Ashish Shakya | The Spool

Many of you in comedy are engineers, is there a secret course?

Umm… the secret course is frustration probably. Engineering has acquired such a cult status, I don’t know why, probably because it is such a mainstream thing, which is opposite of cult. There’s frustration and you need a sense of humour to get through it and once you do, if you dislike it, you just end up in some form of creative arts. You don’t need an instrument to write. If it lands, it feels good and then you just chase that validation throughout.

In comedy everything is fair game, but what is it that you don’t find funny?

So you know the concept of punching down right? Punching up means you always strike at the powerful, whether institution, person, culture or tradition, you strike upwards. Punching down means you strike at the victims of that powerful person or that institution or that culture so I can make a joke about rape culture but not about a victim so that’s the difference. Punching up and punching down only come into play when the subjects are dark, when it is haathi, cheenti nobody gives a shit, not contentious at all.

Personally, I draw the line at rape jokes. I am uncomfortable doing those, not rape culture jokes, but rape jokes. There are comedians who are in that space who would make a really dark joke that is not necessarily punching up and I… I am a little uncomfortable but I don’t call him up and say, ‘main tera ghar jala doonga’ (‘I’ll burn your house’), instead ‘forward karke doosra joke dekhlo’ (‘move on and watch another joke’).

And that makes you mad

A really broad way to look at it is, I dislike stupid people and they exist across fronts. And when I say stupid people, it covers everything from communalism to just dumb shit like your idiot relative who says, ‘yeh dekho aloo mein  bhagwan ka chehra dikha(‘Oh look! God’s face in a potato’).

How are we as a country so dumb and angry at the same time?

But I have become quite cynical now; back then a lot of my comedy used to be ‘hey this is stupid and here is why’. Now a lot of my comedy is like ‘hey here is how I’m stupid and here is why’.

They say friends shouldn’t go into business, do you agree with that?

Yes it’s risky. But it’s like one of the high-risk high-rewards thing. I think there also needs to be a balance. Outside of office we don’t socialise much ‘cause we have decided we are old, we don’t want to have fucking parties, go clubbing or any of that shit. In office we each have our responsibilities. So it’s manageable because we are not in each other’s face all the time.

Age seems to be a recurrent theme

That’s what people in their 30s love to do right? Talk about the fact that they are in their 30s, about how life has changed… I also think we like doing this because

we are new to being old. Old people know that they are old.

For us, this is new. Yeh dard ho raha hai wow, mein daaru nahi pi sakta wow (it’s paining, I can’t drink alcohol, oh wow), we feel the need to talk about it. So a lot of my thoughts right now are like, why am I like this and hopefully the audience will connect, ‘cause everybody is like this.

Lets talk about the roast, success or failure?

Oh! Complete success!

Nobody talks about how eleven million people watched it and had a good time and gave zero fucks, but one guy files a FIR and it’s the only news.

Why would you regret it, it was such good fun. I love Bollywood, I’m a Bollywood whore. I’ve been a Bollywood whore since I was a child.

We had a blast doing it. We raised money for charity. We sort of, without sounding too pompous, contributed to some form of cultural shift. Even before that with Yash Raj and Alia (Bhatt) it went from, oh Bollywood is this distant thing to people now realising that stars, especially the younger crop, have grown up on the same pop culture you and I have and they are chill about things.

It’s the biggest industry in India, biggest cultural touchstone, so why would you not want to have fun with it? Suddenly aap baithe ho Sanjay Kapoor ka mazaak bana rahe ho, main 5th standard mein ‘aati nahi’ ke joke pe hasta tha (You’re sitting and joking about Sanjay Kapoor, the joke we used to laugh about in class 5) and now this! When Karan Johar’s name was announced and the crowd exploded, that’s when I was like, fuck this will work. This is new, there is nobody who’s ever introduced Johar or anybody in Bollywood like that in public!

Have the repercussions impacted your work since?

When I used to write my column after that, there was a period when I’d go, ‘is this joke ok?’ Also seeing how the conversation flows across our country now, with the rise of social media and the dumb angry idiots that it has brought with it, in general you’ve had to take a step back.

Five years ago I could write a certain joke, put it out in public and nothing would happen, now I don’t know.

It’s been 2 years since the roast; we’ve now become big and are sort of a public entity as AIB. If you say something it gets noticed, then it gets picked up and amplified by thousands of people who are waiting to tear you down, because it’s just a thing you do on social media these days. But I suppose I’ve made my peace with it because it’s a consequence of growing in this country.

What happened after the roast?

We were just fucked for the first month. We’re regular Indian kids, so Police stations and all are terrifying. When a traffic cop stops you and you have done nothing wrong you are like, kya ho gaya, volume kam karo, vaisa scene tha (what did I do? Let me reduce the stereo volume, fear like that).

Hum toh apna kaam hi kar rahe the (we were just working) and Vijay (Nair) had to calm us down like guys, tumne kisi ka murder nahi kiya hai (you haven’t murdered anyone), chill, it’s ok. We were obviously panicked ‘cause, fuck dude are you mad, hum toh joke suna rahe the, ye case vase kahan se aa gaya yaar (we were only performing jokes, where did this case come from!).

The case is in court, I can’t talk about it cause subjudice is a word I’ve learnt.

How did home react?

Home was actually very cool, my parents are weird. I think I was more stressed than they were. My dad’s like, ‘it’s okay these things happen, you did nothing wrong then why are you worried. Hona chahiye, life mein thoda struggle hona chahiye (there should be some struggle in life), that’s how you become tough’. And I was like, I don’t want to become tough, I am tough enough, I don’t need a case to become tough. They are from 60s India, UP se hai, unka outlook alag hi hai, unke liye meri life soft hai, tough honi chahiye (They are from UP, their outlook is quite different. For them I have an easy life and I need to toughen up).

They have been more upset about my AIEEE. Parents surprise you sometime, it was very sweet.

My mother is more worried about the length of my hair.

When did you realize that you were famous?

After the roast, there have been instances of people coming up to me and going, ‘hum tumhare saath hai, tum karo bhai(‘we are with you, you do what you have to’), I was like, ‘thank you, that is very sweet, aap chale jaao humari jagah jail(‘will you go to the jail instead of me?’). I really didn’t want to be an asshole, he was being really sweet, I get it and I appreciate that, but the cynical part of me is thinking, ‘jab, jana hoga jail toh aap toh nahi jaaoge, tab aap busy hoge… haan, I’m stuck in traffic, you go, go ahead, I’ll come(‘when it is time to go to the jail, then you won’t go instead right?’)

I think the Shahrukh podcast was one of those instances, hey this is fun, you are chatting and sunday afternoon ko hum iske saath iske ghar pe baithke chat kar rahe hai (you are chilling with him at his house on a Sunday afternoon).

Has this made dating a bit easier?

Matlab, it’s nicer now ‘cause you are not a complete stranger. It’s happened where one girl told me she wasn’t afraid of me on Tinder or something. When you’re meeting somebody for the first time it’s strange and creepy, I could be a killer. You’ve seen that Louis CK bit on dating and how scary it is? I don’t understand how women do it. But she actually said to me, ‘I was okay because I know you won’t fuck around ‘cause if it gets out then it will be a problem for you. You won’t be creepy ‘cause you have a public persona and reputation and all that’, I was like, ‘chalo fair enough’. [Editor’s note: This conversation was before the Arunabh Kumar of TVF incident]

So again this is a part about being old, after a long day or on a weekend you have one day to yourself, you can either sit in your chaddis, eating junk food, watching Netflix, hanging with people that you are not trying to fuck and it’s great. Or you can be like, I will put on pants and go out on a date and be like, ‘hey so what do you do and umm… I do this … oh that is interesting… here is a story that I have told before but I will tell again, oh that is so funny‘. Its nice that people recognise you and that sometimes women will come up to you and say, ‘hey, big fan’.

I’ll really miss it when it’s gone, the little fame that I have. I will really miss it.

What do you have to say to people who want to get into stand up comedy?

Ah, just go to open mics, have fun, pressure mat le, you will fail, you will suck, all your jokes initially will suck, most probably, which is fine, get it out of the way and just have fun. The community is more than happy to have people. Hang out with other comics in the green room at open mics, make friends with them, find out what’s happening, where the next gig is, record your sets, listen to it later even though it will make you cringe, ask other people/comedians for feedback, and don’t leave your job to become a standup comedian unless you are already making a lot of money and are good at stand up comedy, until then just do open mics, get better there.


First thing you do when you wake up?

Groan at existence

The most innovative way you’ve cancelled a plan?

Innovation ki zaroorat nahi hai. If it’s just friends I can tell them, mereko nahi mood ho raha (I’m not in the mood). Because who is going to believe an outlandish excuse?

Now that you’re famous – are your parents still pressurizing you to get married?

Haan, that is a function of age. They are not pressurising me, I think they are a little sad that I am not married.

Talking about marriage – what’s your going rate now? Is it more now?

GOING RATE! No, are you mad, which parent in India would want their kid to get married to that guy from that anti national company jo kabhi babla bolta hai, kabhi paad bolta hai, kabhi Karan Johar ke saath kuch ashleel karta hai, kabhi apne video mein aise aise naachta hai, matlab who (someone who says boobs, fart, does funny things with Karan Johar, sometime dances funny in his videos). It’s not a selling point, it’s a deterrent.

If I meet a parent who’s like “oh you bakchod marry my daughter”, I would be like, “noo, what is wrong with you are you ok do you hate your daughter, what is it?”