Kaneez Surka is an Indian – South African improv artist, actor, comedian, and YouTuber. She has hosted and mentored many shows, which include ‘Queens of Comedy‘ and ‘Comicstaan.’ With a heart filled with love for her art and never holding back while questioning the wrong, she has always been a flame of fire whose spirits never die. Her candidness on-screen has won thousands of hearts and put a smile on millions of faces across the world. Learn what she had to say about herself and her life behind the scenes to Team Storiyaan.
Questions and answers
Kaneez, you make amazing videos. Can you take us through your creative process from ideation and conceptualization to implementation?
When I have an idea, I decide on making a video on it and play it to see how it turned out. During this quarantine, I am even learning how to shoot things myself, and since I am recording by myself, there is a lot of trial and error. There are times when I look at the video after shooting it and realize that the angle isn’t correct or things like that. Although I do have someone who edits my videos because while I can edit basic stuff and iMovie, I just don’t have the setup for editing. Also, I am not well versed in the art of editing. So he does all my edits and sends them back to me. But it has been fun learning all these new things. I remember I did this stream on YouTube called ‘The Ultimate Improv Comedy Battle,’ and I had to download software for it. I had to download an OBS software and learn how to stream it, and I am not joking; it was the hardest thing I did in a long time. And a few of my initial videos all started like “Are we live?” “Are we streaming?” and it was so funny.
Being on shows like 'Comicstaan' and 'Improv All-Stars' as a judge, what are your major takeaways from them?
About Comicstaan – I was the judge and mentor on that show. It was cool and amazing. I don’t think anyone dreams of becoming a judge on a reality show; that is never the goal, but they needed someone who had experience in improvs, and I happened to know about it. I liked being a judge on Comicstaan. After all, it spotlighted improv because people didn’t know what improv was all about before that. When people say, comedy everyone just thought it was an anonymous stand-up. Comicstaan gave improv that spotlight, and I was happy about it, which was the biggest takeaway for me. I have been a judge on TLC’s Queens of Comedy as well. Regarding ‘All-Stars’, I wasn’t ready to judge the show. I created the show and hosed it. This was after the success of Comicstaan. ‘Something from Nothing’ was the first improv show that we did. It was just a long-form improv. ‘Improv all Stars’ was something that I created. From Comicstaan’s format, I realized that this kind of content worked with the audience. So we put them in teams and had fun games night putting them up against each other. It’s really difficult to judge comedy. It’s our opinion on the piece. Even when I judge, I enjoy it, and if I don’t, I’ll be like “I didn’t personally love it”.
Let's talk about AIB. Can you narrate any weird/weird incident that Clitika shared with any AIB member?
Let me tell you a story that happened during ‘Man’s Best Friend.’ There was a sex scene between Varun Thakur and me, which were shot separately. It was the first time I was doing something like this, and I felt uncomfortable with the whole crew in the room. There was nothing in it if you watch, but I just felt uncomfortable. I was present when we had just started out in comedy, and I was also really shy back then. I remember Abish did the sweetest thing and asked everyone to leave the room. I said nothing to him. Then he took up as the lighting person and the sound guy. It was only him, the camera guy, and me, and I instantly felt comfortable. I just love how I never have to say anything to Abish, and he just understands me or anyone for that matter. He is really understanding and caring. I am glad I get to work with people like him. I also remember there was this scene that was shot in a restaurant, and I had to do an orgasm scene. This happened 2 or 3 years later, and I had become comfortable by then, but there were plenty of retakes for the same. One reason for which I really miss doing AIB sketches is that Tanmay always knew that the majority of my magic came from improvising. So he’d be like ‘roll the cameras and Kaneez Go’. Most of the time, I did not even follow the script and did my own thing, and he would let the cameras roll. He knew how to direct me. We used to have a lot of fun doing that.
You have been a part of Karan Johar's blind date with the millennials. How was the overall experience, and what did you take back from?
It was just a one afternoon shoot. I went there at 2 O’clock, and we were done by 4:30, so it wasn’t much of a heck. Nothing significant happened. I just went there and did some exercises with the contestant of the day, and he was really sweet. So it was fun to play those improv games, and they recorded what we were doing. But it wasn’t a long process where I’d sit and explore themes with them for days.
You seem fond of the ukulele too. When did music venture into your life, and what role does it play?
I am not a musician. I can play a lot of musical instruments. I used to play the clarinet and the piano since I was a teenager, more aptly a kid. That was when I bought the ukulele. I can sing well, and I like to incorporate it in my day at times just to change things just a bit, but I don’t plan on developing my musical skills. I do it more like a hobby, but I do not do it that seriously. I only know three chords – C, F, and G – and all my songs are based on these three chords.
You are a cat parent. What is the best thing about being a cat parent?
The best thing about being a cat parent is that you get a lot of content for your Instagram, haha. But no, they are really loving and as much as people might say that they are moody and stuff, which they are, but they are also very loving. I enjoy having them in the house, and I love that they are not needy either. They are happy to be on their own. So yeah, they aren’t needy, but they will come and cuddle and snuggle with you when they want, which is great. Also, both my cats have distinct personalities. They are so different from each other.
You are extremely outspoken on the camera. Are you the same off the screen? What vulnerabilities do you possess in real life? How does the real-life of Kaneez Surka look like?
I am actually really similar to the characters I play online, although they might be slightly exaggerated, yet it defines me in real life as well. ‘Bedtime stories with Kaneez Maasi’ is also similar to the way I behave with my nieces. I am very vocal about the injustice in general as well, even when I am with my family or friends, I put my opinions out there and talk about it. The only thing that I don’t talk much about on camera is about my mental health stuff and my insecurities about my body. People are always stunned when I talk about it because they are like you seem so confident all the time, but the truth is I too have a lot of insecurities. So that is the only difference.
How does a typical Monday in your life look like?
I do not have weekends and weekdays. Okay so this is how it works for me, Sundays are like Mondays for me because I am usually performing on the weekends. So Sundays aren’t my days to sit back and relax. That is why I try to make my Mondays more like a Sunday and even beat my Monday Blues. I try to take Mondays off as much as I can. My Mondays aren’t like, ‘oh it’s the start of the week, let’s go‘ instead, it’s the complete opposite. It’s like taking a slow start to your week, and it does not have to be wham bam. If I am working on weekends, I make sure to take an off for two days or a day and a half at least during the week for my family or friends and find that rhythm, rhythm, or else it’s all haywire for me.
Tell us one thing that you fear the most in life and why?
I am terrified of being redundant. It’s like ‘what will I do if I don’t have a career and a job! How will I earn and survive?’ More than losing fame or popularity, it’s about financial security for me. Because being an artist, you always have your highs and lows. A few people come back stronger after a few years, but the fact that I don’t know if I could make it again or not when I am on a downward slope is scary. It always is but, I have chosen this right, so what to do. When you love doing something, there would always be risks, and we just have to roll with it, I guess.
What have you imbibed being in the industry for so long? Has it impacted you as a person? If yes, in what ways?
Of course, I think everyone’s work impacts them in some or the other way. I got into comedy to express myself. It has a very therapeutic element for it. I enjoy doing what I do, and I am grateful too, but the only downfall is that I have a hard time separating my art from my life. It all becomes one big blur, and I have to remind myself that I need to stop now, it was my work. I need to breathe, eat, sleep, and meet the people I love. Sometimes I stop to snap a pic when I eat to post it as my content; that is when I feel like I need to draw a line. In my art, I am the product, and I am the service, and it’s painstakingly difficult because my comedy derives from life around me. I am always observing and thinking, “Oh, this might a funny joke,” and my brain can’t stop using these elements.
Have you been in a low phase of life where you have experienced mental illness? How did you cope up, and what word of advice would you like to give to our readers who are struggling to make it every day?
Mental health is something that should be talked about, and I am glad people are doing it. I go through it; therefore, I started therapy four years ago, and it’s the best thing ever. I started therapy to understand myself better and why I felt like I did and not because I wanted to fix myself or something. I learned a few techniques and some clues that would make me recognize when I started spiraling down and getting a hold of myself. I am on my low right now, but I always use my techniques to keep at bay and not drowned. I try to come out of it as soon as possible or try to remain positive, But it’s a constant effort that I make for myself.
If you were given a chance to go back in time, what would you do?
When people ask me about this, I always say I would not like to go back and change anything. Because then I’d have to figure out what time to go back to. At times, I think about how I go back and change this, but it has already happened, so I just think that I should forget about it and move on. If I did go back and change something, I wouldn’t be the same person as I am now. Then if I come back to the future, I am a whole different person, and I’d think damn now I’ll have to figure out everything again. So it’s a waste of time then.
Can you tell us the most favorite role of yours until now and why?
I enjoyed playing Clitika because it was an extension of who I am as a person. I also liked playing my role in ‘If apps were people”, and my bad Hindi character. It’s my favorite because it’s so real. It was genuine, so I loved playing these roles.
1. Three things you cannot live without – Food, Games, Tampons.
2. Best Travel Destination –Spain
3. Binge Series –Sex Education, Master Chef, The Real Housewives of New York City, Rick and Morty, and Martin’s family too.
4. One cringe-worthy thing – Real Housewives of New York, Too Hot to handle.
5. Feminism for you is – extremely important and necessary. I feel like the word feminism has just been butchered, and we need to understand what it means and why we are using it. Even black lives matter is the same, and we are asking to be seen as equals. Despite our gender and color, why can’t you see us as equal?