Comedian Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Sebastian on how dedication to his craft is no laughing matter.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
The famed aphorism that “laughter is the best medicine” is certainly no lie – when we’re exhausted after a long day at work, or feeling emotionally fraught after watching Joker (2019) in cinemas, sometimes what we need isn’t a pound of cure, but a barrel of laughs. 28-year-old Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Sebastian, stand-up comedian, film maker and producer, and musician, is bringing this panacea to people the world over, from the US, to Australia, Singapore, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, uplifting the moods of hundreds of millions.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in Kerala but lived all over the country. As my father was in the Indian navy, my upbringing involved a lot of travelling in and around defence areas. Once my father retired, we moved to Bangalore, and I still mostly consider myself a Bangalorean. I did most of my schooling there – my school was the part of the famous Kendriya Vidyalaya system of schools in India – and I also attended university in Bangalore, graduating with a visual arts degree in painting.
Were you always attracted to comedy as a child? What did you consider most entertaining back then?
I didn’t even know comedy was a thing. I guess I was always silly and a troublemaker. I found imitating people to be my favourite thing to do. My father told me that when I was 8 years old, I used to imitate the priest in my church! My extended family used to gather around and see me ‘perform’ in the living room.
Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an internationally-renowned stand-up comedian. Where did it all start?
There isn’t a clear start I can point to. In school, I started a band which helped me get over my shyness onstage. Once I went to university, I also got into theatre. By the time I tried my hand in stand-up comedy, I had a lot of stage experience. Doing stand-up routines in Bangalore helped me shape my style a lot.
I also shot videos and edited them myself. With the boom in YouTube’s popularity, I could share my work with the world and that’s when I got a lot of exposure. Thanks to my management company, they helped me plan out my future career path. Fellow comedians, my audience, and the internet all played an integral part in my journey.
How would you describe your sense of humour?
Mostly observational, light-hearted, silly and happy. I am more focused on how the audience feels after they leave my show. I pride myself in changing peoples’ moods.
Where do you draw from when creating your stand-up routines – any particular topics that you consider inspiring?
I love talking about animals, relationships people have with each other, and minute aspects of human behaviour. I find that fascinating.
What is your stance on using controversial or even offensive topics in comedy?
Well, I haven’t done that in my comedy yet. I might try it to see how that will affect the audience. I adapt very quickly to a room, so if a room responds to controversial topics or offensive comedy, I don’t mind going there. My default is clean humour though.
Do you feel like your style or content has changed since you started?
Yes it has. I have become far more laid back onstage. I used to have a lot of energy when I performed, which has naturally settled down to a more relaxed vibe. It’s interesting how my friends who are fellow comedians noticed this change.
You’re not only a comedian – can you tell us about your other achievements?
I once edited a feature film when I was 21 which had a limited release in theatres through PVR cinema. I also released a six-song album in college which was mostly acoustic pop.
The most recent thing I’ve done, however, was be the show runner for an Amazon Prime video series called Die Trying. I enjoyed that medium a lot, as it combines all my favourite avenues of art – music, performance and film.
What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge, like with every entertainer, was how to build an audience. It’s very important that the audience recognises your style. It took a lot of time, but it was a great process to grow with my audience. Steadily building a career in entertainment takes a lot of perseverance and dedication, and even when it all eventually clicks, staying relevant and learning to get better each day as a performer is vital.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
It’s so fulfilling to be able to do what I love as a profession. Stand-up also never lets you relax. You could have a great show one day, and the next it could be terrible, and vice versa. I love how freeing that is, as well as the way the audience always wants you to succeed.
What accomplishments are you most proud of? Anything you would change?
I feel literally every show, special, series, or video that I have put out there to an audience makes my heart swell. I always think it’s amazing to have an audience for any of my work.
My only regret would be doubting myself repeatedly and not fully enjoying my journey because I was so focused on the end result. I constantly remind myself that it’s amazing that I get to do this, even for a day.
What does the future hold for you?
Personally, probably having a lot of dogs and some kids. Professionally, I just want to dabble with as many forms of entertainment as I can. Movies, music, theatre, stand-up – I want to keep doing all of them as long as I can.
Want to check out Kenny’s comedy live? He’s bringing his show to Bangkok for one night only on the 24th of November. To buy tickets or for more information, visit www.comeduclubbangkok.com