16 lessons from 16 years in stand-up

I believe that stand-up comedy, like many other art forms, is an outward expression of an inward journey. My journey has taught me lessons that I shall eternally be grateful for – lessons that have allowed me to look at life through a lens that has shaped who I am as a human being and made me a happier one.

I’d like to share 16 lessons from 16 years of stand-up with you.

2005 In England, you drive on the left of the road. In Kolkata, we drive on what is left of the road.

2006 An Englishman said to me, “Oh you’re from India? I know what Indians are like. I’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire.” I replied, “Oh you’re from England? I know what the English are like. I’ve seen Mr. Bean.”

2007 In the West, you show sex in your movies. In India, we show men and women running around flowers and trees. Yet we’ve hit a population of 1.3 billion, apparently through cross-pollination.

2008 I did a show for an investment bank in London [during the financial crisis]. They were doing a charity fundraiser to raise money for villages in India. I thought that was quite silly because a week before that I was in a village in India, and they were doing a charity event to raise money for investment banks in London.

2009 I was on a TV show in the US called Last Comic Standing. I remember how excited all the American comedians were about the fact that 10 million people watched the programme. Until I told one of them, “Dude. I come from India. If I open my bathroom window, 10 milllion people show up live.”

2010 As someone who lives in Delhi, I don’t understand the language in Mumbai. We call it bread, they call it pav. We call it pyaaz, they call it kanda. We call it a servant quarter, they call it a 2BHK.

2011 I did a show that was hosted by a Pakistani stand-up comedian. He warmed up the audience and invited me on to stage. In that second I realised I had been a part of history. It was the first time I had seen a Pakistani invite an Indian to occupy a piece of land that he was occupying before.

2012 They have a hospital in Chennai called Aggarwal Hospital. Because it was built by an eye doctor, they made the entrance to the hospital in the shape of a massive eye. Thank God he wasn’t a gynaecologist.

2013 I grew up in a middle-class family. Ours was a house where tomato ketchup never finished. It just became magically thinner over time.

2014 I have recently become a member of the divorce club. There are two kinds of membership – the one-time payment and the monthly subscription.

2015 I was flying from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and at the airport, I lost my boarding pass. When I went back to the check-in counter and requested for a duplicate, the lady at the desk started admonishing me for losing it. I said, “Excuse me. You work for Malaysian Airlines. You lost an entire plane.”

2016 If there is a pig on the street, in Singapore that becomes headline news. In Germany, it becomes a sausage. In America, it becomes the President of the United States. [Welcome to the White House, Donald Trump.]

2017 There is still a stigma against divorcees in our country. People don’t realise that it can happen to anyone. Over time small things can change. Like what you call your spouse. First it is their name, then a nickname, then baby, then my jaan, then the defendant.

2018 This is a hashtag generation. In our time, there were no tags. Just hash.

2019 When we were growing up, we went out to have a good time. Nowadays it seems like people go out to take photographs of themselves, looking like they are having a good time. They could be at the most boring party ever but five guys will get together, take a photograph, stick it up on Instagram and write – Oh my god… last night was EPIC! Sorry, I meant – OMG last night was EPIC! I do not understand the use of the word ‘epic’. The Ramayana was an epic. The Mahabharata was an epic. You going out, getting drunk and passing out in a pool of your own piss is not epic.

2020 When I started doing stand-up comedy, I was debating between doing a bartending course and getting into stand-up comedy. But the bartending course that I looked at only taught us how to mix the drinks. They didn’t teach us how to juggle the glasses. I thought to myself, if I can’t juggle the glasses, I’m never going to get laid. That’s why I got into stand-up comedy. And that was 16 years ago. And in the last 16 years, I can’t tell you how many times…how many times I wish I had taken that bartending course!

From HT Brunch, December 27, 2020

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