Vir Das: Easier To Be Funny In A Grim World

Designing a lockdown special for charity, Vir Das on finding humour in a world upended by the pandemic and rising intolerance

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Six months after his Netflix special For India wowed the world, Vir Das has returned with Inside Out. Besides being a venture to collect funds for charity, the special — pieced together from 30 virtual live shows he did during the lockdown — is arguably the comedian’s most intimate work. Das agrees it is difficult to pull this off without the muscle of an OTT giant. “It is twice harder to do this on our own. But it’s a charity special that is an experiment. There are many around the globe who will gladly pay a dollar or Rs 30 for charity. I believe there is kindness in the world, more so now. I have a sizeable fan base and am personally monitoring the bookings,” he begins over a phone call.

The actor-comedian was scheduled to take his shows to 36 countries when the lockdown was announced. But an artiste can never be stopped. “I was feeling my most creative, and there was no chance I would get rusty because of a damn virus. You’d assume it’s tough to be funny in a grim world. But in my experience, it was far easier. People are craving a good laugh, and making jokes is the best therapy,” he says, adding that the special also focuses on how the pandemic has upended people’s lives. He cites the example of Pranav e, who has secured 90 per cent scholarship to an engineering college in the US, but is unable to get his visa appointment. “There is an old man waiting to have dinner with his daughters. Their stories made me put myself out there for the first time.”

A lockdown gig isn’t without its share of difficulties — there are family members knocking on the door, babies babbling, toilets flushing, etc. “I began with a simple question — what will you do when the world opens up again? There are people from Wuhan, Africa, Poland, Costa Rica, Spain , all of them talking of their dreams that have been put on pause. When I am in front of a live audience, I feed off their energy. On a Zoom call, it’s different. When you can see the posters on their walls and their parents dropping by to say hello, it’s heartwarming.”

Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act was cancelled by Netflix last week. In the wake of comedy being scrutinised and rape threats issued to female comics, Das believes the world needs to turn down its desire to censor. “The basis of [Patriot Act’s] cancellation is unknown, but Hasan is a great artiste. Threatening someone’s safety is unacceptable, but the solution is to develop more comedy until people understand it’s just a joke. There are voices drowning out comedy; that leaves us with a battleground that is democratic and allows us to comment on everything that matters to us. Fight with your art is my mantra. Does intolerance bother me? Yes. But it’s futile to dwell on it. I have conditioned myself such that I don’t let these people get to me. If they do, I spend a moment, then get up and write a joke about it.”

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