Interview Hindi

I want to have my samosa all the time: Vir Das on his career, production and Whiskey Cavalier

Speaking to us, Das talked about the growing need for self-examination in the comedy industry, his production company, and an upcoming debut in American television.

Shriram Iyengar

Despite his second turn with an international digital platform in Netflix, Vir Das is still a fan of the live audience.

"Stand-up comedy is like a Mexican standoff between the audience and the comedian," he tells us. He should know. One of India's most prominent names in the field of stand-up comedy, Das is set to join some reputed international names like Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock who are the few to have had more than one stand-up special on Netflix. 

Das's tryst with Netflix began with Abroad Understanding in 2017. From Donald Trump to Indian racism, he tackled a wide range of subjects with sharp satire and humour. It was an introductory piece to the rest of the world, he says. 

With his own production company Weirdass Productions, now moving into content, Das is looking to shift gears. The actor is now launching his first debut as his creative producer with Hasmukh. Talking about the project he said, ''Now that one career is busy with acting and touring, I was starting to look towards production and writing, and direction as well. I think I can find other creative outlets." 

But production is not the only debut Das is gearing up for. He is also set to make his first appearance on American television. In ABC's upcoming Whiskey Cavalier, Das will play a CIA analyst. The show talks about a group of spies with some serious emotional problems attempting to set the world right. With its mix of comedy and action, it seems a familiar zone for Das.

But for now, he is more excited about the upcoming Christmas holidays. "The Netflix special would be out by then, and me, my wife and my dog will be on a beach by then. That's what I am looking forward to," he confesses. 

Losing It is set to be screened on Netflix on 11 December.

Signing on the Netflix show, Losing It, must be a great opportunity and a rare chance. What is Losing It about?

Well, Abroad Understanding was more an introductory attempt to reach out to people and say, 'Hey, my name is Vir, and please watch my content.'I think this show is like a second date. I am talking about things I would like to talk about as well. I am telling you my story. 

There's me talking about travelling the world, tribalism, masculinity and about feminism. But I also talk about growing up in Africa, also going bankrupt, and doing good movies and bad movies. 

That is being modest, as introductory. You are quite well known across India, at least.

The one thing I learnt when I started receiving messages in Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese or French, I realised how big an audience is available, and one can access those people. In that kind of moment, I kind of felt small as an artist at that time. I decided then that I would travel the world for this next special, and hopefully, write a show that a lot more people can watch.

Is stand-up comedy slowly beginning to slip out of the live stage performance art?

No, I don't think so. Stand-up comedy is very much a live art form. I think it is like watching a Mexican standoff between the audience and the comedian. That tension where he may, or may not, make a certain audience laugh can only come from a live audience. Not to take anything away from sketch or YouTube comedy, but the live audience is what makes stand-up stand-up. 

The rise of the OTT platforms has certainly changed the dynamics for comedy, and stand-up comedy in India. Is it possible to view something similar to a radical change — like a Nanette from an Indian perspective?

Who knew 3 months ago, stand-up in the world would move in the direction of Nanette? It is one of those revolutionary art pieces that changes art. I think to move towards something that is already done is not the idea. To do your own thing is the idea. 

The comic scene has also been struggling in the #MeToo scenario. Where do you think we should start with?

The first thing I would say is that you should be asking the women in the comic scene. The first thing we should start with is what they need. The most important thing for men during the #MeToo movement is to be quiet and listen, and then to implement. The good place to start is corporate policy, the right programming, equality in pay, and equality in programming. Getting more women up on stage, paying them the same amount as a male cmoic. 

If you run a company, like I do, having the right systems in place, so that women in your company feel safe, secure, and creative. Those are the things I am trying to do. 

I think what happened with the #MeToo movement was a wonderful surge. It will put professionalism into the industry, which is what we need. I hope it happens in various other industries like Bollywood, music, business as well. 

While Weirdass Productions was into comedy and comedy management, moving into content is a big step. What led to the decision?

Abhi yaar, actor ko shot ke baad samosa milta hai. Producer ko hamesha samosa milta hai. [An actor only gets a samosa after the shot. The producer always has his samosa]. I want to have my samosa all the time. But I have a very creative company of 15-16 people. So far I was largely in everything that I was doing. 

Now that one career is busy with acting and touring, I was starting to look towards production and writing, and direction as well. I think I can find other creative outlets. 

You are making your samosa too. You have Hasmukh, where you are a serial killer...

I am starring as a serial killer in Hasmukh, but I am not producing that. Nikkhil Advani is producing that, I am only creative producing. The samosa belongs to him. But I do get to star in this show. It is something Nikkhil and I have been speaking about for two years now. And we are done. We are done shooting, only a couple of days left. So it should be out, sometime in the next year. 

You are currently shooting for Whiskey Cavalier. Your first show on American television...

I am currently shooting for it in Prague. It's -2 degrees here. It is a great show. I have never been on American television before. It is a nice show about four people who save the world every week. It is like an action spy thriller, but it is a comedy. Prague is amazing. The whole show looks like a James Bond movie. 

How did the talks for the show happen?

Posted a Netflix special coming out, I went to a meeting in LA, where I met a gentleman named Bill Lawrence, the producer of this show. He has also produced Scrubs, Cougar Town, and a couple of episodes of Friends as well. He met me, and I think he is one of the smartest comedy people I have ever met, and I wanted to work with him. 

So, Go Goa Gone 2 is also coming up.

Yes, that is coming up. We had a wonderful reunion, met Raj [Nidimoru] and [Krishna] DK as well. We listened to the script, and I can confidently tell you that it is going to be just as much fun as the first one. 

That sounds like quite a busy year ahead. Anything else up your sleeve?

Itna to kar raha hai aadmi, aur kya karega? I am looking forward to Christmas break, where it is -6 degrees. I will be back in India by the 21st, and I will switch my phone off. The Netflix special would be out by then, and I and my wife and my dog will be on a beach by then. That's what I am looking forward to. 

Is it difficult to balance multiple hats as a producer, writer, comedy?

Yes, but one has worked very hard to be this tired. That's what I keep telling myself. 

Is it difficult when you shift working between different platforms?

I think it can only benefit you. Working on Hasmukh has benefited my acting, Whiskey Cavalier has made me a little braver as an artiste. At the same time, it has improved my writing when I am producing other series as well. The more time you spend working as an artiste can only make you creative. 

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