“Sometimes discovering something in your life organically can be pure magic.” – Kaneez Surka
Does the term ‘Improv Comedy’ ring a bell? Now, does that ringing sound like the name Kaneez Surka? She’s been called the “Queen of Indian Improv Comedy”, and for good reasons. You may recognise her from shows like The Improvisers or Improv All Stars on Amazon Prime. Kaneez has been pursuing this genre of comedy for over 13 years and is the first person that comes to your mind when you think improv comedy.
In this growing circle of female Indian comedians, she is one of the earliest members to stand out. She began her improv journey back in 2005, when it wasn’t even “the thing” that it is today in India.
We got talking to her about all-things-improv. From her prep and style, to the lessons she learnt and her tips, take a peek into her life as an improv comedian. And get to know about how you can take a workshop with her.
Keep reading about what she has to say.
How did improv happen?
Like many people, I grew up watching Whose Line Is It Anyways, but I didn't understand it as improv. I didn't know it was a specific genre of comedy. I just thought they were “winging it”. But later, when I started learning improv, I realised how specific it was, how the rules and guidelines were set in stone and that it wasn't free for all.
My first brush with improv personally was a workshop I did in 2005 with a theatre company. It came naturally to me, it wasn't something that felt like a lot of effort. So, in my head, I was like “hey, this is interesting”.
How did you “make it” in the industry?
It was because of the improv workshop that I got asked to be part of the ensemble for “The Week That Wasn't”. So, improv came before comedy. It was an instant click and something I genuinely enjoyed with my whole heart. You just know when you know. I went on to then doing a workshop with Adam Dow in 2009 and then further studied improv in New York in 2013 and 2015 at Upright Citizens Brigade and Magnet Theatre. Over the years, I also attended 4 International Improv Festivals with Improv Comedy Mumbai and eventually started my own troupe - The Improvisers.
I just want to constantly learn more about this comedy form. I find it so fascinating, creating something in that moment - it's a high!
Your style of improv?
I focus a lot on building relationships in scenes and understanding why and what we're doing in an improv scene. I like to discover information and feel things out and unlike other improvisers, it's not an intellectual process for me - it's more intuitive.
Your favourite part about it?
The discovery, like suddenly someone makes sense of a scene or gives information to a scene and that's also why I break out laughing in a scene. Because, I didn’t know what’s coming next from other improvisers and from my own mouth. Sometimes I feel like an audience member on stage.
Life lessons you learnt from improv?
Improv helped me develop my intuition, my emotional intelligence, my awareness of people and my surroundings. It helps me keep my inner child alive, the child that loves to play and have fun. It made me realise that you can’t always plan everything and sometimes discovering something in your life organically can be pure magic.
Prepping for improv
Practise, that’s what I do. I have a show called The Improv Dream Team where we perform twice a month. This helps a lot! I also watch stuff online and I plan to go back to New York to study more.
Tips for people starting out
If you're interested in improv, please email me on email@example.com.
I will let you know about my upcoming workshops. Improv Comedy Mumbai, Improv Comedy Bangalore, Punchh Tantra in Bengaluru also do workshops. But my advice is do a workshop, learn the principles of improv and have a basic understanding of what it entails before attempting it.
What's next for the "Queen of Indian Improv Comedy"?
I am working on a pitch for a new show. You will also see me as an improv mentor on Comicstaan 2. I have plans and I pray they work out in order to get improv into a mainstream place.
Improv comedy, as Kaneez Surka explains is much more than just creating jokes for laugh. It is a form of art or hobby, depends on how you see it, that can teach you important life lessons too. Read on to know more about the improv effect and how it can impact your life too.