Appurv Gupta, known by his stage name Guptaji, is an engineer turned comedian and is considered a pioneer of the Hindi standup scene in India. He speaks to Nibedita Saha.
Q. What drew you to standup comedy and made you want to leave behind an engineer’s life?
A. I’m an engineer by education. When I was in the third year in college, I realised that engineering is not my cup of tea. I started exploring options and then I got to know about Postmasters International, a non-profit public speaking organisation. I tried my hands at that and realised that public speaking is something which I could do.
Standup is the peak of public speaking and I thought of giving it a try. In my final year of graduation, I explored standup comedy and the kind of laughter and applause I got, I found it addictive. That same day I decided to go for standup, and the rest is history.
Q. Apart from standup videos, you have also explored other genres, like sketches and interviews. What made you think that you should go beyond standup as a content creator?
A. After two-and-a-half years of doing standup, I realised that standup is only one of many art forms. I thought should also start exploring more options. So I did one sketch and a late-night show called Mudde Ki Baat. Right now, we are working on some other concepts. I also started taking interviews of famous educationalists, because most people interview celebrities and superstars who are already famous. But I tried to make my interviews research-based and I started talking to intellectual personalities who never got interviewed.
It took me two to three months to find S.P. Varma Sir’s contact; almost four months to find R.D. Sharma Sir’s contact. Many people thanked me for interviewing these legendary professors. I think this is the only motivation which encourages me to do these things.
Q. From being an engineer to becoming a well-known standup comedian, and now even an entrepreneur—how has the journey been till now?
A. After my 12th standard, standup became my destiny, but entrepreneurship is my long-term goal. I started investing in art spaces, curating talents and live shows, so that if some day, if I’m not working, I’d still be able to make some money. Some revenue should flow even if I’m unable to work. I feel, in the long run, every actor becomes an entrepreneur.
Q. How did you come up with the idea of starting Delhi Central and how do you think it has been helpful in providing a platform to budding talent in the city?
A. Delhi Central’s name has been changed. It is now called The Central Club, as we are planning to launch multiple centres all over the country. As there is no space in Delhi meant for all artists—poets, standup comics, beat-boxers, singers etc. So I thought of creating a space to help all kinds of artists and help showcase their talent. It is aimed at giving talented youngsters an open platform and the audience they deserve.
Q. Your shows mainly revolve around social issues. What inspired you to take up such issues and how do you extract comedy out of them?
A. Being a social personality or public figure, I think it’s my responsibility to try to talk about social issues. I feel laughter and humour is the best form of a message. So why not? If I’m blessed in being able to make people laugh, I should take it as an opportunity and talk about some social issues to create awareness. And in the long run, it might bring change in our society.
Q. You are all about creativity and innovation in terms of preparing the content you deliver. But sometimes creativity tends to come in the way of humour, it might take the audience’s attention away from the comedy. How do you manage to avoid that?
A. Creativity and humour go hand in hand. Whenever I write something, I make sure it’s unique, and that it is humourous. Sometimes, my creative mind says, I should say it in this way, but my comic mind says, it will sound better this way. It’s always 80-20% ratio: 80% I’ll make sure that I should do what I’m meant to do, that’s making people laugh, and 20% I will do whatever I want to do. Of course, as a creative person, I should also feed my soul, to create humour and crispness. I don’t worry about my 20% if my 80% is good.
Q. How do you view your presence in India’s standup circuit?
A. I am someone who has seen and done all kind of shows from 2012 till now in the Indian standup circuit. Right now, I can say I have a good amount of knowledge about the standup scene. As someone who has started the Hindi standup scene in India and as someone who has pushed the limits to make sure the Hindi standup scene became known in the market, I’ve been lucky enough to have been a part of this circuit from the very early days.
Q. What your future plans for your comedy and other ventures?
A. My plans are to keep writing more shows and performing in more cities. Recently, I travelled to the US and Australia. I’m looking forward to performing in the UK, Africa and the Gulf countries. Other than that, I’m planning to open some new spaces in north India. These are my short-term goals. I always believe in focusing for a year and then planning for what’s next.
Q. The recognition that you have been getting for your work of late has been massive. In the initial stages of your standup career, did you ever think that your comedy would receive such appreciation?
A. In the initial stage, to be honest, I didn’t think an iota about it. I thought, let me sustain in the market. But the kind of appreciation and recognition I’ve received is beyond my imagination. I feel blessed that I got this kind of respond. Thanks to God, my family, friends and fans.