The stand-up comedian cum actor speaks in lengths about the growing intolerance against comedy, with reference to Kiku Sharda’s arrest. Read on…
Vir Das recently took to Twitter to express solidarity with fellow comedian Kiku Sharda, post his arrest. When we got a chance to chat with Vir recently, we quizzed him about his stand, his observations on the kind of comedy we have and its future as an industry.
You tweeted in support of Kiku during his arrest. What’s your take on it?
What’s more upsetting with what happened with Kiku was not the getting upset bit. India is a country of 1.3 billion people. You put a picture of a bumble bee and a flower and 1,000 people will get upset with that too. What scared me was the legality of it. Fine be offended, but how quickly the police backed them and arrested him without any official inquiry. I wish we could be that efficient for domestic abuse or sexual abuse or assault or actual crime. Having said that I do believe that a majority of India understands that comedy is not to be taken seriously. When situations like these happen the only solution is more comedy. You have to keep making fun of the situation. You have to keep making light of the situation, until people understand that this is okay.
So you would not be wary of the acts or material you choose to perform with?
My understanding of the history of India is that it has the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and all the great religions in it. If you come from a place of intelligence, if your context is intelligent, you can pretty much say what you want. Even if your vulgarity is intelligent, you can say it.
Have you considered doing TV?
I don’t really get the time to do television. I am too busy shooting for films and touring for stand-up. Television would be a full six-month commitment. It’s like having a 9-to-5 job. I don’t have time for that right now.
What about the kind of comedy that we have? We have a lot of slapstick comedy…
(Interrupts) No, we don’t have a lot of slapstick comedy. I think Indians misunderstand what slapstick is. Humko kharab laga toh slapstick bol diya. Slapstick matlab Charlie Chaplin. Slapstick matlab Laurel & Hardy. Slapstick matlab The Three Stooges. I wish we had more slapstick in India. That’s tough comedy to actually accomplish. We have over-the-top-comedy but not slapstick. Slapstick is a cool genre of comedy. Humne over-the-top-comedy ko slapstick comedy bol diya. Lekin woh hai nahin. The greatest physical comedian in India is Johnny Lever and that’s amazing comedy, but outside of that, I don’t think we have very good physical comedians.
Do you think the digital space is the future?
I do a podcast where I sit on the pot and read the paper and we get a million views per episode. Digital is a very good supplement to the other things you are doing, but it’s not a living. There are YouTube stars with two-three million subscribers, who don’t have very large incomes and you have to do other things like live gigs. At the end of the day, comedy is going to boil down to two things: either you do films, television or live gigs. That’s how a comedian makes money. Whether in films or in any other industry the largest chunk of income comes from live acts. That’s where the real money is. Film stars make more money doing live performances than they do from actual films on an annual calendar.
So, digital space can’t take up a chunk of your life. You have got to have money coming from elsewhere. I think the digital space is a good tool to get other people to notice you, to market yourself so that people will buy your tickets or watch your films, but it can’t be the only thing you do.
Who would you like to play in a biopic?
Mehmood, it would be my dream role. I do a comedy festival and we paid a tribute to him in the first year. And his whole family came and spoke about him. Within 30 seconds, 3,000 people were crying after laughing for two hours. It was beautiful. Everybody from his family to Ameen Sayani spoke about him. We do this festival every year where comedy comes together and gives comedy an award. The first year was Mehmood because you have to begin with him. Followed by Johnny Lever.