The Seriously Funny Business of Vir Das

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Vir Das has established himself as the best known resident Indian comedian of the past decade. He has done it all, from stanup, films and television to corporate shows, improv and music. He talks to us about his ‘funny business’ and how humour is going mainstream

When did you realise you were funny?
Last week.
I don’t think I’m funny. I’ ll be very honest with you. I think I’m observational. And I just kinda get on stage and tell the truth and people find that funny. If you were to meet me in real life, you’d be hugely disappointed. I really don’t think I’m a funny guy at all. The idea behind stand up was never really, “Hey, I’m funny! Let me do this.” It was all kind of, “Hey, I think that’s funny. And I think that’s funny too.” It’s kind of like being the only person in the room who saw a ghost. I started putting stuff down and then that sort of blossomed into a comedy career.

You studied acting in college, first at Knox College then at Harvard . Do you think, like acting, humour is also an art that can be taught?
I think [humour] is like acting – it’s one of those things that can definitely be taught, but you have to have a certain flair for it. Less than being taught, I think it is more important that it is studied. I think that if you want to be a really, rea lly good actor, then it’s not enough to go to drama school and get taught by great teachers. It’s really, really important to go see as many plays as you can and watch as many movies as you can and watch films with Pacino, De Niro, Amitabh Bachchan or Aamir Khan – just whoever you think is a great actor. It’s more important to observe that. So I think the studying part of it is much more important than the teaching part of it. Same with stand up. Nobody can teach you how to be funny. But if you watch a lot of comedy, listen to a lot of comedy, read Woody Allen and see Bill Cosby and you go to The Comedy Store every Friday, that’s how you develop your funny bone.

What’s more challenging: writing comedy material, acting in a comedy film, performing a stand-up routine or performing with Alien Chutney?
It’s kind of nice when everything grounds you and complements you, complements each other. Stand-up – I’m fortunate enough where I’m sort of in a leading position and things are going well. But when it comes to films, I’m a rank newcomer. I have six films as a lead coming up, but nobody has ever seen me in that light before. Nobody has ever seen me do romance or action or dance or anything, for that matter. Similarly, with my band, A lien Chutney, we’re brand new on the rock scene. We’re now doing concerts with Indus Creed, Pentagram, Sha’ir and Funk and…Raghu Dixit. It’s just nice to be completely unknown in certain industries and well-known in certain industries.
What’s rea lly, rea lly exciting immediately is Alien Chutney. We’re at the bottom of the barrel and I like the idea of having nowhere to go but up.

You said you’re doing six Bollywood films. What are they?
The first that will release in April-May is gonna be called Go Goa Gone. It’s I nd i a’s first zombie comedy. It’s directed by Raj Nidimoru who directed Shor in the City. Saif [A li Khan] is producing it and Kunal Khemmu and me are the two boys in it. It’s a buddy movie.
I have a film with Reliance called Sooper se Ooper, which is a very large, commercial comedy. I’ve never really done a really, really commercial movie. That’s me and Kirti Kulhari. It’s about a boy who goes to Rajasthan. Good fun.
Then I have a rom-com called Amit Sahni ki List, which is about a guy with OCD looking for love. There’s a drama with Tanuja Chandra called Raakh. There’s a kids’ film with me and Kunal Roy Kapur called Golu Pappu. Then I just signed Shaadi ke Side Effects which is Farhan A khtar, Vidya Balan and myself. And the I’m leaving day after tomorrow to do Tigmanshu Dhu lia’s fi lm which is called Revolver Rani. That’s me and Kangana Ranaut. That’s all.

Speaking of Bollywood, do you think Bollywood’s perception of humour has changed in recent times?
I think so. With new, high-age, concept comedies coming in, even Bollywood is looking to finance, or is looking to absorb, or is look ing to see that kind of comedy as well. I think right now Bollywood is in a ver y strange phase where it rea lly boils down to economics. If you are within a certain safe budget or if you are within a certain smart economical zone, you can literally make what the hell you like. And say anything you like. It’s only when you get into risking many, many, many, many crores that you then have to adhere to a certain format. But if you’re smart about your movie and your budget, you can make very hig h-concept, very cool content.

Which project have you had the most fun working on, right from as an acting student to now?
Oh man, that’s a really difficult question… I have a company called Weirdass Comedy, which is a collection of 15 comedians. And our daily job is just to think up stupid ideas and put them out on a stage. Quite honestly, nothing beats that. I could be doing film and be dying to get back to the Weirdass office; I could be doing a tour and be dying to get back to the Weirdass office. To find a collection of people that are as stupid as you are and to collaborate with them on a larger level is to me a huge luxury.

Weirdass has given humour numerous forms: a rock band, stand up gigs, comedy scripts, corporate gigs, improv comedy. Are any of these profitable?
Touchwood, it’s hugely profitable, to be honest with you. The audience now considers comedy a good option for evening entertainment. It’s an alternative to going out to a club, it’s an alternative to a Blue Frog, or it’s an alternative to a film or a multiplex. Ticket buyers are coming in. We’re making hay while the sun shines, so to spea k [laughs].

Do you have plans to venture into any more territories?
Yeah, but I just don’t have any time [laughs] to do anything more. Between six films and the band and History of India and Weirdass, it’s literally all gone. On a night that I can sleep 6½ or 7 hours, I’m very, very happy.

Are there any comedians who have influenced your style of humour?
My two idols are very old guys – George Carlin and Bill Cosby. I’d love to have the anger and the uncensored content and the substance of a George Carlin routine with the observational powers of a Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby could do 10 minutes on brushing your teeth and he would change the way you look at brushing your teeth forever. That’s what I like with my humour as well: I spoke of the history, about buttons or spring rolls or whatever, regional comedy or race or politics. I’m very simple. I like things that are not funny and then to make them funny – that’s the challenge.

Would you say that comedians are popular with the ladies?
No. I’m happy to say I’ve never loved a woman into this and I’ve never loved a woman out of this.

Do you have any advice for future humorists? Is there a secret to being the ‘ funny guy’?
The best advice you can give to someone who is trying to do comedy is don’t try and be funny. Just tell the truth. And that, nine times out of ten, gives you a connect with the audience.
If you’re comfortable with who you are and are confident in your perspective on life, just do that. Just be who you really, really are on stage or who you are when you’re writing your column or book. Don’t try and be something that you’re not and don’t tr y and be fun. Just be original.

Quick Laughs

A joke that never fails
At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have a lot of them [laughs]. I think the joke on Indian wedding outfits. That never fails. An Indian woman’s wedding outfit is her father ’s final obstacle that he’s set up for the groom. That’s the father’s final trump card.

Who would you gif t a sense of humour?
Mamata Banerjee. I figure god had a sense of humour when he created us, so she might as well have it.

What makes you laugh?
Really unfunny sh*t. I laugh at the most random, stupid human behaviour, nuances. Things that nobody finds funny are what make me laugh. If I sit at your comedy show, you’ll find me laughing at the off points.

How would you describe your humour in a sentence?
Insufferably stupid and occasionally quite poignant.

Funniest person in Bollywood right now: I think Boman [Irani] is the funniest per son in Bollywood right now.

What came first: the laugh or the joke?
Neither. Something really tragic happened to somebody who didn’t deserve it. And two other people were standing across the road and watching it.
One guy laughed at it and the other guy wrote it d own on a piece of paper. One guy became the comedian; the other guy became the audience member. But really what happened [laughs] is one guy got kicked over and that’s what came first.

“Weirdass Comedy…i s a collection of 15 comedians. Our daily job is just to think up stupid ideas and put them out on a stage…To find a collection of people that are as stupid as you are and to collaborate with them on a larger level
is to me a huge luxury”

“The best advice you can give to someone who is trying to do comedy is don’t try and be funny. Just tell the truth…Just be original”

“I laugh at the most random, stupid human behaviour, nuances. Things that nobody finds funny are what make me laugh. If I sit at your comedy show, you’ ll find me laughing at the off points

 

Volume 2 Issue 10

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