The only Indian comic to have two Netflix specials, Vir Das is currently on a professional high. Fresh off a world tour during which he made people across 28 countries laugh through 10 months, the 39-year-old is no doubt ‘Losing It’.
In a candid conversation, he discusses stand-up comedy, travel, censorship, his diverse filmography, upcoming projects, and of course, his latest Netflix special Losing It, which released on December 11.
Two Netflix specials within two years. How does it feel?
I am honoured and nervous about people watching it. I let go of the project three months ago when I submitted the final cut to Netflix and I didn’t think of it until 10 days ago. I have put a lot of hard work in this show.
What is Losing It about?
It’s about waking up one day and realising that you don’t believe 80% of the things you used to, don’t like 80% of the people you meet every day, and that you want to change your life and your perspective. It’s about losing who you are, reinventing and admitting that you don’t have a clue.
Does it borrow from your travels—the 28 countries you toured last year?
I think so, yes. I kind of lost my nationality in that. I have been acting for so long that I felt I hadn’t given stand-up the justice it deserved. So I took a 10-month break to just do stand-up. This tour kind of changed me as a person and how I look at everything.
Changed you how?
I look at a lot of things—religion, politics, masculinity, patriotism, honesty, children—differently. The show too covers these themes. I now have a stronger sense of identity as an Indian in the world, which I don’t think I had before. Post the first Netflix special, my audience, which was 75% Indian and 25% foreign, became 50-50. Performing for such an international audience only makes you feel more Indian. You start to appreciate Bombay, your house and ecosystem when you are on the road for that long.
How do you distinguish acting from stand-up comedy?
They use different sides of your brain. Acting is about saying one line in 25 different ways until it gets good. Stand-up is about saying 500 lines once. Acting is very collaborative, there are so many people trying to make you better. Stand-up is all about introspection and being solo. Stand-up is very humbling, grounding and democratic. Acting, meanwhile, is very creative, artistic and pampering. It’s kind of nice to have both available when you need them.
In a recent interview you said, “It’s better days for comedy in India.” What do you mean by that?
Everybody is familiar with the art-form now. There’s digital marketing. Content is now being watched on a smartphone. You can reach a million people in two years. Nobody ever had that before. Our politicians are so funny now. There are more venues, more money being thrown around for stand-up. Also, there is a growing number of female comics. So the female perspective has started to blossom a little bit, where it was completely lost a while ago.
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Do you really think there are more female comics now because despite all the talks of inclusion, stand-up comedy is still primarily male dominated?
There are definitely more women out there than there ever were before. I started doing comedy in India about eight years ago and at the time there was only Aditi (Mittal). So the fact that we have even 20-25 female comics now, is a really good first step.
What, according to you, would it take to balance it?
People who have money and are investing in content need to be more inclusive. And I do count myself in that list. For instance, Destination Unknown, my Amazon series, has pretty much every female comedian I know and they had a pay cheque like mine. I have two female show-runners who are producing and writing a lot of the content that I am developing. But that’s just me. I am a very small part of a very large ecosystem.
What’s the one major difference between the stand-up comedy scenes in India and America?
The quickness of ascension. In the US, it takes 10-15 years to find your voice as a comedian and to perform for 2000 people. By the time you get to those big venues, you have really honed your voice.
In India, we get ascended very fast. That sometimes does a very good service because more people are exposed to your content but oftentimes it’s a disservice for it shortens the longevity of your career. You peak very fast in India and then sustaining becomes tough.
How big is censorship in stand-up? Do you have a set of dos and don’ts that you follow when you are writing or performing?
I do but they are defined by my moral compass and not by anybody else’s idea of censorship. I wouldn’t make fun of someone who is sick or of infants, or someone who couldn’t fight back. But I will make fun of politics, all religions. I think there is nothing more democratic or patriotic than parody. It’s the healthiest thing in the world and I will do it.
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Have you ever had to redo/change your set to avoid hurting sentiments?
I’ll redo a bit because it’s not funny, not for any other reason.
You are very vocal about your views on Donald Trump. Do you think it is as easy to satirize Indian politicians?
I don’t think there is any problem in doing jokes about Indian politicians because if you look at the election campaign, they are all doing jokes about each other anyway.
However, I do think you have to be mature about your dealing with the response. If I am exercising my democratic right of making fun of my leadership, I must also entertain somebody else’s right to respond to my jokes. You have to keep responding with humour, give them more and more jokes until they understand that you’re being ridiculous.
What do you look at in a film before agreeing to do it?
I have been acting for 10 years. For the first five, I was just trying to get films. A lot of it is about you taking the opportunities that come your way. But I am now in a phase where I can experiment and I have decided to not be safe—to attempt things that are completely opposite of me or do the craziest version of comedy I can.
What are your aspirations as an actor?
I’d really like people to come out of a film that I am in and say nobody else could have done that role better and they’re glad that I did it.
You have several exciting projects in the pipeline…
Yes, there is Go Goa Gone 2, American TV series Whiskey Cavalier, the third Netflix special which I am still writing, and an Amazon series which will happen sometime next year. There are two other films too—Nikkhil Advani’s Hasmukh and Happy Patel Khatarnak Jasoos. I am also going to produce three or four web shows under my company Weirdass.
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