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The Many Hats of Vir Das

By Jorge Ignacio Castillo, 29 Mar, 2016

    Diversification is the name of the game for Vir Das. Not only the comedian continues to travel around the world with his stand-up act, he has a blooming career in film and manages his own advisor business.

    Though Weirdass, his comedy consultancy endeavour, Das provides assistance from corporate events to scriptwriting, alongside a team of professionals handpicked by him. Weirdass is likely to also become a film production company towards the end of 2016 or early 2017, focusing on low-budget, high-concept comedies, and using Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison as a blueprint.

    DARPAN talked with Das shortly after getting off stage, in the midst of the Pajama Festival, one of India’s largest comedy festival.

    Your educational background is quite impressive (includes a program in Harvard). Do you consider your comedy consultancy the result of all your skills combined?

    No (laughs). I think of myself as a lousy businessman. I’m a man of ideas that are not always accompanied by numbers. We had the luck of the Irish: The consultancy bled money for the first two or three years, but while that was happening I had a couple of big Bollywood films. That gave the brand the push it needed and all the sudden clients started coming in.

    How do you distribute your time between film, stand-up work, and comedy consultancy?

    I try to do two to three films a year, which end up taking 45 to 50 days of my time and 30 days to promote. I make sure not to shoot on Saturdays or Sundays, to dedicate them to stand-up comedy.

    You generate a lot of material. Is there a method to your creative process?

    The idea behind a new comedy special comes to my head while travelling. Typically it would take me six to eight months to come up with a new routine. The longest show I’ve done was called “History Of India”. It made me pick up history books and then I locked myself in a cottage in the north of India for about a month to write it all down. It ended up selling over a quarter of a million tickets over the last four years.

    Do you adapt your act to wherever you’re performing, or you expect the audience to adapt to you?

    I adapt a little. I’m aware there is a global need for an authentic Indian comedy voice. In the American and British markets, having an accent has always been the punch line, but never the point of view. What I like about performing for those crowds is the opportunity to tell them what an Indian thinks of Obama, Donald Trump or their foreign policy. I may do some local material, but I wouldn’t change the perspective I’m bringing to the table.

    A common issue among North American comedians is that audiences are more easily offended than ever. Have you encountered this phenomenon?

    I live in a country where being a comedian is a dangerous profession, especially because I don’t believe in censoring my act. Luckily, I’m not a vulgar comedian – most of my act comes from a place of intelligence – so I manage to talk about everything.

    What are the topics that interest you today to mine for comedy?

    Initially you write about things you believe everybody else would dig: Sex, Bollywood, cricket, etcetera. A couple of years into it, you start writing about what you like. I enjoy history, so I did “History of India”; I like science, so I wrote “Battle Of Da Sexes”. After nine years working as a comic, I decided to tackle something that really scared me: Myself and my journey as a comedian. The material I bring to North America in the “Unbelievablish” tour is extremely personal: Living in America, being fired, not having medical insurance, cancelling a wedding, getting arrested…

    The film and TV industry in the US seems to be making a push for diversity. Does it tempt you to return?

    The idea of signing with (management agency) CAA is with the intention of breaking into the American market. I know CAA would like me to move to America, but I’m not ready to do that just yet. I definitely see myself spending four to five months a year there, trying to get into television and the stand-up circuit.

    What would you say is the biggest misconception about you?

    I’ve always believed that your image doesn’t belong to you. Others will always be in charge: One day they decide that you’re famous, likeable, credible or the opposite. The only thing you can control is your talent. It’s really about bringing everything down to baby steps: The next joke, the next clip, the next show. The rest will take care of itself.

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