Vir Das spills the beans on the 2016 edition of The Weirdass Pajama Festival, and why it’s good to be a stand-up comedian in India right now
This year, a celebrity roast courted controversy and Jerry Seinfeld’s show got cancelled last minute. However, the stand-up comedy scene in India, especially in Mumbai, is going strong, believes Vir Das. “It is a highly commercial option. When I started, tickets were priced at '500, but now they cost Rs 4,000. Previously, a show would have 500 to 600 people in the audience but now, numbers have risen up to 3,000,” the stand-up comedian throws us a volley of numbers at us. However, he also adds quickly, “Stand-up comedy is not a novelty anymore. Now, a comedian needs to be good, instead of being just a comic, to draw in crowds.” With this in mind, Das has much up his sleeve for the 2016 edition of his signature festival, The Weirdass Pajama. Excerpts from a chat:
Q. How has The Weirdass Pajama Festival grown in the last three years? When you started out, did you imagine this kind of response?
A. I didn’t. I was just happy to host a festival that brings comedians together for a day. However, we’ve seen a very organic growth. A crowd of 3,000 turned up for the first edition; the second edition witnessed 11,000 people across three cities. This time, we will be taking the festival to seven cities.
Q. What’s new in this edition?
A. I plan to bring down comics from 12 to 13 countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Africa. During my international tours, I connected with many talents and have hand-picked them for this festival. We’re still working on our line-up. The theme is Olympics, so we will have teams from different countries, with three comedians per country participating in the festival. I have asked them to do homework on India. The first five minutes of their set needs to be about Indians and the city they will be performing in, post which, they can do their own set.
Q. Were any of them wary of performing in India, and especially Mumbai, with the current ban culture and political scenario?
A. Not really. Even if they don’t know the Indian market or the Pajama Fest, they know me because we have worked together, so there is credibility. Plus, we don’t pressure the artiste to sell the tickets. Every performance includes a line-up of six to seven comedians, so the crowds show up anyway.
Q. What else can we expect from this edition?
A. You will see a good crop of local artistes presenting all new material. We are also introducing Comedy Rock, a concert only for Mumbai, where independent musicians, who are not on the comedy scene, will perform comedy music for one night.
Q. What kind of comedy do you focus on to connect with the international audience?
A. I am not into cracking political, vulgar or racist jokes. I talk only about burps, sex, farts, cars, smiles and love. I believe people burp and have sex in every country of the world.
Q. With time, have you imposed self-censorship?
A. I don’t believe in censorship. I am confident that I am a patriotic person. In my show, History of India, I talk about everything from Nehru to Gandhi and Ramayana, but I have never had to edit a word.
Q. Your pret collection, that debuted at a city fashion week recently, grabbed eyeballs. What’s next?
A. We’re retailing it on VoxPop and I’m told the tees are selling well. I would also like to design accessories, shoes and ties.
From: January 29 to February 7, 2016 (tickets available from November 1)
Log on to: www.pajamafest.co.in