Insider Beat: Targum talks to stand-up comedian Vir Das in exclusive interview
Stand-up comedy's a tough gig, but internationally acclaimed comedian and producer Vir Das is someone who aims to please. His quick wit and brazen nature never fail to elicit a tidal wave of laughs from an audience, and his ability to weave comedy and culture together is spectacular.
The Daily Targum recently had a chance to speak with Das about his career, upcoming tour and the controversy surrounding his "I Come From Two Indias" monologue.
Das said that his career in comedy began during his final year at drama school in Galesburg, Illinois, where he wrote a play called "Brown Men Can't Hump," with the title being a play on the 1992 movie, "White Men Can’t Jump."
"You know, I would say I’ve been doing (comedy) for 16 years ... I want to say almost 2013 or 2014 was when I kind of fell in love with it," he said. "Before that, I was doing it as sort of a hobby and balancing it with the acting career."
In 2017, Das became the first Indian-born comedian to release a Netflix comedy special with "Vir Das: Abroad Understanding." His trajectory since then has been seemingly unstoppable, with the comedian having released four more Netflix specials and played several supporting roles in movies and TV shows.
Das said he has always felt that his perspective was a bit different due to his upbringing, and he's used this unique voice to carve out a space for himself in the comedy world.
"I always felt like I was a little Western when I was in India and a little Indian in the West, and I grew up as this child from nowhere," he said. "I think stand-up comedy celebrates unique voices."
Das said he believes his cultural upbringing has influenced his comedy, but his work's global appeal is not actually related to anything cultural. He said his comedy simply speaks to people with unique perspectives like himself.
"I have an audience that recognizes that maybe they don’t fit in," he said. "Sometimes they feel like misfits."
Das is perhaps best known for his "I Come From Two Indias" monologue, which was performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Das said that the piece wasn't carefully planned or prepared — in fact, he has written it only 3 hours before he performed it live.
After the monologue aired, it went viral and began to draw backlash from members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, an Indian political group, who claimed that Das had spoiled the image of India and insulted their country abroad.
Many members of the party not only publicly shamed the comedian but also filed legal charges against him. Das was branded as a traitor on his own soil, but that very same week, he garnered an Emmy nomination for his comedy special "Vir Das: For India."
In the Targum's interview with Das, he said the "I Come From Two Indias" monologue was a "think-out-loud piece" and that he wanted to make it in the same style as one of his YouTube videos. He said that with any work like the monologue, you don’t ever really anticipate backlash but honor every kind of feedback. When asked if he would ever create media similar to the monologue, Das replied that he had no idea.
In another interview, Das said his new Netflix comedy special "Vir Das: Landing" was partly inspired by backlash like the type he dealt with after his monologue. Like anyone, he fears the consequences of his controversies, but ultimately, he wants to focus on doing his job.
When asked about the central idea of his newest tour, "Vir Das: Green Light Tour," Das emphasized that this tour is about "embracing the idiot in you."
"I hope to create media where people laugh," Das said. He said he wants to perform a comedy show that "sends you home flying on a cloud."
Das is stopping by the Wellmont Theater in Montclair as well as The Music Box at the Borgata in Atlantic City as part of his new tour. If you’re able, be sure to check out one of his shows.
If you’d rather enjoy Das' comedy from the comfort of your own home, check out his newest Netflix special, "Vir Das: Landing," for insight into his career, controversies and a taste of his unique sense of humor.