It Real saw him dipping into current affairs, education and all that keeps one’s life busy, Gill takes a stark departure in Yours Sincerely, turning vulnerable for perhaps his most personal offering yet.
Exploring the metaphor of a letter, Yours Sincerely sees Gill read a missive he wrote as a teen to his future self, with the comedian reporting back on whether he lived up to his own expectations; how all of life’s curveballs may have left him walking crooked for a while (he briefly recalls a hernia diagnosis) but last he checked, he’s still standing.
The 30-year-old comedian taps into storytelling for this stand-up special, structuring the narrative like a movie; he presents the protagonist (himself), the conflict (time), the journey (coming of age) and the conclusion (TBD). Gill peppers his set with abundant allegories that hearken back to the comic’s childhood–from playing video games like Street Fighter and GTA to watching movies like Fight Club and reading plays like Julius Caesar–to draw parallels to life wherein people often find themselves working their way towards “if possible,” as the comedian puts it.
Rooting his set in pop culture and personal experience, the comedian opens with the commonplace, delving into the maladies of social interaction. He then draws on the existential to get real about his health, before ending with the absurd. “Et tu, Brutus?” he poses Shakespeare to the human condition, quickly segueing into a tryst with the almost-racket like feel of the dog mating business. “Metaphors form a big basis of the show. I found my desire to be emotionally honest fighting against the feeling of being vulnerable, so I felt that I had to layer some of my thoughts,” says Gill who wanted the outermost coat of his material to be extremely funny. The reason being that the comedian neither wanted to alienate his audience, nor invite pity; he simply wanted people to have something to chew on post the special.
Gill’s segment on mental health is particularly humorous not just because of the irreverent and proverbial stick with which he pokes at his depression, but also because of the delicate solidarity (with those struggling similarly) that stands vigil after. He plays off an (imaginary?) friend, elucidating what he calls the law of conservation of sadness that works tirelessly against a network of support. “Sadness is a fundamental quantity in nature. It’s not created or destroyed. It can only be transferred,” he intones before remarking on accessibility to health care. The section was also one of the most difficult pieces of Yours Sincerely to write and Gill wanted to do so responsibly. “The guiding light I used was to joke about only my experience and say only the things that I would find funny in the darkest times,” he says.
The comedian wishes people take away an almost nostalgic sense of adventure after viewing the stand-up special. “Please do what the modern world is hell-bent on preventing you from doing–enjoy your life,” he says. As financial (and all-round) uncertainty dawns on both creatives and audiences in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gill finds a lot of merit in online content–and not necessarily just live performances. With most of the privileged world practising social distancing, he urges creators to make the most of what they have at their dispense. “If you are wondering what to do now, make content. Make all the content you ever wanted to. The audience of your niche is also stuck at home right now. Connect with them,” he says. The comedian too is furiously at work on a series of upcoming projects and despite shifting currents, he hopes all work-in-progress art sees the light soon.