Live Streaming Demigods: Stand-up comedian Sorabh Pant gets candid about his show, keeping busy during the lockdown, and more...

Why 11 am for the live stream, Wake with Sorabh?

Because it’s exciting to see the faces of those who have reluctantly gotten up early to appear on the show. And, as is the rule, humans are more alert in the morning, and people aren’t used to giving interviews that early in the day. Also, the main reason was managing the kids and the house amid the pandemic with all these new restrictions in place. So by night-time, I am anyway too tired to generate content. I remember I was interviewing Raju Srivastav (I think), which was at 6 pm as opposed to 11 am. Raju is quite entertaining and super fun to chat with. But, because I was up since 8 am, I was too tired to think straight towards the end of show. So 11 am is the key for me.

You bring up Aakash Chopra’s book Out of the Blue often. Why the fascination?

While interviewing Aakash Chopra (former cricketer and commentator), you want to appear beyond the realm of what people know about you. So I picked up his book, and it gave me a lot of insight into the importance of the Ranji Trophy in cricketers’ lives — the problems they go through, the administration, the mismanagement, and not to mention, hotel rooms! After almost every eight pages there are stories about bad hotel rooms, and what many cricketers think about sharing rooms with other players. It reminded me of my career as a comedian, because that’s essentially what we do as well. Some of these things might seem petty in retrospect but are important for performing artistes, because if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, your performance the next day is affected. These things resonated with me.

From Jim Gaffigan to Javed Jaffery. How was it interacting with this Arc of Comedy on your streams?

I have always been a fan of comedy, and I generally don’t care which genre you are doing it in—you can like a James Acaster, and you can also like a Raju Shrivastav. In fact, before interviewing Anupam Kher, I rewatched scenes with Miss Braganza (played by Archana Puran Singh) from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. And those scenes were still funny, and you can like those too! The big advantage Indians have is that we speak two-plus languages, allowing us to enjoy comedy in different languages and art forms. Be it British, American or Hindi stand-up, I am just fascinated by people who can make others laugh! Take Raju Srivastav, for instance. Ask him a question, and he will give you free three-minute stand-up, instead of a straight answer. I find it interesting to understand where people are coming from and how they create different stories.

Any particular personality who you wanted on your live stream but couldn’t get?

Oh, several! For starters, Vikram Sood (former head of India’s foreign intelligence agency, and the Research and Analysis Wing). I have read his books and a few of his columns and seen some interviews...he’s a very interesting gentleman. And that’s because I have interviewed Lieutenant General H S Panag and also Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah. These interviews made me move out of my comfort zone—from reading their books, watching their interviews and trying to understand where they came from. Sood is in the same zone. I have also been trying to get Baba Sehgal for the longest time, and co-ordinating with Shashi Tharoor’s team for about three years now. Then there’s Saina Nehwal, Smriti Mandhana, and others (I won’t name them again, because I have named them so many times that they have now stopped responding!).

You have had people like Vir Sanghvi, Ramchandra Guha, and Amish Tripathi, on your show. Has anyone stumped you?

There have been a few instances where I have been surprised by the guest’s answers. One of them was the whole fictional tale about torturing prisoners of war is not a thing. Most times we already have a lot of information, thanks to our intelligence bureaus, and PoWs reveal what you need them to. What I have realised from my interviews is that after the show, when you allow the guest a free reign, that’s when things get interesting. Dilip Joshi on OTT censorship, for instance. He said he doesn’t agree with a lot of stuff that’s being said, but then he didn’t say it should be censored either. Interestingly, four days later, the government issued a statement on censorship of OTT, and people started tagging me, saying: ‘tu panauti hai!’ (laughs)

Let’s talk about ‘Dilli Take Over’ where you were outnumbered by comedians from Delhi. How was it to be the sole flag-bearer for Mumbai?

Before starting Wake up with Sorabh, I had spoken with my friend Abish Mathew for his insight on it. He’d simply said: ‘It’s live, and you won’t be able to control anything. Be prepared and be prepared to let go.’ And that’s what I did with ‘Dilli Take Over’: I completely let go and had fun. We actually started the episode with three comedians: Aakash Gupta, Vikramjit Singh, and Pratyush Chaubey. An hour in, Zakir popped in, wanting to join. That’s when many comedians from Delhi jumped on the boat — Nishant, Bassi, Vipul Goyal, and others. In fact, Vipul is not even from Delhi, he’s from Jaipur, has done most of his comedy in Mumbai and is actually dissing Mumbai comedians! But it was fun.

How financially viable do you think Live Streams are given the new normal? Could this be a new career move for performing artistes?

Over the last seven-eight months, many of my comedian friends have tried to make the best of the situation. I must have done more than 60 shows online since mid-April. But, I will start live shows from mid-January because I can’t sustain myself on YouTube, even though Wake Up With Sorabh has been good to me. Honestly, superchats helped me pay my EMI in October, so that was an added benefit. But, to sustain one would have to keep doing new things. I have done so many episodes with different guests… now, unless I get someone like a Putin, the audience is not going to be that interested.

From keeping your streams on for two days to making your Discord server, how has the technical journey been for you?

I think anybody above 30 would find it irritating to figure out this Discord thing! It took me a while and led me to tear my metaphorical hair out! But, it’s a cool place to be—you get to engage with your fans on a slightly more personal level, message and chat with each other anytime of the day. While moving to the digital space, I had some trouble figuring out how to do Zoom Live on YouTube. It took me a month, and I lost 5,000 subscribers in the process! I think, in the recent past, we have used technology to bridge gaps more than we probably did prior to this.

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