Kanan Gill: What Is This? | Melbourne International Comedy Festival review
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Kanan Gill: What Is This?

Melbourne International Comedy Festival review

Kanan Gill does not need to be playing to 100 or so people a night in Melbourne. He’s got Netflix and Amazon specials to his name, a sizeable social media following and has just published his first novel, while his movie-star looks and easy charisma have made him an actual movie star in his native India.

So his presence at this festival demonstrates a solid commitment to the art of stand-up, whatever other success his career might bring. And it turns out he’s very good at it, too – he’s definitely a polymath, not a dilettante.

What Is This? is a tight, layered hour of comedy, broad in scope but precise in detail, with each strand skilfully entwined to create an engrossing story revealing much about where he is in life as well as the peculiarities of wider human habits.

One yarn involves him buying a substantial plot of land – I told you his career was going well – and the labyrinthine bureaucracy that entails. He’s insightful as he is exasperated by a system that requires hundreds of signatures, which everyone despises but helplessly accepts. The lack of reason is genuinely comical, and Gill exploits that artfully, drip-feeding one bit of stupidity after another.

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Another element of What Is This? is that he has conceded defeat in his love life and is finally, reluctantly hitting the dating apps. He acknowledges this is not a new premise for stand-up, but he has his own, uniquely witty take on why the search for romance is built on a lie and doomed to disappoint, which yet again exposes illogical, yet universal behaviour.

Turning to the apps comes as he accepts that, at 34, his youth is behind him and he’s now settling into a comfort zone. His health, too, might be ‘running out’ – and he’s being served so many clickbait ads that prey on that insecurity.

Not that his life is short of adventure. There’s another fruitful strand about entering the Tiramisu World Cup with such a woeful lack of preparation that it inevitably ends in humiliation. He describes every moment of that slow-motion car crash with self-effacing skill, displaying a keen eye for slapstick as he tries to put a brave face on the disasters.

Nestling amid the more extensive narratives are a generous handful of throwaway gags on the likes of Esoterica and Gen Z. We even get one in Hindi, with the usually inclusive Gill cheekily delighting at excluding non-speakers, just this once.

He keeps all his anecdotes bubbling along on a rolling boil, switching between them to maintain a cracking momentum, and with overlaps and callbacks providing a rewarding sense that this is a proper show, far deeper than the easy-going conversation it first appears. The charming Gill delivers with polish and professionalism. Yet, the show never feels over-rehearsed, with amusing lines and hilarious imagery at every turn marking him out as a class act indeed.

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Review date: 19 Apr 2024
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

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