Kapil Sharma’s debut standup special for Netflix—I’m Not Done Yet—is laced with the comedian’s trademark self-deprecating humour about his humble beginnings, but as the bottle of Perrier next to him and the ballroom full of people before him suggest, he’s come a long way from when he was swimming in a ‘talaab’ with a ‘bhains’.
Can someone please tell Kapil this now? For almost the entire duration of his 55-minute set—an unstructured, unfunny performance that begins with a gross Covid-19 joke and ends with one of the most cringe-inducing songs ever streamed—Kapil, the most successful comedian in the country, positions himself as the underdog. He’s about as much of an underdog now as he was back in 2016, when, by his own admission, he drunkenly tweeted that he pays an annual income tax of Rs 15 crore.
With more mentions of ‘toddy’ than actual laughs, I’m Not Done Yet is nothing more than a victory lap funded by a streamer that is desperate for a more diverse subscriber base. But if they can’t get people to pay for Narcos, will they get people to pay for something that they’re accustomed to watching for free every weekend? Your guess is as good as mine.
Because simply calling I’m Not Done Yet a standup special doesn’t make it one. Sure, it features a ‘comedian’ who gets up on stage and performs ‘jokes’ for about an hour, but it’s made abundantly clear (by Kapil himself) that he is more skilled at sketch comedy than he is at standup. He stumbles over set-ups (and not just craft-wise) about being poor, and then, about being relatively less poor.
Framed like a conversation with his imaginary therapist, who by the sounds of it should have her license revoked—her solution for depression was prescribing a vacation to Amsterdam—I’m Not Done Yet is essentially a recap of Kapil’s life, told from the horse’s mouth. But it lacks a certain discipline in writing–which he hasn’t even done all by himself, by the way.
Take, for instance, a bit about Kapil being named after former cricketer Kapil Dev, whose exploits at the cricket World Cup in 1983 impressed Kapil (Sharma)’s dad so much that he decided to name his son after him. Kapil heaves a sigh of relief, “Uss din West Indies jeet jaati mera naam Clive Lloyd hota.”
There’s nothing wrong with this joke, besides, of course, that it isn’t particularly funny. But what points to Kapil’s inexperience as a standup comedian is that merely five minutes ago, he’d told the crowd that he was born in 1981. Why establish this pointless fact when you know you’re going to contradict it moments later? Don’t get me wrong; both these points could be true—Kapil’s father could have renamed him two years after he was born, who knows?—but why confuse your audience?
Kapil’s strengths, as his fans are already aware, lie in his ability to be spontaneous. Which makes him an odd choice for an art form that requires the writing to be especially rigorous. The best comedians will rehearse every pause, every glance to the camera, every touch of the mic stand until they perfect it. Watching the material that Kapil has chosen for his debut special, you can’t help but feel that he didn’t test it out diligently enough.
For instance, he jokes about getting trolled in Italian by Rahul Gandhi’s followers—a ripe set-up, you’d agree—but delivers a punchline that goes something like this: “Pasta bhi toh khaata hoon, toh kya?” Kapil’s tendency to resort to the most basic cultural stereotypes—he does an impression of Karan Johar here that is all kinds of offensive—could have been forgiven had his joke about Italians liking pasta been the least bit funny. Later, he describes a Kingfisher flight he once took (back when he was poor, surprise surprise) as ‘chilled’, because, wait for it, ‘beer banane waalon ki hai na’.
Even the reactions from the crowd assembled in front of him—a mix of Kapil’s family, work colleagues, and random rich-looking middle-aged people—feels muted, which is weird, because they’re his target audience. But this could be the fault of unconventional art direction—the crowd is sitting at individual tables, like at the Golden Globes, and not at all like in comedy shows, where people tend to be packed closely together.
In any case, it makes Kapil’s story about bombing in front of Nita Ambani and the Mumbai Indians (because he made the rookie mistake of not reading the room and did jokes about ‘chole kulche’ in front of a woman who could buy every restaurant in Amritsar 500 times over) more relevant. He bombed then because his audience couldn’t relate to his material. Which implies that his jokes were funny, but they didn’t work because of a socio-economic gap in communication. That might be true of I’m Not Done Yet, too.
The best bits in it—and I won’t spoil them here—are the ones in which he isn’t trying to be funny at all.
Kapil Sharma: I’m Not Done Yet
Director – Saahil Chhabria
Rating – 1.5/5