'I'm happy to make fun of Trump all day'

Updated: Jul 19, 2020, 07:54 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

A Mumbai mulgi who has lived through the world returns to her roots with a hit part on an Indian TV satire show that allows her to laugh at Trump and question politics

Ambika Vas
Ambika Vas

In March, when the Coronavirus pandemic gripped the world and countries across enforced home quarantine orders, comic Ambika Vas decided to adapt her humour for the Internet. The material for her YouTube videos—created daily from Vas's Vancouver apartment—was mined from current affairs and the gaffes of Twitter's favourite person, American president Donald Trump. Before long, her sets caught the attention of Mumbai funnyman Cyrus Broacha, who contacted her for a segment on the television show, The Week That Wasn't, that he hosts with Kunal Vijaykar.

Currently on her tenth episode as the witty and glib 'foreign correspondent', Vas is happy that her humour is finally heading in the direction that she envisioned: political satire. "As a comedian, you have an opinion and want to be able to comment on what's going on around you, and I felt this was a great platform to voice that in a light-hearted manner," she says.

Born to Indian parents in Mumbai, Vas has moved home 16 times and lived in eight countries.

Cyrus Broacha with ‘foreign correspondent’ Ambika Vas on The Week That Wasn’t
Cyrus Broacha with ‘foreign correspondent’ Ambika Vas on The Week That Wasn’t

Before making the transition to full-time comedy, she worked as a private equity investor and crunched numbers for KPMG and Deloitte. Simultaneously, she signed up for acting classes and theatre. Two years into the comic circuit, Vas has performed at Yuk Yuks in Vancouver and the Comedy Store in LA and bagged the second place at the 2019 US Comedy Contest last year. But, it's her recent video on woke Bollywood celebrities waxing eloquent on #BlackLivesMatter to support the rage of American civil society, that made her go viral. In the video, Vas is seen interviewing a South Mumbai resident and Bollywood actress (played by herself) participating in a BLM protest. The conversation reveals our penchant for discussing race, with ignorance and impunity.

Every week, she makes it a point to pick developments from international news that she knows will resonate with her and the audience.

Before the global lockdown, Vas would shuttle between Vancouver, Los Angeles and Mumbai. As a comic from an ethnic minority, she is often confronted with stereotypes, depending on the country she is in. "And so, I've to constantly adjust my comedy accordingly, because when you get up on stage, you're instantly met with preconceived notions and your job is to understand and negotiate them."

For instance, in the US, Indians are perceived as successful and working in enviable professions. "When I get on stage and say that I used to work as an investor, nobody questions it because that's what they expect. But, then, when I came to Vancouver last year, I thought the same stereotypes would apply. However, the place has a different Indian population. So, when I say I come from a finance background, they look rather confused. I feel the comedy audience there is a bit afraid to laugh at things." Vas says comedy can be an effective tool to raise cultural awareness, which is why her standup acts are peppered with anecdotes about adjusting to a new country and the misunderstandings that arise from it.

Vas worked as a private equity investor before moving to fulltime comedy in 2018
Vas worked as a private equity investor before moving to fulltime comedy in 2018 

According to her, the good part about being part of an Indian television show is that she doesn't have to explain herself and where she comes from.

"For the first time, I don't have to worry about a stereotype and I get to focus on what I think is funny. Because it's political satire, I know I'm speaking with an audience that is aware and well-informed." Having said that, Vas also says she's fortunate to not live in India, given that our comics face the flak for their opinions. As a political satirist, Vas says it's her responsibility to understand who it is that is being affected by the joke. "While I'm happy to make fun of Trump all day and every day, I don't ever make fun of the wrong person."

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