Comedienne, actor and a full-time improviser Kaneez Surka recently joined forces with Kanan Gill, Abish Mathew and Kenny Sebastian for Amazon Prime Video Special called The Improvisers. In an exclusive chat with Indianexpress.com, Kaneez discusses sketches, stand-ups and political humour.
Since this show is all about improvisation, it would be interesting to know whether you had always been spontaneous. Or is it something that you’ve had to work hard on?
It was something I had to work on and develop. I did go to America to do courses and I did learn a lot, but I think improv was something that came naturally to me as opposed to stand-up which I had to work hard at. And I think for everyone in the group, the spontaneity is there which is what made us click in the first place. If you want to do improv, it’s something you can learn if you work hard at it but for me, it was always a part of my personality.
What’s Something from Nothing all about? Is it exclusively a series of sketches or does it also include stand-up?
You will only exclusively see improv in the show. There is no stand-up whatsoever. We flew down someone from New York who does improv to help conceptualize the show and to also train us and workshop with us. We came up with a format that is very different to anything that you might have seen. A lot of people expect to see Whose Line Is It Anyway, but it’s not like that at all. The format is different.
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You’ve collaborated with nearly all the rising stars of stand-up and improv of India. What’s the next step?
The next step is collaborating with everybody. It’s fun. It brings out different sides of you. You perform with different kinds of people. It’s definitely something that I will continue doing. I am going to keep collaborating with as many artistes as I can. But the immediate step is working on my own game show. The General Fun Game Show is special because it has incorporated improv which I absolutely love doing, but I am not dependent on anyone else to perform it. I can do my own show whenever or however I want to do it. I also want to work on a web series. I am writing and developing a lot more right now, which is a new skill set for me. I want to become a really good comedy writer.
When did you first realise that comedy and performing sketches is your calling?
In high school, I had taken up theatre and I was also working on dramas around the same time. I realised then that I had a knack for comedy so when I came to India in 2005, I was drawn to comedy groups. I joined an improv group and then I got signed for a television show called The Week That Wasn’t.
You grew up in South Africa, you are a Gujarati and you now reside in Mumbai. That’s a great mix of culture. Has that experience helped you express professionally?
It’s great to have that kind of background. But I have an accent that definitely throws people off here. They don’t like it. People think it’s fake. They think I am trying to act cool, that I am putting up an accent. “Oh, she is an accent waali,” they would say. I found that difficult to cope with. For people to find me relatable, that has been an issue. I spent a lot of years ‘denouncing’ my identity, hiding the fact that I was from South Africa so that I could become more relatable, but now I am thinking of embracing it fully so that I can use it in my comedy.
What is your take on stand-up comedians and sketch artistes satirising and joking about politics and social issues? Have you ever done it yourself?
Political humour is not my jam. I do anecdotal humour and I don’t do it because I am scared to do it but it’s just not something that I am naturally inclined towards. Also, people can be quite sensitive and I know a lot of my friends who are really good at topical and political humour but refuse to say anything because they are scared of the bite. They are scared of the hate and the threat of violence that we get and it’s not worth it. It’s such a pity that we don’t have that kind of freedom to comment on the political nature of our country.
What’s that one big goal?
The goal is to get more female comedians out there so that people don’t see just our gender. One day when you are on a show and you see eight female comedians followed by five male comedians, the show becomes genderless. You don’t see the person, you just see the individual personalities do their bits.