Verve Magazine, Nerve, July 2010
Stand-up comedians are coming of age in a country that loves stage tamasha (real and reel), with international comedians trying their brand of humour here as well
I think I’d never really, really laughed, like laughed-until-I-nearly-peed-in-my-pants until I laughed at a hole-in-the-wall, I-look-ghetto-but-I’m-really-cool place in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. The Comedy Cellar had three hilarious men (why is it mainly men who have the balls to say horribly rude things? Is that an obvious answer, anatomically speaking?) who got away with saying incredibly offensive things to some very decent people. And some other very decent people had a major, side-splitting laugh at those other decent people. And not to forget nervous laughter, wondering if you’d be the next target.
There’s something absolutely liberating about going to watch a stand-up comic. It’s also particularly pleasing because here’s a person who’s really putting himself out there. Any other performance artiste may get polite claps, but a stand-up comic rarely ever benefits from anything polite. In the split second after he’s said his line, the laughter should come rolling in, and if it doesn’t, it’s not even a pregnant pause, it’s deeply embarrassing. To then keep going, have the courage to move right onto the next joke, to often poke fun at oneself, is something that makes the comic endearing; and if he’s one of those witty, vicious, mean ones who are just out to tear you apart (for all the times they’ve never been laughed at) it makes him someone to be feared.
Stand-up comics in India in the English language are few, but growing more every day as we discover actual comedy clubs that offer a permanent podium for the travelling comics, international comics and local ones. It is no longer about renting a space at a hotel, holding stage in an auditorium; it’s about having an identity of your own. After touring India last year, The Comedy Store has arrived at Palladium, Phoenix Mills, Mumbai, where Jo Caulfied, a female comic is performing this month, from July 8 to 11.
31-year-old Vir Das has been on the comedy circuit for five years, done about 2000 acts, written his own, hosted TV shows, acted in Hindi cinema (most recently seen in Badmaash Company), started India’s first comedy rock band, Alien Chutney, and his company Wierdass Comedy has started India’s first ever open mic for amateur comedians. Early next year he will be seen in Aamir Khan Productions’ Delhi Belly.
So facing the people of the West and India…
I think the Indian audience requires a little more homework. You have to work a little harder to warm them up in the first five minutes, but once you do, they are a louder and better audience than any.
It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there….
I am nervous before each show. You never really know how it’s going to go. My jokes are like throwing darts at a board, some of them stick and some of them end up biting you in the ass.
The three things you find really funny:
Women, women and women!
How much is improv?
Performing comedy is like cooking live. It’s hard to tell where it’s going to go; you are constantly adjusting to audiences’ laughter levels and room energies. There is a heavy amount of improvisation in my shows.
What’s the scene with international comedians coming to India?
Indians are a very seasoned comedy audience. I also think they know that every foreign comedian is not a good comedian. Therefore, when you claim to be an English comedian in India, given that everyone has mainly seen a Seinfeld, Cosby, Carlin or Murphy, the bar is bloody high.
And you wanted to be a comedian because?
Circumstance. There is a certain humour that comes with having nothing to lose. The toughest situations in my life have been the funniest. All I did was write them down.