Wrapping up 2020 with a pinch of humour and introspection, Vir Das had a fun conversation with NewsX. Beginning by talking about ‘Outside In’, Vir said, “God has been very kind. I certainly didn’t expect having another Netflix special. 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 a break so that life can happen to you and you have something to say. But, I think the pandemic spread in our lives strangely and unexpectedly, and I treat it as a gift.”
When asked how the idea of doing virtual comedy shows came to him, he revealed, “I had no intention of doing virtual comedy shows because it had nothing compared to the real thing. But, just for fun, 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 migrant workers or for 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: ‘what’s the first thing you want to do when the lockdown ends?’ I really underestimated how vulnerable, scared and anxious people were in March. So, we got these very honest answers from all over the world. Because it was Zoom, suddenly someone from Costa Rica, Poland, Thane and Wuhan would be on the same show together. I thought, “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, having the same exact experience. I had a small camera, a Canon N50, and I had a stack of books. So, I put it up and 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 eight days. In that time, we raised between Rs 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 give any amount that you like and you can pick which charity you’d like to donate to. I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to help.”
Sharing his experience of interacting with the audience through a computer, Vir said, “I think what was interesting for me was making someone else the star of my show. 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, your show is going to become about that. It was also a bit of a safety net – the pressure was off me. I had to interact with a thousand people and hope that a hundred of them would be hilarious enough to put on Netflix.”
And what did Vir want to do once the lockdown lifted? “There were two things and I have done them already. One was to see my parents. So the minute I could get to Delhi, which was in October, I saw them. Secondly, I wanted to do live stand-up again. So, now we are doing socially distanced outdoor shows at 4 pm in the sunlight with masks on and sanitisation for 45 people in a venue that holds 650 people. It is very empty but it is good to see them,” he shared.
Speaking about the new normal of comedy, Vir said, “It suddenly feels like 2008 again. This venue is not good for standup, nobody is making any money on these shows, there is no cellphone network because we are in a forest on a hillside, but you are very free as an artist because there is nothing to lose. You have some of the most informed and inspired content you have done in a while.”
Talking about how 2020 was for him professionally, Vir said, “It has been the right kind of successful. Hasmukh beat Money Heist to become the no. 1 show, which is insane for our tiny little show. I signed a bunch of work because of Hasmukh. It is always nice to have a successful year without the pollutants of success, to not have success get to your head. “
When asked how he managed to stay sane amid the lockdown and cope with low points, Vir expressed, “I turned it into comedy. Comedians are trained in terms of working an hour in the evening and the entire day being based around 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 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. But I made sure that I was doing a show online every night for fundraising and that got me through the lockdown.”
Vir shared that his one lesson from the year is to be authentic. “The pandemic was very democratising in terms that your star power, your budget and your production value didn’t matter. The Netflix special that we shot cost Rs 40,000. It just took a camera and an SD card. It is just the quality of your content and the 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 how the comedy scene in India will recover, Vir expressed hope, saying, “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 masks and social distancing. The digital evolution of comedy is here to stay. I really think by November, this will be something we look back at and say, ‘Remember that year’,” adding, “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 things and they still do. It survives anything.”