She is 29, has great resemblance to her father, Johnny Lever, and is following in his footsteps into the world of comedy. Meet Jamie Lever, an ambitious and energetic entertainer who has recently conquered hearts with her on-screen persona.
As a child, did you receive special attention from students and teachers at school because of your father’s Bollywood background?
Yes, people did see me and my brother differently, it was more of a guessing game for them—who will be the actor between the two kids? Teachers would ask other children to recite poetry and for me it was always ‘Jamie why don’t you tell us a joke!’ Teachers and parents always had a smile on their faces when they looked at me, they’d discuss ‘she has his eyes; or his nose’. But I was a very quiet child in school, I didn’t quite enjoy the attention or the weird looks/stares so I’d stay in my shell and not talk too much.
Was taking up comedy an obvious choice?
No, it was definitely not an obvious one. Growing up, it was very clear that my brother would be the next actor/comedian and as for me, the plan was to study, get a degree and then a secure job. I did everything my parents asked me to, studied very hard even though I knew somehow that it was taking me nowhere. I would participate in plays and sing in both school and college, and somewhere this gave me more joy and satisfaction. But I continued being the obedient child… went away to London to pursue my post-graduation, got myself a job too in a marketing agency. it was a 9-5 sales job! I found myself crying behind the computer screen every other day. I knew stage was where I belonged. I’d go watch standup gigs/ drama in London and feel like I can do a better job there with the mic in my hand. I had to own up to myself and my parents. So, I gathered some courage and sat my parents down, had a word with them about what I really wanted to do in life, and then things changed for the better! In 2012, I came back to Mumbai to start my career in comedy/ acting.
Did you ever feel that you lacked your own identity as an Indian stand-up comedian due to
Johnny Lever’s huge fan-base?
Honestly, when I started off I didn’t think of any of this, I wanted to work hard, I was ready to do anything for it and I wanted people to know me—know Jamie and how funny she is, that was my aim. The Lever tag came in later and all the madness too. There was going to be comparison and judgement and it was not going to be easy. My biggest critic was and is my father and I had to impress him, if he was happy, the audience would be happy too because he understands the demand of the audience.
As a stand-up comedian, do you recall any instance of stage-fright?
No stage fright, I transform into another being on stage, although I’m a little shy in real life. I get extremely nervous before any performance though, even if it’s for the 100th time. But I believe it’s good for me, I stay grounded and work harder.
There are very few female stand-up comedians in the industry. Was there any kind of gender-bias that you had to face in your journey?
No gender biases such, I don’t understand why there are such few female comedians out there. We women are actually funny characters, we have funny things to say I think women should just come forward, grab the mic, and not think too much!
After your debut with Kapil Sharma in Kis Kis Ko Pyaar Karoon, can we expect to see more of you on the big screen?
YES definitely I’ve been testing for roles, meeting people. I don’t just take up anything quickly. There’s a lot of planning that goes behind every project I do, so it’s been a slow process but I’m aiming at doing more films for sure.
Any views on the changes or turns taking place in comedy from what existed during your father’s time?
Definitely a change. Earlier, comedians would perform a lot of slapstick comedy and physical comedy, but these days people want intelligent humour that wows and surprise them, so it is challenging. There are way too many sources of entertainment out there so the content has to be clutter-breaking and fresh, which means more hard work.
Is there any favourite joke by your father, Johnny Lever that always brings a smile on your face?
His impersonation of Saroj Khan on stage is spot on and also the one where he does the Jackson moonwalk—it’s a complete wow moment! A 60-year-old Indian man turns into a smooth criminal, it’s funny and a delight to watch!
What was Mr. Lever’s reaction when he heard that you wanted to be a stand-up comedian?
He was scared for me I think haha… But as a father he noticed me growing up, I’d come home and mimic my teachers at school or other relatives at home or even aunties at church. He knew somewhere that it was coming. He said to me ‘if it is God’s will and in your destiny, then who am I to stop you from doing what you have to’—that was my green signal.
Any international stand-up comedians you look up to?
Love Bill Cosby. My dad’s style is similar to his. Michael McIntyre and Lee Evens from the UK are fabulous. Female comic Caroll Burnett is also a favourite.
Which cities in the world are ideal for a stand-up comedian to learn the art in or the cities that are least critical of stand-up comedians?
The city you are in will teach you everything. Comedy is everywhere, we just need to observe things closely. A comedian’s eye will always catch the funny things in your normal every day routine. They see things differently and have a unique take on life. – As told to Jasmine Kaur