Editor’s note: This interview is Part 1 of our conversation with Vir. It has been edited for grammatical accuracy and clarity. This is not for the weak as it contains strong language. Be sure to read the rest of our interview with Vir Das in Part 2 where he speaks about life, liberty and the pursuit of comedy!
“The biggest letdown is that most comedians are pretty serious in real life. You should write a nice little hatchet piece”
Enter the amused response of Vir Das when I ungraciously complained to him about his entirely appropriate answers during our chat. Frustrated, I threatened to out him as a paragon of virtue and he gently rebuffed me with, “But, I know how to behave in interviews!”Undeterred in my quest for controversy, I demanded he reveal something awful about himself. Without skipping a beat (probably because he felt sorry for me), he quipped, “Talk to me after the show is done!” Ladies and Gentleman, meet the dapper gentleman of Indian comedy, Mr Vir Das. Well adjusted, happily married with an adorably named bulldog (Dr Watson!), Vir is claiming an Indian comedic corner with his brand of intelligent commentary and witty observances. Recently known for being the first Indian to have his own Netflix special, he descends on Hong Kong with a newer and updated version of his show “Battle of Da Sexes” in October. Supporting two charitable causes, the show has been reloaded and updated for the events of today. It is near impossible to resist Vir’s easy manner. A bundle of affableness, he wears his sincerity on his sleeve and is genuinely grateful for the opportunities that life has thrown his way. Slowly drawn into his good cheer and upbeat energy, we settled into our long chat…
So, first things first, this show is an amped up version of your previous show in Hong Kong. How is it different?
This is a scientific show, relying on data and statistics, so it has to be updated for today. It is a relevant show, not just stating “men are like x and women are like x.” We talk about history, literature, music, movies, business acumen, religion and even physics. Its an understanding of how men and women work in the world that we live in right now. There are bits about feminism, the male work culture and a whole bunch of stuff that is very relevant to today’s audience. It was a “woke” show when it first started and it had to get more “woke” as it evolved. When you are talking about gender politics, you can’t help but mention the likes of Angela Merkel or Justin Trudeau. You can’t avoid talking about current authors and personalities. In that sense, the show is always updating as there is always new material. If you don’t understand your better half, this is the show for you watch. If you understand your better half, well, this is a show for you to watch!
So do you wear makeup on the show?
No, I don’t! That’s just the poster! *laughs* People come to the show and they are like “Where the hell is the dress?. We wanted to do the cool thing with the poster which sounded like a great idea. Now that we did it, everyone expects me to dress up as a lady in the second half of the show…spoiler alert, I don’t do that! There is no one half devoted to men and one half devoted to women. It literally switches every minute and a half. It is a very high adrenaline show. Every aspect of male-female interaction is examined on why we annoy the shit out of each other. We make men and women go to war. It is very much a competition between the two audiences and there will be a winner. This is one of those shows where you are sitting with the person you love, then either go home pissed off at them or wanting to have sex with them.
So…you are responsible for a lot of divorces or a lot of babies?
Is that the tagline for the show?
*chuckles* Sure, why not? “Either we break you up or you have sex.” It’s better than the one we have now.
Are we women that different from our male counterparts?
Well, our scientific bodies are very different and our circumstances are reasonably divergent but we’re not that different otherwise! I identify myself as a feminist and as consciousness around the feminist movement builds, my show also ends being directed around that.
Ooh, feminism is a very loaded word now. Increasingly, some men are feeling that women are “taking over” and feel disenfranchised. Does this come up in your show?
Like I said, the show is not about men OR women; it’s straight down the middle. We talk as much about men and women and kid as much as either can take it. So, It’s impossible for a show like this not to be a feminist show. But a lot of what I feel about feminism is not on the show, to be honest. My personal worldview is that one of the biggest issues plaguing feminism is the understanding of intersectionality. There isn’t one kind of feminism, there’s Black feminism, White feminism, Muslim feminism, Indian feminism etc. And they are all different because the issues are different.
Has your perspective changed because of this show?
I don’t give it so much thought – I told you I wasn’t that smart! To be honest, you are in different phases in your life as a comedian, When you start out, you write comedy about what you think people will like. That usually means writing write a lot of Bollywood and a lot of cricket. Then at some point, you start writing stuff you like; I’m a history buff so I wrote one about the history of India. At some point, you find a mixture of things and it meanders between what you want to say and what people want to hear; you find a balance. Battle of Da Sexes is probably one of the most global shows written because of how it is relatable across the world. So that’s how I kinda changed in a comedic evolution.
As a stand-up, you perform for a variety of audiences. How does the comedy adapt?
For example, Battle of Da Sexes is unapologetically Indian but it changes about 5 to 10 percent depending on where you are. I could do a show in Saudi Arabia and the content will focus on Cleopatra, Caesar, Gandhi and Mother Theresa as those tend to go there very well. It just changes, every night the show changes! There is a tendency in some Indian performances to comedically add a little too much, leaving the performances with too much of an Indian flavour. In this version of the Battle of Da Sexes, there will be some Indian anecdotes and references. If this means we might take an extra 4 or 5 lines to explain this to a Hong Kong, British or Australian audience, that doesn’t stop us from doing the contextual joke. We can talk about good old Indian stuff but we will make sure everybody has related to the content.
Do you think that takes away from the comedy? Like telling a joke to your dad and having to explain it to him when he doesn’t get it?
If you know what you are doing on stage, you know how to handle this. You are not actually saying the joke; you are explaining the context before the punchline. Do it well and it’s still a hit. If I was explaining the Ramayana, it is the courtesy of adding an extra 2 to 3 lines to explain the context and the audience is “unbored” A lot of people come out knowing things about India then they would not have known before.
What is the most surprising untrue fact about Indians or India?
The fact that all of us are smart. *laughs* 50% of India is smart; the rest of us act smart because 50% of India is smart. *laughs*
Do you think you are smart?
Ah, what about your wife, Shivani?
Well, she married me so she is also in the same 50%!
So Vir, tell me a joke….
In every interview, the response is the same. Buy a ticket!
Battle of Da Sexes will be running for ONE DAY on 15th October, 3.30pm to 6pm at the Baptist University. For more information, please call +852 96918886 All ticket proceeds will go directly to Helping Hands, a non profit based in Mumbai to assist children with cancer and the One Humanitarian Award by the Rotary Club.