Kanan Gill at QEH review: If this impressive stand-up is any guide Indian comedy is about to go global

 (Live Nation Singapore)
(Live Nation Singapore)

Last year Soho Theatre brought Urooj Ashfaq over from India and a month later she was a surprise winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer. Now they have flown in Kanan Gill.

Perhaps it is less surprising that he is even more impressive. He already has numerous stand-up specials, movies and a best-selling debut novel under his belt.

Gill’s show What Is This? is a perfect example of why there is considerable excitement about the emerging Indian stand-up scene. On the one hand his delivery has all the cadences, rhythms and beats of a slick Western comedian, but his material moves seamlessly from the mainstream observational to the positively philosophical.

He starts simply, comparing queuing etiquette in London to the more frenetic process back home in Mumbai where “the person behind you is actually inside you.” Then there’s an off-the-shelf routine about hitting his mid-30s, worrying about his health and mainlining nuts and seeds.

Then things get interesting, as Gill questions what life really means. Should one live in the moment or plan for the future? He is conflicted, but has recently bought some land so that he can leave something for his children. Or something they can argue over, he suggests.

Nothing is simple for this overthinker. Signing paperwork becomes a Kafkaesque exercise in anxiety management.

Needless to say the angst extends to relationships. Gill knows he needs to settle down, but life was so much simpler when there were arranged marriages. Now he has to meet someone instead, which just creates another very relatable existential crisis. Does he want someone like himself or the opposite?

His unique solution to this early mid-life predicament is the idea that growth comes by going outside your comfort zone. For Gill this means entering the self-explanatory Tiramisu World Cup – yes, it really exists, I just googled it. And no, he is not a foodie. In fact when he arrived in Italy he was the only entrant without his own equipment.

Gill skilfully weaves this story into his set while also revealing further dilemmas. Should he get a dog or a cat for company? He opts for the feline option, only for it to disappear, causing more late night stress.

This is material that is accessible, but intellectually ambitious. There are a couple of Hindi asides that get huge roars of appreciation but this is essentially thoughtful universal humour and there is no reason why he should not expand way beyond his current fanbase.

If Gill is any guide Indian stand-up is about to go global. And comedy will be all the better for it.

Also Union Chapel, N1, May 25. Buy tickets here