Could you tell us more about how you started as a standup comedian?
A. I started when I was 21 years old. I was in a drama programme, and I was a big fan of stand-up comedy. In the final year of my acting school at the end of the course, we had to submit a serious work, but I wrote a comedy piece instead, and that was the first time I went up on stage — and things went on from there.
Q. What kind of challenges does a standup comedian face?
A. I think you have to write a lot. It is a mix of trying to find out what you want to talk about and also what the audiences want to hear about. One has to figure out the connect between those two things. When you are starting out, you have to perform at lot many venues, which may not be ideal for comedy. So every time you may not a good theatre or a club. As a standup comedian, you also have to travel a lot. It usually takes about 8-9 years to become good at standup comedy.
Q. You have played shows at prime international venues. Have you been able to observe any basic differences between how the audiences respond to a joke here in India and in the West?
A. No, I think the Indian audience is just louder than other audiences. But they are also much more appreciative. Apart from that, most of the audiences are the same. If it’s funny in America then probably it will be funny in India, too.
Q. Do you have to apply any kind of filters while doing standup shows in India? Do comedians have to censor themselves?
A. No, I don’t think so. I think Indian audiences are very intelligent and I have been doing this since the last 9-10 years in India, and, touch wood, I haven’t faced any sort of intolerance yet, which is very, very cool in India. It does depend more on the room than on the region. Do what your audience likes the most. It’s more about listening to the audience, than talking.
Q. Is there any specific form of comedy that Indian audiences detest?
A. No, I think Indian audiences appreciate all sorts of comedy. They like poetry in comedy (Hasyakavis have been doing comedy in India since many years). They like standup comedy, Bollywood comedy. Indians love to watch Bollywood comedy the most.
Q. You are a comedian as well as an established actor now. Which of these professional roles do you prefer more and why?
A. I don’t prefer any. Both of these activities use the opposite sides of your brain. Acting is a very collaborative process and standup comedy is a solo process. Acting feedback takes a long time, while comedy feedback is instant. If you do both as an artist it keeps you humble, grounded and creative.
Q. As an actor, are you choosy about the work you do? Are you looking to do specific kinds of roles in the future?
A. Half of my years have been spent on acting and the other half on doing standup comedy. So because of that I am not able to do four films a year. I only do one or two films. But I feel when you are a funny person, as an actor you a have very long carrier ahead. I am not being choosy. I am releasing two films every year. This has been consistently happening since the last six years and I am happy about that.
Q. Do you think comedians can lead as main protagonists in mainstream Bollywood movies today?
A. Absolutely. There is no real format for movies anymore. Movies are made about anything and everything, from Kick to Angry Indian Goddesses to Delhi Belly to something else. Cinema has opened up. There is no art cinema and parallel cinema anymore. The old-school format of Bollywood is not applied here anymore.
Q. How easy or difficult is it for a comedian to do serious roles in cinema?
A. It is harder to do comedy compared to serious roles. It is easier to make people cry than to make them laugh. And my idea was to establish myself as an unpredictable actor, and a diverse artiste, by doing these serious roles. As an actor, I received some of the best reviews I have got in my career. So, I am a very happy man because the audiences can see that there is more to me than comedy.
“Acting is a very collaborative process and standup comedy is a solo process. Acting feedback takes a long time, while comedy feedback is instant. If you do both as an artist it keeps you humble, grounded and creative.”
Q. Do you have any idols you look up to in Indian cinema?
A. I always watched Aamir Khan acting on screen. Aamir is one of my idols. And as a comedian, Johnny Lever.
Q. You’ve done standup comedy, TV shows, movies, music and now a production with Netflix. Is there anything for you still left to explore?
A. I think at some point in my life, I would love to play a really dark role, like Heath Ledger as the joker in Batman. That kind of character.
Q. You have taken live comedy to another level with the Boarding Das World Tour, a high point in your career. Please tell us more about the tour?
A. I have just started. So far I have just done America. I have done 43 shows, but I am looking forward to the rest of it. I’ll be doing six continents, 26 countries and I am looking forward to learn more as a comedian for different audiences across the world. I feel like at the end of the tour I’ll be a much better artiste because then, as an artiste, I will have learned how to make so many more people laugh and the kind of things they found funny.
Q. You became the first Indian to sign with Netflix for a comedy special, Abroad Understanding. Could you shed some light on that project?
A. It’s a show that has been shot in both New York City and New Delhi. It’s a standup comedy show where I talk about being Indian, what it’s like to be an Indian in the world. I performed for both Indian and American crowds. It came out on 25 April. It’s going to a very large Netflix worldwide audience. So, I hope people will like it.
Q. What’s the weirdest joke you’ve ever cracked?
A. I can’t tell you my jokes here. I think you won’t be able to print them in your newspaper [laughs].
Q. What has been the funniest moment of your life? And what makes you laugh?
A. The funniest moment is every morning, when I look into the mirror. My wife makes me laugh; my family makes me laugh. I like Charlie Chaplin. Stuff like that makes me laugh.
Q. What are your upcoming films and future projects?
A. I’ll have three films coming out next year. I can only talk to you about the next one. It’s a family film, called Patel Ki Punjabi Shaadi, and it has Rishi Kapoor, Paresh Rawal and myself.
Q. There are many youngsters these days willing to take up standup comedy as a profession, or at least as a serious vocation. What would be your advice to them?
A. All I can say is, keep writing. Doesn’t matter whether you are successful or not. Just keep writing. It’s the only way to be a good standup comedian. The other thing is, any stage is a good stage. So if you’re going to get up on a crate in a teashop, do that. And try those places where standup has never been performed, to discover yourself as a comedian.