Bombay Showcase

The Funny Four

Four of a kind:The four have a comedic style that sets them apart from their YouTube peers—Photo: Special arrangement  

Back in school, if the plays put on by earnest kids in ill-fitting shirts on Teacher’s Day were vaguely entertaining, the most they’d get is a pat on the back and compliments about their ‘potential’. But then you know you’re doing something right if you’re invited to perform in another school, where the President of India will be in the audience.

About a decade ago, Bangalore boys Naveen Richard and Mani Prasad found themselves in that position. “We told everybody in school; we even made [the act] extra special, added more jokes,” says Richard. “But by the time we got to the school, we saw three identical helicopters leaving.” After hyping it up so much, they were too embarrassed to tell their schoolmates that Mr. Kalam, the then-President, had left before they performed. “We made up a story about how he met us, ruffled our hair and everything,” he admits sheepishly.

Fast forward to the present, and the duo, now with friends Rahul Hota and Aravind Anil Kumar, are now part of India’s most exciting upcoming comedy collective, Them Boxer Shorts.

Together, the four have a comedic style that immediately sets them apart from their YouTube peers. Subtle and intelligent, their satire is less topical and more rooted in timeless humour with exaggerated tropes. Among the debris of lone tweets and comments, a stray observer wonders, “How are they not more popular?”

It’s a valid question given how they’ve been churning out high-quality content, both in terms of writing and acting, among a barrage of half-hearted and barely-acted sketches on YouTube. Is it because Indian audiences veer towards comedians who’ve already made it through the stand-up scene, who are established brands?

Even though Them Boxer Shorts say their latest offering — the hilarious mockumentary webseries Better Life Foundation — was an experiment of sorts, to see whether the audience reacts to this sort of comedy, there’s obvious disappointment in their voices as we discuss the relatively low number of views. Nevertheless, the series, impeccably cast and maturely written, pulled in a diverse audience that hailed its freshness. “The numbers are secondary.” Hota says, describing the positive feedback for the show, “People would take the effort to personally message us on Facebook to tell us they enjoyed the show. It’s a great feeling.”

Them Boxer Shorts made their foray into comedy in 2013, with the sole intention of creating funny videos to hone their skills so they could eventually work on a feature-length film. Except for Aravind, who majored in Visual Communication and brought in the technical know-how, none of the others had any formal training in the subject. “We needed real degrees man.”

After college, the four met back in Bangalore, spending their days watching Monty Python sketches, getting drunk and coming up with funny songs. That’s how their first video Do The Friendship was made, under the moniker of their band The Monkey Biscuits.

While Richard was the only one of the group to juggle a stand-up career on the side, the group frequently worked with other, more established, Bangalore-based comedians such as Kenny Sebastian, Kanan Gill and Biswa Kalyan Rath. These three in turn, recommended Them Boxer Shorts to their management, the events and artist management company Only Much Louder, which wasted no time in signing them.

Ajay Nair, COO of OML explains their appeal, “Just watching the sketches they had created back then, it was obvious that TBS has a unique and incredibly funny content sensibility. It didn’t matter that they had fewer subscribers then, it was clear that in the next few years they will create some of the best shows in India.” The group’s stubbornness and specificity isn’t lost on their management either. Nair elaborates, “They are very anal about the type and quality of shows they want to make, sometimes maddeningly so, but that’s perhaps why their content stands out.”

More than anything, being signed to OML helped TBS break out of their fenced-in zero-budget zone; freeing up their writing and letting them experiment with genres better.

The first sketch they shot and released after being signed on, ‘Everybody Loves a Stereotype’ is a testament to the higher quality they could now afford. However, keeping their filmic aspirations in mind, each of them makes an active effort to learn the technical skills that go behind video production. “We’re trying to learn so we can go out and direct our own stuff,” says Prasad, who took over as director (he’s also one of the lead actors) for the first two episodes of the series Star Boyz, which was created and written by fellow Bangalore comedian Kenny Sebastian and Richard. Despite its very specific Bangalorean humour and South Indian references, Star Boyz nudged Prasad and Richard a little closer to the limelight, attracting enthusiastic fans, who are very impressed by their acting chops and comic timing.

It’s been few weeks since Better Life Foundation wrapped up its first season, and the group’s back home, catching a breath before they venture into new projects. They’re no closer to sticking to one genre, hoping to stay on the experimentation train till they decide otherwise. This flexibility also gives each member a chance to work on a project they’re enthusiastic about.

Prasad for example, had come up with the idea for their scathing sketch Godmen , and wants to do a noir at some point. “We won’t just be making comedy though,” Hota says. And Richard promptly clarifies, “We’ve got some ideas for the next series, something with a bit of music, a little more bizarre.” This presumably will also be a web series hosted on YouTube, but would they consider doing a Netflix original series, since that’s where the next wave of comedy is headed? “We’d love to work with Netflix,” they say.

There’s a live show in the works, which Prasad describes as a mixture of sketch comedy, improv and songs. No bets on whether these songs will be similar to Do the Friendship though. “We want to do proper music,” Richard says. “Hota has always come up with some brilliant tunes that we’ve ruined with our shitty lyrics.” It’s an interesting prospect, although it’d be exciting to see whether the group can possibly become India’s version of comedy bands like Flight of the Conchords.

They sign off, backtracking to their long-term plans again. “We just want to create a brand that people can trust to make good content,” Richard says. It’s refreshing to know that the group is not just good at what it does but also knows exactly why it does it. The mystery of the talented comedy collective getting far less attention than it deserves, will hopefully unravel with time, and also herald a larger space for English comedy in the country.

The writer is a freelance writer

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 11:11:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/The-Funny-Four/article14473359.ece

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