Vir Das on his new lockdown special, Inside Out: 'I underestimated how vulnerable people were'
Vir Das reflects on how and why this new special came into being, his creative process during the lockdown and how much he misses performing live
Vir Das’ latest special Inside Out is the most sincere crowd-work comedy show to come out of the lockdown. Compiled from over 30 virtual zoom call gigs, he chats with audiences from across the world, trying to find a common ground in the midst of a pandemic. The special features random conversations around ice-cream, eyebrow grooming, marijuana and even some of the personal reflections from the comedian himself. Das confesses that it was something that organically developed on its own.
In an interview to Firstpost, the comedian reflects on how and why this new special came into being, his creative process during the lockdown and how much he misses performing live shows. “My plan through the pandemic was to fundraise for different charities. So I started doing these shows every night, I would be selling 200-250 tickets every show and by the end of it we would give away from Rs.80,000 to 1 lakh to different charities. But this was a new format for all of us, people were so uncomfortable on zoom call and even I was also trying to figure it out. Hence I would ask them questions like ‘What are you dreaming about during the lockdown?’ or ‘What’s the first thing you’re going to do when the world reopens? And eventually, this helped us to try to find a common ground.”
But to his own surprise, viewers began to open up to him. “I kind of underestimated how vulnerable people were during these moments because I started gaining some real answers. Some would say how difficult it was to be stuck without the person they love, most were missing their home, parents, and some wanted to desperately get her eyebrows done.”
It was during in April that Das had sort of a revelation of how important and relatable these answers were. He figured this was the only time when the entire world was going through the exact same thing. "So I just knew I had to capture this conversation. Once the show started gaining momentum, I realised how diverse and international my fanbase was because we had viewers from Poland, Wuhan, Ireland tuning in, but of course one often loses the sight of it until a zoom call. Eventually, I decided that I don’t want to do another big platform special but will use this to raise money for charity. Hence, we soon began with the editing process,” explains the comedian.
The unique factor of Inside Out was in its personal moments, with Das making sure that it remained raw and impromptu. During one of the segments of the show, the comic artist seemed weighed down and tired due to a personal predicament which had made national headlines a few months ago. Das is quick to snap out of it, proclaiming that his audience is here to ‘forget their shit – not come to see mine.’ And so he does, he delivers laughs as promised.
When I ask Das of how he beat this creative roadblock, or if there were any during the lockdown, he is silent for a few minutes but soon regains out of his stupor and says it was a huge learning to let go of his creative control.
“So usually when you come to watch me perform live, the tickets are super expensive, the front row tickets cost thousands. You must have gotten a baby sitter to make it on time, if you are a student, you have probably saved up for months to buy the ticket. I understand all of this and hence it is my job to be a professional, polished assassin version of myself when I am up on the stage. But this show was no longer about me; it was entirely about my audience. I would ask them a question and then they would tell me what my content should be. Hence, making sure the show stays as organic as possible, with me being a vessel of what they want to put out in the world was a tough challenge. To give up creative control was the most important creative lesson I learned throughout this journey.”
With a conversational show like Inside Out, there are chances that a friendly banter may touch upon a wrong nerve. Das, admittedly, came off a little rude during one of his gigs, while explaining about ‘owning privilege’ to one of his audience members. In recent times, some Indian comedians have also landed in trouble for making seemingly innocuous remarks on their shows, which offended somebody somewhere. However, Das believes in never censoring himself for he says he has a good enough relationship with his viewers.
“I try not to second guess my material on whether it will work or not, or if it will offend people. I just worry about its authenticity and if the feeling behind the joke is well-intentioned. If the answers to these two are yes, I carry on with the joke. To be honest, I know my audience will let me know where I should draw the line, or if I need to rework on my joke. Also especially in conversational shows like Inside Out, I can be brutal sometimes and even the viewers might be but if I do offend someone, I instantly know I have to just make it upto them.”
Though cooped up inside a room, surrounded with books and posters, seated against a halo light and camera equipment, Das never misses a beat throughout the show. He responds to every banter, is attentive to every sound even if it’s of a toilet flush (yes, it happened), Das makes sure to not miss any laugh. But ask him if he misses the thrill of a live show, he laughs and has a metaphorical answer that only he can create.
He says, “That’s like asking if cybersex is as good as the actual sex. Ofcourse I miss live performances. I just think it is a privilege to practice my art form in the midst of a pandemic. When the lockdown started, I was feeling my creative best as an artist. I was determined not to lose this comedian muscle to a bloody virus. And I don’t know when we will be able to perform live. I am trying to be optimistic about the future but I know it will take a while. I am sure whenever it is scientifically safe to hold live shows; people are going to flock like never before. But it will take a while.”
“I haven’t worn pants in the last five months. Honestly, I don’t plan this stuff, even this special wasn’t supposed to exist and look where it turned out. I know I will shoot a movie by the end of the year. And I think I will do a series next year. But apart from that, your guess is as good as mine. Whatever it may be, it just got to be fun, ” Das signs off.