Over 2,000 shows in five continents, and an autobiography titled Naked, to top it all—the global face of Indian stand-up comedy, Papa CJ, was at the fifth edition of Kerala Literature Festival, where he talked to us about going places with comedy. By Adila Matra
1) You were one of the first few Indians to travel the world with stand-up comedy. Which is the country that you never grow tired of?
I prefer going to places that I haven’t been to before. I love reaching to a new country and figuring out what makes their people tick. I read newspapers, talk to locals, find out about their history, politics, and scandals. This helps me start my shows with material specific to that country.
2) What is more challenging? Writing or comedy?
When you write, you do it within the safe space of your home or office and while what you come up with maybe fantastic in your own head, it may not necessarily be great for the readers. When you’re performing comedy, you are judged every 15 seconds. If they aren’t laughing every 15 seconds, then what you’re saying isn’t as funny as you thought. Also, your audience changes every night. They are of different ages, races, nationalities, sensibilities and have different levels of knowledge and cultural references. They could have had a bad day at work and could be drunk or sober. The variables are infinite and as a live performer, you have to cater to all of those. With a book, people pick it up when they are in the mood to read and are not distracted.
3) Tell us about an unforgettable experience from your trips.
I wouldn’t know where to start! Performing at a police station to get a comedian off the hook for drunk driving, getting my ass spanked by an elderly lady while doing a show, getting drunk and waking up in a different continent, having a woman at a corporate show stick a hundred dollar bill down my underwear—it is all there in the book.
4) How has the Indian comedy audience evolved over the years?
One specific observation is that during the nascent phase of stand-up comedy in India, people were afraid to sit in the front row because they feared to be picked on by the comedian. Now, the front row is the first one to be sold out, no matter the price.
5) Are you a foodie? What is your favourite cuisine?
I love food and while I do make it a point to try local cuisine wherever I go, I’d rather pick a dish on the menu that I know than take a chance with something new. Given how much I travel, I find myself looking forward to simple homely Indian food.
6) How important do you think travel and being exposed to new cultures are for a comedian?
I believe that stand-up comedy is an outward expression of an inward journey. So, while travelling and being exposed to different cultures is wonderful, I believe the personal journey is a more important one. It allows you to get comfortable in your own skin and develop the one trait that I believe is most important for any speaker, comedian or not–authenticity. In my experience, the audience always appreciates people who talk about what they know.
7) What is in the offing for Papa CJ, the comedian, and Papa CJ, the writer?
My new show Unbroken is ready for a tour and I have ideas for three more books. I also need to sell the international rights for Naked, record the audiobook and explore screen adaptation possibilities. I will, of course, continue to do live stand-up comedy at corporate and public shows, alongside motivational speaking and corporate training work.