20 Minutes Live with Papa CJ

Papa CJ is a world-renowned stand-up comedian and has won awards for being the best in India as well as Asia. He has performed over 2000 shows in over 25 countries. Having appeared on NBC, BBC, Comedy Central, and a host of international networks, he is the best in his field. Forbes Magazine called him "The Global Face of Indian Stand-up". He was also referred to as "One of the most influential comedians around the world" by Toastmaster International. He has represented India at various festivals and has had standing ovations on Broadway New York and other international theatres across the world. Most interestingly, Papa CJ holds an MBA from the University of Oxford and is often engaged as a motivational speaker. 

Ninad Karpe interviewed papa CJ from 100X.VC about stand-up comedy. Let us have a look at his answers to the various questions asked.

What were the apprehensions while entering India at the time when stand-up comedy was not so popular?

Before moving to India, Papa CJ had already done 700 shows across the UK. As a child, his father used to tell him a story that is always in his mind. The story was of a shoemaker who was ascended to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by his boss by ship. He went there and found that no one had any shoes. So he called his boss and told him the scenario and told him that he is coming back by the next ship. So, the company hired another shoemaker. The marketing manager gets the same idea again. He suggests the shoemaker go to Andaman and Nicobar Islands and see if there is a market for shoes. When this shoemaker saw that people did not wear shoes there, he went running to the post office. He sent a telegram to his boss stating that the market is wide open because nobody has shoes. All the stock of shoes was sent to him, and he became successful. So, it is all about attitude. Papa CJ had the same thing in mind while entering India.

But it was slightly challenging in the initial stages because people did not understand the concept of comedy for a living.

Should comedians shape public opinion or do a commentary on it?

People perform based on their value systems. But if the question is, can comedians do so? The answer is yes. They say humour is like a rubber sword. They can make a point without any blood. But as Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage, and each of us must play a part", so a comedian's part is to entertain. They don't want to be seen as the voice of the youth or a social commentator. They want to make people laugh. The way Papa CJ does comedy is that he tries to have an impact on the ground with some of the stuff that adds more happiness to the act.

What is the story behind Papa CJ?

Papa CJ started doing comedy in the UK. He was the only Indian comedian in the entire country. Whenever he wrote content for his comedy, he would try to present India in a positive light. One of the first few lines he came up with has become his tagline. The line is, "I come from the land of Kamasutra, and I can screw you in more ways than you can count." So, when he made up the name Papa CJ, he subconsciously thought that foreigners should also know that there is someone ahead of them.

What is the Happiness Project?

Papa CJ started the Happiness Project a few years ago. He believed that celebrity is a currency and what matters is how you choose to spend it. So every now and then he does different things. He organises fundraising tours to raise Rs.40 lacs and above for 10 charities in two weeks. He goes to hospitals and works with cancer patients. He also goes to old age homes and makes the elderly do things like laughter yoga. Therefore, for Papa CJ, those are the more meaningful shows. He has had cancer patients coming to him after a show and saying that they have not laughed like that for years. 

Adding further, last year, he put an open offer stating that if anyone has got any sick or unwell person in their house for a long time, he will go to their home and perform just for them and their family. So when he went to houses of such people, he saw the family members of such people in tears because they had not seen their loved one laugh like this for years. So, such shows are the most meaningful for him.

Why do comedians use irreverent language?

There is no need for comedians to use irreverent language. This is something that is happening a lot in India. Initially, if you are a 20-year-old who has just started doing comedy, there is a shock value to it. Because stand-up is new in the country, they just stand on the stage and use a foul word. People have a reaction like 'Oh my god! I can't believe he just said that.' But after the first 3 or 4 times, people are like 'Okay dude; we have got that!' Now, where is the joke? So beyond a certain point, it does not work.

Moreover, what happens all over the world is not only do comedians evolve, but audiences also evolve. And when audiences evolve, they demand better of the comedian. But in our country, the second the audience evolves, another audience comes and takes their place. So, the comedian has no pressure to raise his level. 

Also, people say that comedians are vulgar. But why does a comedian crack a joke? Because he wants people to laugh. There is nothing worse than trying to make people laugh and getting silence. So if people will stop laughing, comedians will stop cracking those jokes.

Since live shows are over in this pandemic, how have comedians adapted?

Papa CJ has been very surprised because all of his life, he has been telling people that stand up comedy is best enjoyed live and not in front of a screen. There is no substitute for actually being there. But to his surprise, he has loved being on screen. It works really well. This is because, on a Zoom show, there are 25 people on the screen with audio and video. So like a live show, he can see them, talk to them, and while picking up anyone, he spotlights their screen so that everyone can see them. It actually works pretty well. So, he does not have any complaints about this adaptation.

Is there any scope for a school of comedy?

There is scope for a school of comedy. Papa CJ has been asked many times to start a course, but it includes too much effort. But to be the best at comedy is doing it yourself. Your best teacher is your audience. You should just keep doing it. 

What are the cultural differences across different parts of India that need to be taken care of while cracking a joke?

There is some stuff that is universal such as relationships, etc. Considering the content, the more local it is, the funnier it is, but it travels less. So if there is a joke about Gurugram, it may not work in Bangalore, but it will be amazing for the guys in Gurugram. Also, topical comedy is funnier. So as a comedian, you have to decide the percentage of time you invest in specific local and topical content.

What is the biggest source of inspiration for Papa CJ?

All of the stuff in comedy comes from life experiences. He says that everything he talks about is based on what he has seen, experienced or read. So it is not that there is a certain inspiration. You have to live life. You have to be observant and be able to pull those things in. So comedians see the exact things as other people see, but they look at it through the lens of comedy and find the fun.

Advice to young kids who want to continue comedy as a profession

It is a long journey. It is very important to learn the trade before we learn the tricks of the trade. Nowadays, it is very important to get good before you get famous. You should grow in the dark. What happens today is that a five-minute stand-up goes well, people upload it on the internet, it gets a lot of views and likes, and suddenly, you can sell out a 500 seat theatre. But when so many people walk-in, you have to entertain them for an hour. A three-minute clip on the internet will not teach you how to hold on to a live audience for an hour. So, for a comedian, the important point is to enjoy comedy more than anything else.

If you are going to leave a decently paid job and get into the rat race of the creative field, then it is a silly thing. Do comedy for yourself and enjoy it. Don't care about what anybody else is doing and carve your own path.

- 100X.VC Team

Published on: September 6, 2020