Rohan Gujral is a stand-up comedian hailing from Mumbai. He was one of the most lauded contestants on Comicstaan and is widely known for his sketches on the show. He regularly performs in the suburbs of Bandra and Andheri.
What makes him stand apart, is that the center of his jokes revolves around the daily-scrubbed life of a Mumbaikar in his convincing Bambaiya accent. Starting his career in college by performing on stage, Rohan was all set to take the country by storm with his quirks and twists.
Team Storiyaan had the chance to get to know about his journey in this short interview.
Questions and answers
Before we start the interview, I want to know how you are doing. How is the lockdown treating you?
It has been great. I haven’t had the chance to spend so much time with my family, like ever, until now. I can safely say, I know my parents very well now. So I’m hoping for this lockdown to end because if I get to know more about my parents, I don’t think I’d like to meet them as often!
How did you get into comedy? Were your parents supportive of you making a career out of it?
Not at all, I was interested in comedy since my third year in college, when I participated in this event called ‘Ignite,’ where you had to entertain the audience with a presentation of 5 minutes with 20 slides. So I instilled my faith in my wits and decided to go down the comedy route, even though I had never done comedy before. But it turned out to be a massive hit with the audience, and I got a standing ovation coupled with a 6000 RS cash prize there, which shot me to cloud 9. I started watching a lot of stand-ups, and I was impressed by western comics like Jerry Seinfeld, Don Rickles, and Jim Carrey. I was mesmerized by the idea of thousands of people laughing at my jokes. So in 2015, I went to an open mic at Canvas laugh club, and it boomed real bad. After this, I pressed pause on those dreams, thinking my college performance was a fluke, and I had no shot there. After my final year, I secured a well-paying job in Bangalore. But soon realized that this wasn’t for me. So I asked myself why I was there?. I found my escape in comedy, it’s what I did when I procrastinated during my job, and that was my real calling. So after five months, I gathered enough courage to quit and return to Mumbai to try my hands on comedy; that’s how I started.
Zakir Khan once said, ‘If you want to be a comedian, then wish that your first mic should go badly.’ What are your opinions on this statement?
No one’s first open mic is useful since people have no experience or idea. You have to be ultimately you on stage and be completely free; you can’t make it look like an act; you just have to go and start performing.
During your time as a Comicstaan contestant, how did you receive support from your mentors and hosts off-screen?
It was the same thing, off-screen and onscreen. Whoever was our mentor would stay with us for one week. They used to visit us at our hotel, talk to us and help us write, and teach us a few things in comedy. They were all quite great comedians, but they never used to spoon-feed us; they treated us as real comedians and gave us the confidence to go on stage and perform. They aided us throughout the way. It wasn’t a forced relationship like a teacher but as a guide showing us the way.
In each episode of Comicstaan, you had to prepare yourself for a different style of comedy, so what was your favorite event that you needed prepping up for? With the competition out there, how did you manage the pressure?
I didn’t feel the pressure a lot. I just felt pressurised during the anecdotal. I stood last, due to my average performance, and because of that, my overall rank fell. As a whole, I had fun learning a new skill or technique of comedy every episode. I learned that if you do well, that’s great, but performing adequately is no less than a victory. You just have to tread carefully with average performance and gravitate your rank to hell. I had a blast in the sketch round, which was also my best round. It was where I scored my highest marks. It was a sketch where I, along with Sumit Sourav, made the sketch called ‘what a coincidence bro,’ and that was a hit, also my favorite.
How many times did you have to shoot a video before uploading your first stand up a video on YouTube?
It took a long time, maybe over 3-4 months. But before that, I was still doing comedy. You learn a lot of things in comedy, and then you can apply those skills in one video. It wasn’t up to the mark, and I could’ve done way more, but I was glad that I had put together a decent set. But when the pandemic struck, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it for another 6-7 months, and the flow would be gone by then, and I’d have to remove the bit. You can perform the same bit for a year max. After this, the rhythm and flow go, and you can’t do it anymore, so that’s why I released it. You can write ten jokes a day, but they have to land in front of an audience.
Your “Bambaiya” delivery style is unique and fashionable. Do you practice it, or is it just the way you are in reality?
No, that’s not me, just a skillfully delivered accent. I can do a lot of accents, and I have friends who have that “Bambaiya” accent. My friends from college and childhood used to talk like this, and spending time with them, I realized it was an amusing way to speak, so I tried to incorporate it. It’s one of the accents that has stayed with me throughout.
Who was the person who gave you your first paid show? Which venue was it, and how are you grateful to that individual?
My first stage show as a stand-up comedian was when I opened for Gaurav Kapur. Gaurav Kapur used to host comedy shows in the ‘Canvas Laugh Club,’ and I once won a comedy show there, and Gaurav liked my set. Gaurav is an accommodating guy, he helps upcoming comedians, and I told him that if he has a show, I would love to open for him. He told me he had a show in Navi Mumbai. He would like me to do the opening. We didn’t discuss money because I was excited to get the opportunity to speak in front of an actual audience. I used to perform for 20 people, but this was a massive show with 200 plus people. So I went there and opened for him, and after the show he paid me. He didn’t have to pay me, but he was a nice enough person to do so.
When you performed in front of a crowd for the first time, what was that experience like? How did you prepare for it?
The first time I performed in front of a crowd was in my college. I was quite prepared for that because half of them were my friends and I nearly knew all of them. I didn’t have to prepare much. The first time I went to do an open mic was at ‘Canvas Laugh Club’ and the audience, there was a very corporate-like audience aged 40-50 years old, and I was just a 20-year-old boy. I didn’t know what to say in front of them; I felt very cornered. Back then, I did not know how to channelize my thoughts hysterically, so I had to use the relatability trope. It’s saying, “I’m just like you, so here are some jokes on our life.” But they were rich 40-50-year-olds, and I was a young, poor guy. I couldn’t understand what I should say to them, and I completely bombed. Now I don’t have a problem with doing stand-up in front of corporate people because I know how to be funny.
Have you ever blanked out on stage? How did you manage that situation?
No, I have never blanked out on stage. When do you blank out actually? It is not an oral recitation or elocution competition where you have memorized something, and then you have to speak it out or give a speech about something. It is actually about the few thoughts in your head with exaggerated humor. Like whatever I said in the interview, if I just tweak it and add more humor, it’s as good as stand up. In this profession, there is no chance of getting blanked out because it is not an act which you memorized. The whole purpose of it is to present it in such a way that it does not seem like an act.
How was it to be mentored by your favorite comedians in comicstaan? What was the best lesson you learned from them?
The best lesson which I learned in comicstaan is to be explorative. Don’t limit yourself to a specific pattern. You need just to experiment and continuously innovate. That was the biggest lesson from comicstaan. As for my favorite mentor – I cannot choose one because then it will be biased. So I can’t pick one name. In comicstaan, I learned many things
from many people. These people only stayed with me for a week, which is quite a short period. But they were more like friends who advised you for different things and maintained great bonds.
You won the Mumbai Comic Con Hunt early on during your career. How did you prepare for it?
It was like any other regular show, but then they said that if you win this, you will get a chance to go to Pune and perform there. So I performed my best jokes, and it took some 2-3 months of work to win that show, which is enough to let you know about what is your most preferred type of comedy. To be honest, I knew I was good, or at least I knew the competition was terrible. There were one or two who were good competition, but then I was like, I will win, and there is nothing to get stressed about. So I won.
According to you, can someone with stage fright be a stand-up comedian?
In the beginning, many people have stage fear, but then afterward, you love being on the stage, and it feels great. You start enjoying it.
How do you gain audience engagement when you perform? How do you include them in your jokes and make them feel a part of it?
It is like; first, we interact with the audience to understand them, and when we are speaking to them, we are in our flow, and our brain is alert, and so when you are about to say a joke you will know that it is going to be funny. It is kind of automatic.
When famous comedian Tanmay Bhat made a spoof about notable people, he was in the epicenter of chaos. Azeem Banatwalla told that he draws the line on topics that he's not aware of. Are there any aspects you never prepare jokes about?video "How to come out to Indian Parents?"?
It’s a personal choice. We are no one to judge. I avoid going into politics, and I try to write general comedy topics about life. Firstly I’m not interested in politics so I don’t have that much knowledge about it and secondly I don’t want to do it because for that you should have some agenda on a social level. Trying hands-on political comedy just to get a few more views is not my thing.
Do you think having an engineering background, a lot of your audience can relate to you? Does it also help you with your content creation?
Yes, an engineering background helps because that way, I can understand their thinking process. Something you’ve experienced along with the majority, you’ll be able to relate to that more and the more engagement from the audience. But there are still many comedians who choose off topics but are still very popular. And that’s good. People who do comedy based on everyday things like “Mai Bhi engineer tu bhi engineer” it’s more of a trope, which means you don’t know how to do comedy, so you find such tropes in the audience. So this is relatively easy to do initially, but after a point, you have to dig deep into yourself. When you relate to yourself, your audience could be anybody, even an older adult. For example, Zakhir, he’s multi-talented! He talks about his own life emotions, which are common on a union value. Touching that level of relativity is excellent. When that happens, you can address anyone. Whereas only being able to do comedy for a reserved set of audiences is a microscopic level to be at. I appreciate Zakhir for his talent to play at that emotional level.
Having been a part of Comicstaan, how do you think such platforms are helping aspiring artists?
It helps a lot! It gives a breakthrough. You meet other comedians, build connections, you get to have your audience. You get the power to choose what you want to do. Like you can experiment with different forms. You’re not under the compulsion of making them laugh. You have a certain degree of freedom.
How do you tailor your content for shows all over India?
I don’t think like that. Like the video, I posted on YouTube “engineering job interviews,” everybody will relate to that irrespectively of your background. Initially, talking about general topics helps. I believe that I’m not yet that skilled to be able to do comedy on random issues, but your goals should be that only where you don’t have to think who your audience is. Just get going.
1. All-time favorite meme— I don’t really like memes.
2. Light comedy or dark comedy— Light comedy.
3. Favorite act— Dave Chappelle: Equanimity & The Bird Revelation.
4. Top 5 western comedians— Johnny Carson, Dave Chappelle, Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld, and Don Rickle.