Saturday, April 25, 2015

Unbelievable Vir

The stand-up comedian Vir Das enthrals an audience at Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

At stand-up comedian Vir Das's recent show, 'Unbelievablish', at the JT Pac, Kochi, there is a touch of the Indian Premier League. A screen clock winds down from five minutes and at the end, there are shouts of five, four, three, two, one ….and on cue, the comedian appears on stage.

Vir is of slight build, in a blue shirt and black trousers, but looks confident. One woman shouts, “Vir, I love you.” Another says, “The tickets are pricey.” And a quick-thinking Vir says, “I agree with you on that.”

Vir begins the show with a song and then says, “This is my first-ever stand-up show in Kochi. So happy to be here in God's Own Country. You are the most educated people in India, and yet you call your state a country? What are you? Kashmir?”

Thereafter, Vir sets out on a story-telling spree, talking about events from his own life, which included his first kiss in childhood, how he got his chance in Bollywood, his experiences in an American clinic, and being ditched by his girlfriend on Skype. But he began with an anecdote about how he performed for the “last great President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and the 16th most powerful person in India.” And as he talks about Kalam, it is expletive-ridden, but funny. But, suddenly, Vir says, “All you older people, be prepared, it is going to get much dirtier than this.”

And it does. But Vir says all his jokes in such a good-humoured way that it is difficult not to enjoy it: “The inside of your mouth is like a Ramgopal Varma movie,” he says. “There is no lighting or content.”

It is no surprise that screams and laughter resound often from the audience, among whom was the Mollywood star Prithviraj. And in the end, the Twitter reviews are great: 'Killer show in Kochi.' 'Fantastic two hours of stand-up comedy'. 'Vir Das was amazing.'

Like most good things in life, Vir came to stand-up by accident. For his final thesis programme in theatre at the Knox College at Illinois, USA, he decided to do a stand-up show. It was a 90-minute show, called 'Brown Men Can't Hump', in front of an audience of 800.

One joke went like this: “Americans don't understand how important Indians are. We drive your taxis, we are your gynaecologists, we sell you condoms late at night, we sell you petrol, we sell you newspapers and books. Without Indians, you would be starving, stranded, sexless, sterile and stupid.”

And the positive audience reaction was the reason that made Vir take up stand-up as a career option. Today, he has done more than a thousand shows. “You find your voice in stand-up once you have done about 10 years,” he says. “By this time, you are done with cricket, airline, Bollywood and other generic jokes.” That was when Vir started writing original material, taken mostly from his own life. “I felt that if I don't do that I would not be honest,” he says. “Every comedian has a distinct voice. It is not about the punch line. It is about being the punch line.”

Some of his recent shows include 'History of India', 'Politriks' and 'Battle of the Da Sexes'. Interestingly, before a show, Vir does something unusual. He peeks at the audience from backstage. “I want to catch their vibes,” he says. “And I also want to see the composition. Are they mostly young or mixed?”

Even as he is busy with his shows, his Bollywood career is taking off. Just before he came to Kochi, he finished the shoot for the sex comedy, 'Mastizaade', where he is playing opposite Sunny Leone and Tusshar Kapoor. “Bollywood is taking 70 per cent of my time,” he says. “I am doing four films a year. But in my contract I ensure that I don't shoot on Saturdays, after 6 pm, and Sundays. So I manage to do my stand-up shows on the weekend.”

His most unforgettable show was at Dubai in front of a large crowd. Suddenly, Vir fell off the stage.“The people then carried me all the way back to the stage,” he says. “This lasted for seven minutes and as I crowd-surfed, I managed to crack three jokes.”

Asked whether the audience has changed over the years, Vir says, “They are more open to edgy material now: sexual, adult, religious and political humour.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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