When Sapan Verma first came up with the idea of One Mic Stand four years ago, it wasn’t a feasible project for multiple reasons. “We were all YouTubers back then; there was no OTT platform to take up something like this,” he says over a phone call from Mumbai. “What changed things around was Comicstaan [a stand-up comedy competition aired by Amazon Prime in 2018]. It made high-budget comedy projects seem feasible.”

It set a comforting precedent. The first of Comicstaan’s two seasons aired in July 2018, and Sapan set to work on One Mic Stand in October that same year. “The shooting lasted from February 2019 to May 2019 ,” he says, adding that before things could get to that stage, there were a lot of creases the team had to smoothen. For instance, though the final list of comic mentors comprises five people, the list originally finalised had five more — three female comedians and two male. “They were all locked in, but the celebrities they were going to work with had date issues and had to back out,” says Sapan, adding that all of them will be featuring in Season 2, team-ups unchanged.

Sapan Verma

The mentor-mentee combination, Sapan emphasises, is specific and unchangeable: “Each celebrity was clear about whom he or she wanted to work with. Most of them knew each other beforehand. For example, Tapsee [Pannu] went to college with Angad [Singh Ranyal] and has also been a guest in an East India Comedy video. Dr. Tharoor wanted Kumal Kamra because Kamra focuses on politics.”

That wasn’t the only prerogative these celebrities had — they also had to come up with the topics for their standup stints themselves, with a little help. “We would sit with them, dig deep and find stories and anecdotes from their memories,” says Sapan. The trick was to notice which of those anecdotes have comedic value. Often, the most potential for laughter came from incidents which were either mundane or serious, and not funny on the face of it.

Sapan’s favourite part of the entire process was seeing how seriously each of the celebrities had taken the whole thing. “All of them are powerful, popular people. To see them panicking and getting nervous… Vishal Dadlani, for example, would send over WhatsApp audios of his practice sessions. Dr. Tharoor’s episode was shot around election season, and he once jokingly said ‘all my colleagues are going campaigning and I am here doing comedy’.” The one actor who surpassed everyone else, however, was Richa Chadha. “Richa was super enthu. She met us for a whole week, while the others could only give us about two or three days,” says Sapan.

Bhuvan Bam was mentored by Zakir Khan, who says there was an ‘element of risk’ to the whole thing. “Mentoring someone professionally is putting your honour at stake, as you are lending your hard work over the years to someone else and there is nothing else you can do after that. The problem with teaching someone performing art is that you can go all out and teach the person… but when he/she is on stage performing, they are on their own and there is absolutely nothing you can do. This is the first time I’ve experienced such a feeling of anxiousness.”

Zakir adds that the most difficult part of the episode was when Bhuvan was performing on stage. “I remembered his entire set minute by minute which made me even more stressed than he was! The stress was even more about if the joke would land or not. His small victories were my victories, and I think that was the most memorable part about shooting for the episode.”

Meanwhile, it was easier for Angad Singh Ranyal and Taapsee Pannu as they were former college mates. “It was a ‘tu toh rehne hi de’ relationship just like any batch mates. It was both easy and difficult: easy because Taapsee is naturally funny, and difficult because Taapsee is naturally funny, so if I cracked one bad joke, that would be the end of mentoring. She is very competitive, so it was quite fun to see her lose at bowling. But, I’m pretty sure that she would have deleted all photographic evidence of the same, so that the world doesn’t find out.”

Chadha, who has films like Gangs of Wasseypur, Masaan and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! to her credit, says comedy is her favourite genre. Her standup performance in One Mic Stand revolves mainly around auditioning experiences. She describes the process that went into it, from brainstorming sessions where mentors Sapan and Ashish Shakya asked her about personal and professional experiences, to writing sessions, to “educating me about the main facets of standup comedy.” The latter, she says, covered things like “how to open, how to close, how to make callbacks and connections [with jokes made earlier in the performance] and timings.”

Richa Chadha

Performing before a live audience was another experience for her: “They thought it was just another stand-up comedy evening — they were not told who would be coming,” she recalls, “So they were pretty surprised to see me. My only regret is I’ll never know if they were laughing because my jokes were funny, or just because I’m an actress they recognised.”

Watch One Mic Stand on Amazon Prime from November 15