INTERVIEW | We all go through the same emotions, says Papa CJ

The international stand-up comedian opens up about his life from Kolkata to Oxford in his memoir Naked

Published: 09th February 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th February 2020 12:53 PM   |  A+A-

Papa CJ

Papa CJ

Express News Service

For someone who has been hailed ‘the global face of Indian stand-up’ and ‘one of the most influential comedians around the world’, Papa CJ has always believed in taking the unchartered trajectory. He quit his corporate job for comedy after visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2004 and has been awarded Asia’s and India’s Best Stand-up Comedian. He tells us more in this exclusive tête-a-tête.

Your book is named after your eponymous show. What made you write your memoir? 

To be honest the publisher came to me after they saw the show and said this must be a book. I had zero motivation initially. After all, you write a book because you might get money from it, but we know there is no money in publishing. Or you write a book because you have a story that you are dying to tell; I tell my stories on stage where there is instant gratification.

With a book there is a long gestation period. What finally motivated me was the fact that the medium of writing offered me the luxury of having a lot more richness and detail. The nature of stand-up is that we remove every extra word so that we can get to the punch line as soon as possible. Luckily my editor has not changed the book and I can take the flak completely if it does not work.

In fact, I wrote the first draft in 10 days and my editor returned it saying there was not enough pain in it. This made me dig a little deeper and uncover layers of emotion. My closest friend Chetan told me this is a book that is about your life and your life is not a joke. He said I want you to write a book that my daughters will be inspired by so I intentionally focused not to force-fit jokes as I did not want to get in the way of the narrative.

How hard was it to put out everything about yourself in black and white? 

It is a daunting task for a first-time author, because it is not a piece of fiction. Even when I am doing stand-up, I am being vulnerable. But since the audience is in front of me, I have the limited ability to adapt and have some effect on how they process what I am presenting to them. With the book, I did not have that. In November as part of my ‘Happiness’ project I spent an hour speaking to people without being judgmental and I found that today people are so lonely.

Social media has created this need for external validation where there is no human connection. With Naked I found that the audiences were connecting with me at an emotional level and I felt I owed it to my reader to give the same experience. We all go through the same emotions and while they read my story, I want them to reflect on their lives. 

What has been the best feedback you have received on your book? 

There have been a lot of positive messages. The best was when people said they have both laughed and cried when they read the book. 

You are exploring an audio version of the book. Also, any plans for a screen adaptation?

My publisher has print and ebook rights for India. For the audio book I am in talks with Audible. I want to do this as when someone listens to it, it will feel like I am sitting next to them and talking to them. It is very arrogant to think that someone must make a movie on my life but if the story is strong enough I am happy to explore it.

Who would you like to play you?

I could play myself (laughs). But I always thought that Imran Khan has a very good sense of comedy and may suit the role.

What attracts you to stand-up comedy?

It’s the high of making people laugh. Over time you learn that different kind of audiences enjoy your show differently. The test of an audience is not how much they are laughing and clapping but when you pause how much silence there is as then you know they are hanging on to every single word.

Do you believe Indians have a sense of humour?

Yes, 100 per cent, I have been making a living doing stand-up comedy for the last 12 years. When you start you do easy jokes, observational comedy and then perhaps veer to shock comedy but eventually you have to be funny. They say it takes you 10 years to find your voice in comedy and your audience will find you.

Your future plans?

I am not the guy who has a plan but I am the kind of person who is always open to possibilities. I am genuinely motivated by trying to bring joy to others and uplifting people. So, I would like to be able to do that in whatever capacity I can.

Naked
By: Papa CJ
Publisher: Westland
Pages: 256
Price: Rs 499

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