Interview: Kaneez Surka talks about The Improv All-Stars Games Night, embarrassing moments & the future of comedy
An improv artiste, comedian and content creator, Kaneez Surka is one of the popular names in the Indian comedy scene. Having started her career with the show, ’The Week That Wasnt over a decade ago, the 34-year-old actor shot to fame after her collaborations with Vir Das as well as comedy group All India Bakchod for their popular videos such as A woman's besties, Honest wedding, among others. After judging shows such as Amazon Prime’s Comicstaan, Kaneez recently released her game show, The Improv All-Stars Games Night, featuring comedians like Biswa Kalyan Rath, Jahnavi Dave, Aadar Malik, Rahul Subramanian, among others.
In an interaction with Indulge, Kaneez talks about her role in the show, her rapport with comedians and future projects. Excerpts:
1. What is the format of The Improv All-Stars Games Night? How is the show different from the ones you have done before?
Amazon Prime Exclusive Series The Improv All Stars Games Night is a completely improvised show. So you won’t find anything scripted or prepared. The format I developed for this show was inspired by an existing format called theatre sports developed by Canadian improv artiste Keith Johnstone. In this show, there are two teams - Team Cutting Chai and Team Filter Coffee. There will be five rounds and ten games. I gave placards to the audience members and after each round asked them to hold up their scores and the first number I saw became the score for that team. We kept the show light and fun and did not make it an actual competition. And it’s safe to say no other show like this exists in India. We developed and made the format our own.
2. What is going to be your role as the show host?
Coming up with our own games was super fun. There was a lot of trial and error and we finally
workshop-ed the games to suit our style and keep in mind the fact that we are in India. We didn’t want to ape the west. We wanted to keep it as real to us as possible. I conceptualised the show and made sure that it ran smoothly. I realised after my last improv special that it’s really important to have someone anchor the whole show mainly because of the the nature of the genre. Everything is made up on the spot.
4. Given that comedy and improv is a very competitive field right now, how is your rapport with all the comedians you collaborate with?
Improv is a collaborative genre. While there are people in the world who do solo improv shows, the majority is done with a group of people. You can’t get competitive really, or as soon as I do start feeling competitive I start collaborating. With this show - the players, Biswa, Rahul, Danish, Radhika, Aadar and Jahnavi were just people I felt would be perfect for this show.
5. Having started your stint in comedy in 2009, what were your initial struggles?
I started in 2006 on The Week That Wasn’t I think my struggles include not always being paid the same.
6. Would you share any funny/ embarrassing moment that you have had on stage?
Hahaha, so I have a ridiculously loud laugh and during the edit, we realised that if we don’t turn
down my volume it is going to be a very annoying show to watch. I would like to thank my director, Angshuman Ghosh for that.
7. How did you get introduced to comedy? Who is your inspiration?
When I was in High School, I studied drama and all my roles would always end up being comedic roles. That's when I realised I have a knack for comedy, but it was only when I got onto The Week That Wasn’t did I realise I could do something with this.
8. What advice do you have for aspiring comedians?
Do it (sorry Nike) but really, just go up on stage and try that joke, or shoot that video and upload it and keep doing it. Don’t let others tell you it is bad. You will only get better when you start doing it.
9. You were born and raised in South Africa. While entering the Indian comedy scene, was it difficult to fit in?
Yes, my accent always gets a lot of hate. People think it is fake, they think I’m trying to act foreign and I get it. When I hear fake accents it’s annoying but mine is real and I don’t know how to change it. Also, I don’t get a lot of references from other peoples’ childhood because I grew up with a very different childhood.
10. What are your upcoming projects? Is acting/ writing for movies in your future plans?
I am currently writing my web series about a woman's struggles during her marriage. I am also
working on building an improv community and will start my improv workshops again.
10. What are your thoughts on the idea of the number of female comedians being less as opposed to male comedians? Do you think the scene is changing?
It’s changing. Give it some time - it’s happening.
11. You conduct workshops and teach improvisation. Do you think comedy is something that can be taught? How do you train young comedians?
Improv is so different from stand up. There are very specific rules and guidelines used around the world for Improv specifically. I don’t know if timing can be taught but understanding the craft will get you somewhere.
12. What do you think of the comedy scene in India?
It’s booming right now. It’s growing way too fast. I get scared about the future of comedy - I feel
like the bubble will pop anytime soon. But at the same time, some incredible stuff is being created.
14. What is the one thing that fans don’t know about Kaneez Surka?
I get a runny tummy before every single show. I get so nervous.
15. Having to constantly create content, how do you deal with burn out?
I have started working out regularly - not to lose weight or become a fitness freak but because it
genuinely helps control my stress levels. I am making time for myself more of a priority because yes, you can easily get caught up in this rat race.
16. In the age of instant visual content creation, is there a need to be Instagram-ready all the time?
No - I don’t feel that pressure... Thank God.
Now streaming on Amazon Prime