“People were laughing at me anyway, so I thought, ‘F@#k it, I might as well start charging them.’ “ – Sarah Millican
As an Indian teenager who had no clue about what he wanted to do with his life, I was presented with the blue pill (Engineering) and the red pill (Medical). Unlike Neo, I chose the blue pill. The difference between me and Neo, from the Matrix, is that I chose the blue pill because I am no savior and don’t care much about the ‘brutal truth of reality’. Also, I am a little afraid of blood and serious situations.
So began the race of tuitions, coaching, entrance exams, unwanted and irrelevant advice from relatives, and a whole lot of stress. But all this faded away when I cleared my exams and received admission to a university in Mumbai. My father is an engineer from NIT and my grandfather was a Botanical Scientist. Everyone was happy that I was continuing the legacy of our family.
2012, I was at the gate of University. As I stepped inside, my entire world seemed to blend into a simulation of 3 Idiots (side note – where are colleges like the one in SOTY? I wanna get into one of those). We didn’t get any ‘life is a race’ speech but fast forward to the 3rd year of B.Tech and I realized I was seriously behind everyone else. More than that, I had zero motivation to even complete Engineering. I wouldn’t have made a decent engineer, even if I somehow completed my graduation. But like many others, I didn’t know what would I do if I didn’t become an engineer, so I carried on.
Until 2013, when our college was organizing ‘University day’, a cultural fest. I used to do a little bit of mimicry and my mom said that I was good. But moms are pure at heart (at least for their own children), so I didn’t know for sure how good (most probably bad) I was. What I did know was that I was s#!t scared of performing in front of such a large audience. Nonetheless, I took a sip of Mountain Dew (not a sponsor. Nobody sponsors me – I’m broke.) and got on the stage. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on me.
I.Could.Not.Speak.! I fumbled a little in the beginning but soon my instincts kicked in and different voices just started rolling out of my tongue. To my surprise, the audience was actually responding to me. They liked me and my performance. When my time got over, it felt like I’d just awoken from an exciting dream. And I instantly knew that I cannot go back to reality now. This… the stage, the audience, the laughter and the cheers – this is what I want my life to be.
I decided I need to drop out of engineering and pursue a career as a stand-up comic. But to go back into a dream, you have to first spend some time in reality as well; and reality hit me faster than Taher Shah induced cringe in his ‘Angel’ video. Dropping out of college isn’t as easy and convenient as dropping your New Year resolutions and acknowledging that merely a new year cannot do s#!t to the lazy bum you are.
I had to convince my parents, most importantly my dad. Everyone has seen 3 idiots and Taare Zameen Par, but nobody really brings their teachings to practice. My father didn’t agree with me becoming a comic. “Joker banega?”, he quipped. And I understood his perspective, stand-up isn’t a stable profession, especially in India. But I knew I do not want to do anything else. So I offered a middle ground – pursuing a degree in Mass Communication. This ensured that I would be a graduate, and provide me with the right platform for getting into the shows and entertainment business.
Against my father’s will, I dropped out of B.Tech third year and joined Amity University, Noida for a degree in Mass Comm. He did not talk to me for almost 7 months, but eventually, he saw how happy and content I was in mass comm and extended his support. My family resides in Noida, so I got to stay close to my family as well. Everything was smooth sailing and perfect. My time had come. I was ready to become a successful comic. Except that… I wasn’t.
Saying that the stand-up scene in India is cruel would be an understatement. I was fascinated when I saw my idols like Biswa, Jeeveshu or Vir Das on YouTube and thought that I’d reach there too. But the simple truth is that there aren’t enough opportunities for new comics and India doesn’t have a stand-up culture. Moreover, I had to learn a lot and improve my own craft as a humorist.
I started out by performing in 2-3 Open Mics in Mumbai and Delhi. During this journey, I met Nitin Mandal, who gave me a major morale boost. I got in touch with many other comics and soon became part of the circuit. Initially I lived very far from where I used to perform. It was nearly impossible for me to go home after the show, and this is one of the reasons I couldn’t be regular. Later, Nitin Mandal offered his home to stay. This helped a lot and allowed me to write new material and try them out on different audiences. He advised me that in order to get a 10-minute spot I needed to be more consistent. I went through the grind. Many times the jokes didn’t land, some audience members were rude and said hurtful things. I think hate comments are one of the hardest things to deal with for anyone working in a creative field. But I trod along because this was my passion. I felt alive when I was on stage, seeing the audience appreciate and enjoy my piece fueled me up every time.
Papa CJ hosted an exciting show called, ‘I Choose Violence’. The format was that the audience would get to decide how long the participant stays on stage. Love them and they’ll perform longer. Hate them and the audience can boo them off. Surviving for even 5 minutes on stage was a challenge – the audience was ruthless. When I got on stage, I thought the audience would boo me off within a minute. This time I didn’t get a chance to drink Mountain Dew either. To my surprise, they liked my jokes. I stretched till the 3-minute mark but I started running out of content as I hadn’t prepared a piece this long. I was THIS certain that I wouldn’t last. Somehow I extended for 4 minutes and then voluntarily got off stage. I had totally run out of material for that day. This was such a fulfilling experience. An audience which was completely allowed to humiliate me actually liked me. They enjoyed my jokes.
From there on, my confidence soared. I started doing 15-20 minute pieces with many other comics. I got the opportunity to work as a content writer for Fever 104 – Comedy Ki Dukaan and I also became an RJ in Amity Radio. My parents were proud of my performance in college as well. I was earning my own money, was happy and content. I can say I started living my dream. But once again as I came closer to my dream world, it started expanding its universe. My dream now became to be popular enough to have my own, solo show. Starting from amateur mimicry a few years back, I transitioned to proper stand-up comedy and I developed my own niche and style, explored observational and absurdist humor.
I am still far away from living my absolute dream. I am young and learning new things every day. There is a long way to go. And I know that when I’ll fulfill my latest dream, a new dream would pop up. I believe this the beauty of passion and dreams. They carry infinite potential, all you need to do is listen to your instincts and become infinite yourself. Putting in efforts into something you absolutely love is the best feeling in the world.
So take a sip of Mountain Dew, get on stage and start living your dream. Things eventually fall into place. They surely did for me.