Actor and comedian Vir Das recently joined NewsX for a fun conversation as part of its special series NewsX India A-List. Wrapping up 2020 with a pinch of humour and introspection, Vir Das reflected on the year gone by, comedy scene in India post-pandemic and shared insights from his new lockdown special series ‘Outside In’.
Speaking about Outside In, Vir said, “It feels good. I certainly didn’t expect having another Netflix special. God has been very kind. I had a special in January on Republic day called Vir Das For India, which was very successful. Usually, as comedians, we want to take a break. You want to give it enough of break so that life can happen to you and you have something to say. But, I think the pandemic spread up our life and our life experience. So, this is strange, unexpected and I treat it as a gift. “
When asked how did the idea of doing these virtual comedy shows come about, he revealed, “I had no intention of doing virtual comedy shows because it had nothing compared to the real thing. But, just for fun reasons, what we were doing was we did 30 shows for 27 different charities. Every night, we’d sell about 150-200 tickets and we would give that money away to a charity for orphans or for migrant workers or PPE kits or stray animals etc. I believe that once you are done donating, artists with a large platform should be responsible for monetising that platform for CSR. Just to warm the audience up, I’d ask them one question at the beginning of the show saying what’s the first thing you want to do when the lockdown ends. I think I really underestimated how vulnerable, scared and anxious people were in March. So, we started getting these very honest answers from all over the world. Because it was Zoom, suddenly someone from Costa Rica, someone from Poland, someone from Thane and someone from Wuhan would be on the same show together. I was like this is a moment in time. I should capture this moment. If medians are always looking for common ground, I don’t think there will ever be a moment in my life wherein the entire world would be going through the same thing at the same time, same exact experience, global common ground. I had a one small camera Canon N50 and I had a stack of books. So I just put it up and I started filming myself. Now, it is on Netflix, which is just insane.”
On receiving a phenomenal response for Outside In, Vir expressed, “It was only on my website for 8 days. In that time, we raised approximately between 35-40 lakhs for charity. We gave people a choice. It is Rs 30, which is not a lot of money to watch anything online. We said you can any amount that you like and you can pick where your money goes- which charity you’d like to donate. Content or not, I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to help.”
Sharing his experience of recreating that atmosphere in his own space and interacting with the audience through a computer, Vir said, “I think what was interesting for me is making someone else the star of my show. That was very interesting. Usually specials are all about the comedian but here I had 55-60 stories from 30 different countries and I had to make them and their homes and their experiences the star of the show. It is very interesting to go into a show with zero script. Not knowing what is going to happen, you’ll ask a question and whatever is the answer to that question, your show is going to become about that. So, that was very interesting and also a bit of a safety net. The pressure is off me. I have to interact with a thousand people and hopefully a hundred of them would be hilarious enough to put on Netflix.”
What was Vir to do once the lockdown lifted, he responds, “There are two things and I have done them already. One was to see my parents so the minute I could get to Delhi, which was I think in October, I saw my parents. Secondly, I wanted to do live standup again. So, now we are doing socially distanced, with a 6 ft. radius around you, outdoor shows at 4 pm in the sunlight with masks on and sanitised for 45 people in a venue that holds 650 people. It is very empty but it is good to see them.”
Sharing his thoughts on the new normal of comedy, Vir said, “This is a live art form. You need people in the room. It feels like someone sent to 2008 again and said – this venue is not good for standup, nobody is making any money on these shows, we are all losing money, there is no cell phone network because we are in a forest on a hill side, but you are very free as an artist because there is literally nothing to lose. You are some of the most informed and inspired content you have done in a while. “
Talking about how was the year 2020 for him professionally, Vir said, “It has been the right kind of successful year. Hasmukh beat Money Heist to become the No. 1 show, which is insane for our tiny little show. For India was good, this was another special. I signed a bunch of work because of Hasmukh. It is always nice to have a successful year without the pollutants of success. It is nice to not have success get to your head. “
When asked how did he manage to stay sane amid lockdown and cope with low points, Vir expressed, “I turned it into comedy. That’s how I stay sane. My purpose is to do that. Comedians are very trained in terms of purposing ourselves to work in an hour in the evening and the entire day works based on that. We are usually indoors. When you land in a city, you are in a hotel all day. You come out at 6:30 pm, 7:30 to 8:30 or 9:30 is your show and then you go back to the hotel. That’s the life of a comic. We are very trained for a lockdown through life but we work backwards from that golden light. I made sure that I was doing a show online every night for fundraising and that got me through the lockdown. “
Vir further shared that his one lesson of the year is to be authentic. “That’s what I learned this year. The pandemic was very democratising in terms of your star power didn’t matter, your budget didn’t matter, your production value didn’t matter. The Netflix special that we shot cost Rs 40,000. It just took camera and one SD card. It is just the quality of your content and your authenticity of your voice. I really enjoyed doing that because for smaller artists like me, it gave us a chance to level up in the pandemic. None of us have the advantages that we normally had,” he said.
Lastly, when asked about comedy scene in India and how will it recover from this tough year, Vir expressed hope and said, “It will be right back on its feet. Keep in mind; comedy has survived world wars and pandemics. It survived in middle-eastern insurgencies, where comedians are not allowed to talk about these things and they still do. It survives regimes, it survives anything. From a touring perspective, when enough people are vaccinated by September-October, a combination of vaccines and rapid testing before the show will allow you to have larger crowds coming in, of-course with wearing masks and ensuring social distancing. The digital evolution of comedy is here to stay. I really think by November, this will be like we look upon and say ‘Remember that year’.”