'Papa CJ: The Big Daddy of Indian Stand-up'
How did it all start? You always wanted to be a comedian?
I have written a whole book about my journey and my comedy special of the same name, Naked, is now streaming online. The short answer however is that I did not know what stand-up comedy was until 3 months before I started doing it. I went to Oxford University, got a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree and
joined a management consulting firm in London. After working for 3 years and paying back my loans, I took a sabbatical. It was then when I went to the Edinburgh Festival and saw stand-up comedy for the first time. It was love at first sight and I went on to do 700 shows in the UK over the next 3 years.
Is stand-up comedy pure talent, or can someone become a stand-up comedian by trial and error?
Talent helps but I believe trial and error is the only way to become a better
comedian. You learn nothing from a good show. But in a bad show, you get
feedback every 15 seconds. If they are not laughing, you are failing. There is nothing worse than trying to make people laugh and getting 5 minutes of silence. You want to dig a hole in the ground and bury yourself right there. So if you don’t have the breadth of material or the depth of experience to adapt on the spot, you have to ask yourself on the way home, what you will do differently the next time you’re performing in front of a similar audience in the same country, so you don’t look like a fool. That is what helps you grow. So for us, failure and error is really the only way to get better. We have to keep failing in different situations so that eventually we learn how to succeed in all those places.
What's the most memorable moment in your career so far?
While I have performed to full houses at the Sydney Opera House and on Broadway,
the work I’ve enjoyed the most has been my Happiness Project. One of the
initiatives under it for example, Pre-Covid, was that I would go to the homes and
hospital rooms of people who had been unwell for a long time and bring laughter to
their families and them. Those pro bono shows were meaningful to me because of
how much it meant to the people I did them for.
Also I’ve really enjoyed performing my show Naked. In this show, with humour as a
canvas, I expose myself with all my vulnerabilities and pain. It is terrifying yet
exhilarating at the same time because in the end, while I am completely naked, I am
also completely free. This show allows me to form a unique emotional bond with my
audience. It uses the vehicle of my life to talk about the human experience and
people are able to connect with it because all of them have gone through similar
experiences and emotions in their lives. Therefore, many are able to find catharsis,
healing and hope from the story.
What tips would you give an aspiring new stand-up comedian?
None. Each person’s journey is unique and they have to carve their own paths. The
only thing I would say is, have fun and don’t bother about what anyone else is doing.
It’s silly to leave forgo traditional career options and then be in a rat race in a creative
field. Do your own thing and enjoy the ride!
Where do the ideas come from for the shows?
Dobby the elf from Harry Potter whispers them into my ear every night. I’m kidding of
course. My humour is mined out of my own life. What I see, hear, read and
experience and my points of view on the same are channelised into my work, both
comedy and writing.
How are you keeping yourself relevant in the pandemic time?
I’m trying to be kind and empathetic towards those around me. I’m writing a lot of
columns for various publications. I’ve released my comedy special for online
streaming. I’m having interesting conversations with different kinds of people. And
I’m trying not to die of a non-sexually transmitted disease!