Like all comedians, Vir Das has been adapting to the lockdown by performing live shows for a faraway audience over Zoom. Recently, around 30 such gigs between March to June were stitched together for a new standup special titled Inside Out, available on Das’s website, to be watched for a small donation. In the latest edition of Time Pass, a series of webinars conducted by The New Indian Express group, Das sat down with senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai and TNIE’s Entertainment Editor Sudhir Srinivasan to talk about this unique concept.
“When the pandemic started, in order not to go insane and try and raise money, I started doing these shows,” Das explained. Doing comedy over virtual calls was to get people to ease up. That’s why his first question often is, “What’s the first thing you want to do once the lockdown ends?” Das admitted that he underestimated how vulnerable people were feeling in March. “They would say stuff like ‘I miss my loved one’ or ‘My father is going to die.’ So, I couldn’t go, ‘Anyway, what’s up with airline food right now?’.”
Das, born in Dehradun and raised in Nigeria, has performed all over the world, and his specials (Abroad Understanding, Losing It, Vir Das: For India) lean heavily on his identity as an international performer. But the challenges arising out of the pandemic were something else. “It has been two years since my last world tour. I had forgotten about my international fan base until they started showing up on Zoom. People from Poland, Wuhan, Norway, Australia, South Africa... possibly the first time in my life that we all have global common ground.” Eschewing the combative nature of crowd-work (“It’s like battle, you have to be mean”), Das said he has managed to check on 45 of his audience to see if their wishes have come true. “There was a couple who had a baby in the lockdown. Their dream was to take their child out in sunlight. We have used their photo in the end credits.”
Addressing the present situation in Bollywood, Das was upset by the insensitivity around mental illness. “I had only met him (Sushant Singh Rajput) once. What’s saddening apart from the death of a great artiste, is the death of realistic rhetoric around mental health. Suddenly, many news anchors, who do not engage in any great research, are experts on mental health and depression.”
Reflecting on the social media abuse his work at times gets him, Das spoke about the distinction between trolling and threatening. “I say whatever I want. So, I must, in all good faith, grant that same freedom to my critics. But if you are threatening somebody’s safety, if you are outing a person’s address, the line has to be drawn.” Vir recently starred in his home production Hasmukh on Netflix, and will shoot a romcom in January. His company, Weirdass, is producing three new shows for OTT. Comedy, of course, will continue, with or without live shows. “The minute we can figure out how to do it safely, you will see a live event boom that will shock you,” he said.