Like the other performing arts, stand-up comedy has faced a strange year. If it’s one person that knows the struggle well, it’s Rishi Budhrani. While he’s known primarily for stand-up gigs, often seeing sold out crowds each time he releases shows, 2020 has seen Rishi pivoting almost entirely online, with live performances over Zoom for both corporate clients and the public, along with producing his very own video series on YouTube.
With the slow but steady return of live performances, Rishi is more than ready to get back onstage and get the adrenaline rush of an audience right in front of him, and as limited as it is, to feel their energy, hear their applause, and give them what they came for – a smile on their face. And this year, he’s changing up the format too; he’ll be bringing on a whole hosts of guests and collaborators to share the stage with, as he brings his online series The Rishi Report to theatres.
Envisioned as a monthly show, The Rishi Report Live kicks off in February at the intimate Gateway Theatre Black Box, offering both live and livestream options for audiences to enjoy from anywhere in the world. Like his online series, the show aims to be fiercely current, offering commentary and poking fun at the latest headlines in Singapore and the region, which Rishi calls a ‘Daily Show meets SNL’ hybrid performance. (No pressure!)
“You can be sure that it’s not just guests and myself sitting on a chair and talking.”
“It’s really an extension of what I’ve been doing. I’ll still be doing a 5-10 minute solo set each show, while the sketches will be very relevant and plays on the latest news, and we’re planning on going beyond just spoofing or parodying them,” says Rishi. “You can be sure that it’s not just guests and myself sitting on a chair and talking, and our first musical guests, Jack & Rai, have even written two original songs about the issues we’ll be covering!”
Plans have already been made to do the show for the next three months into April, which coincides with the anniversary of the online version of The Rishi Report, which premiered on YouTube last April. Beyond Jack & Rai, other guests include Haresh Tilani and Terrence Chia from Ministry of Funny’s Yah Lah But.. podcast, with more to be announced in due time for future shows.
“It’s an insane commitment to do a monthly show, and we know very well that there’s no way we can make a show of this magnitude work based on ticket sales alone,” says Rishi. “Even though we’ve had some difficulty obtaining government funding, we’ve got ideas for involving brands and sponsors in the show, we’ve got so many guests we’ve approached who’ve been so supportive and encouraging, and willing to be a part of the show if their schedules match. We do hope we’ll be able to pay everyone involved, but what’s also driving us is really the fact that we finally get a chance to perform in front of a live audience again.”
“It’s amazing that we’re doing this now, doing this for a living where we mix stand-up with discussions about important things happening in the world.”
Interestingly enough, The Rishi Report may have had its origins as far back as around 2006, before even shows like The Noose, back when Rishi was a student. “The Rishi Report is kind of like this dream I never knew I had. Back in NTU, I did this studio broadcast module, and we had a project where we spoofed the news,” he says. “This was way before Comedy Central, and we were delivering news in a silly way, through talk shows, gags, and even wearing boxers at the news desk. It’s amazing that we’re doing this now, doing this for a living where we mix stand-up with discussions about important things happening in the world.”
“Honestly, I’m still surprised we ended up calling it The Rishi Report,” he adds. “I was suggesting maybe Soft Truths with Rishi, and plenty of other rejected names, but this idea of alliteration kept coming up, but I really didn’t want it to end up sounding very narcissistic. If it ends up taking off, then what if I want it to have a legacy and hand the torch to someone eventually? But of course comedians being comedians, ended up telling me “Rishi, no one is going to want your show lah, they’ll all have egos and want their own shows, so just go with The Rishi Report. And that’s how it got its name.”
“I miss being in the comedy club on a Monday night, to see these new people in the club, and being able to just be there.”
Going a little deeper into the intent behind The Rishi Report, Rishi explains the need to give artists a voice, balancing both household names and relative newcomers to the scene. “Jack & Rai are very excited to be on board, because they haven’t had a live audience in so long,” Rishi says. “It’s interesting how we got in touch, because I would always end up being hired for the same gig for corporates, and I used to be on their show during the livestream days, so in a way, it’s about returning the favour. We have a genuine, mutual respect for each other, and they’ve honestly got some funny one liners and witty comebacks as well. Meanwhile Terrence and Haresh, they were actually on exchange together in the states, and when they came back, they thought they wanted to do something together, which marked the birth of Ministry of Funny, and they have this no-nonsense, genuinely funny take on things. Suffice to say, we’re excited.”
“I think what’s been so hard for comedians this year was how we no longer had trial audiences to test our material on, and we really had no idea how our material would go over,” he continues. “I miss being in the comedy club on a Monday night, to see these new people in the club, and being able to just be there. But as a professional, I do commit to writing material for an hour every day, even on the long 14 hour days with potential sponsors. As a performer who’s done theatre, you know that when you step out onstage, you have to put yourself and there and just perform. That’s the reality – as tough as it is, the tide is high, and now’s the time to take it another step forward.”
“I’m also happy we’re seeing so many new names we’ve never heard of buying tickets on Klook. We’re really growing this database.”
Rishi is a man with a plan, and seems to know exactly what he’s going for with the show, even with the risks it poses as something relatively new. “Gateway have been very supportive venue partners, offering us fair packages and lots of freebies thrown in, but we know that there’s always the possibility of things going wrong,” he says. “It’s a fairly stripped down affair, with some furniture, a corner for transitions, an area to perform the sketches, and probably a DJ console visible to the audience. We’re hoping that the investment in the livestream will pay off, and we do get people buying tickets to watch the stream and enjoy the performance from wherever they’re locked down.”
“I like to believe that we’re doing ok because of the following we’ve built up online, but I’m also happy we’re seeing so many new names we’ve never heard of buying tickets on Klook. We’re really growing this database, and hope that every month when we announce the dates and tickets, we’ll develop regulars who’ll help sell out the first batch, and we can open up even more shows!” Rishi concludes. “And at the end of the day, the core team we have, we’ve gotten through the pandemic together, and we know they’re all in it for the long haul. I really hope that this can become a full-time job for them, and that it’s a success.”
The Rishi Report Live plays at the Gateway Theatre Black Box on 6th February 2021 at 630pm and 9pm. Tickets available from Klook