Vir Das: I refuse to self-censor

Aug 05, 2017, 14:14 IST | Krutika Behrawala

On a world tour for his new show, Vir Das gets candid on the recent Netflix special's success and explaining 'Andheria Modh ki chudail' to French-Canadians

In 2016, when Vir Das participated in Just For Laughs, the world's largest international comedy festival held annually in Canada, he bagged only a five-minute spot. Last month, he was in Montreal for the fest again; this time, performing six solo shows and five galas. The 36-year-old attributes this change to his Netflix special, Abroad Understanding, which released this April - a first for an Indian comic.

Das in the stand-up special, Abroad Understanding, a crosscut of his act in Delhi and New York
Das in the stand-up special, Abroad Understanding, a crosscut of his act in Delhi and New York

Recently, he was also honoured for making it to Variety's list of 10 comics to watch out for in 2017. "I performed before 2,000 guests from the American entertainment industry in an Indian accent. That's something I value," says the actor and stand-up comedian over a phone call from the US.

While the accolades pour in, he has already kicked off a world tour for his next live show, Boarding Das. The comedian will travel to Mumbai with it in September, performing at four venues in SoBo, Bandra, Vashi and Chembur. "It's a gamble, but we decided to try it because people in Mumbai don't travel outside their neighbourhoods to watch comedy. Hopefully, if we pull it off, 8,000 people would have watched the show in a single weekend. That would be historic," he says. Edited excerpts from the interview:

How different is Boarding Das from your Netflix special?
It's more personal. I will talk about my growing up years in Africa, dealing with appendicitis and being debt-phobic. There's material on Bollywood, racism, feminism, right-wing explosion in the world, and technology. While on the tour, I add new material to my set after each performance. There's also a five-minute bit, where I only mime.

After Abroad Understanding, do you see more non-Indians in the audience?
Yes. At Just For Laughs, for the first time, I saw that Indians made up only 40 per cent of the audience of my show [usually, it comprises 80 per cent].

Is that a challenge?
There's a certain comfort when you're performing in front of an Indian audience; you don't need to explain certain things. For instance, I was doing a joke on Andheria Modh ki chudail, an urban legend from Delhi. To explain what a chudail is to the French-Canadians and the British was a task. So, you need to work harder, but that also makes you a better artiste. When you explain it and get huge laughs from them, it's even more satisfying.

Recently, AIB and RJ Malishka faced backlash for their wit. Are you anxious about performing in Mumbai?
I'm ready to deal with consequences post the show but I refuse to self-censor. I performed History of India for three years and spoke about the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Hinduism and Islam without getting into trouble. If your context is patriotic and intelligent, people are fine with it.

Do you feel you've come far from the time you started, nine years ago?
I don't think about where I've reached. I wake up every morning thinking of myself as a newcomer. In India, nine years of experience may feel like a lot, but it's actually little. In America, a comedian with nine years of experience may still only perform at clubs. Look at how far Chris Rock and Louis CK have come. I wish to get there.

With open mics held every night, has it become easier for younger stand-up comics to sustain today?
Stand-up comedy is one of the few professions with ample opportunity for every comic to have his/her take on a single topic. I doubt Bollywood, music or literature can boast of that. If you tell a bad joke, there's room to recover the next day. It's a forgiving profession.

Do you see digital platforms making live shows obsolete?
No. A digital platform is a great gateway to taking your content to parts where you are unable to go live. However, it can't be compared to the experience of watching a comedian perform just five feet away.

From: September 29 to October 2
At: NCPA, Nariman Point; Fine Arts Society, Chembur; Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir, Bandra West; CIDCO Exhibition Centre, Navi Mumbai
Log on to:
Cost: '750 onwards

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