With 29 cancelled shows and a Netflix web-series that has managed to top the viewing charts, Vir Das is having the time of his life under quarantine. Anindya Tripathi talks to the ace comedian-cum-actor and finds out what keeps him going.

 

Q. How is the lockdown going on for you?
A. I am in my pyjamas like everyone these days. The days aren’t too hectic and I am trying to come up with new material. I am writing a lot these days, then I am exploring different video platforms for my shows, working for charity events and so on. Spending time at home, doing things that I never had the time to do earlier.
Q. How do you keep your stand-up comedy going?
A. I am trying to reach through video-conferencing applications like Zoom and reaching people through social media. Right now, my focus is fundraising and I am raising money for about 12 charities. It is like going to a comedy club as I know I have to go live on Zoom at a particular time and make these people laugh. The craft is the same, I think all of us need to adapt to this medium. I haven’t stopped doing stand-up and that’s simply not going to happen.
Q. Since you mentioned performing through video-conferencing apps, isn’t it difficult for stage performers like yourself? What are the challenges faced when you don’t have a live audience in front of you?
A. Honestly, it is super weird to do it on a screen and not having the audience in front of you and as a result all their reactions are delayed. But what we are fighting right now is psychological in nature. The lockdown may be extended till June or possibly July and no one knows when will people be comfortable sitting together in a group. I want to make good use of the time and practice my art. I don’t want it to get rusty. Also, with everyone at home these days and cooped up, making them laugh is the most important thing, I as an artist can do.
Q. Is finding new content proving to be a difficult task?
A. I don’t think there is any shortage of content now that we all are consuming even more of social media. When you hit pause in such a manner, you get time to read about things even more. I now know more about world affairs than I ever did before. I have exhausted and read every news article. Also, comedy is also about staying somewhat topical. You can create a lot from what people are already thinking.
Q. Do you think the current scenario will have a long-term impact on the stand-up comedy scene?
A. I honestly don’t know. We didn’t know that this virus was going to come either. Tomorrow if a vaccine is developed or a combination of drugs helps people get better, then that is going to change the psychology of the people altogether. The world and the comedy scene cannot be closed together, these restrictions are in place to keep us healthy and safe. Also, I know that I belong to an industry that has unlimited demand, people’s urge to watch a movie may change but their urge to laugh is not going anywhere. As I said, we just need to adapt to these new mediums.
Q. So you are finally on TikTok, what else are exploring while being under lockdown?
A. I have worked in this circus for 10 years now, this is what comedy scene is like, you take wherever the circus takes you. So, I have never really had this kind of time before and that is what I am trying to do– making the best of my time. I have a very large catalogue of work that I never had the time to post online, and now I am doing that. I don’t want to be a Youtuber, a TikToker or an influencer, I am just putting my content on social media and enjoying the reactions. I don’t think I am made for TikTok, I am too scatterbrains for it.
Q. How are you feeling after such a good response to Hansmukh?
A. I will be extremely honest with you, this was something that none of us ever expected. Hansmukh was definitely a risk, when we were making it, I thought the room might get smaller (of people that were watching it). I was very clear about the fact that this was going to be a very commercial show. I knew that I have a very large audience that watches intelligent comedy on Netflix in English. So, I had decided that if I were ever to make a Netflix show or star in one, it will never cater to a niche audience but to a larger set of people. Hansmukh, had to be the opposite of me. For years people have said that Vir Das is a very bad actor and good comic, I wanted to be the exact opposite and as Hansmukh, I am a very bad comic and hopefully a better actor. It is set in the small town of Saharanpur where he recovers his lost mojo as a bad comic by killing people. The reactions by far have been amazing.
Q. How has your journey with Netflix been like, considering your specials did really well despite their controversial content?
A. It has been great and I have this rule that every time I go there, I have to have something different and that is the greatest thing about them. One does not get typecast or stuck to a particular thing. My first special Abroad Understanding was shot half here in India and half in the US. And my second was completely for an outside audience whereas the third one was completely desi, so I have enjoyed doing all this and controversies are a part and parcel of being a comic.

Q. How do you deal with all the trolling that you face for your political views? Do you plan extensively for your content on India, or politics etc?
A. See, I usually do not let them bother me as I believe that if I have the freedom to say anything I want on stage, I must extend the same to others. But yes, even as I say that the trolls don’t bother me much, them going after my family is definitely unpleasant.

Q. Lastly, Dalgona Coffee a yes or no?
A. No, absolutely not., Let’s call it what it is: “phenti hui coffee.”