Ever since his latest show, Naked, first debuted some time back, Papa CJ has only been receiving positive reviews for his autobiographical act. In Naked, he actually undresses himself while talking about his life. The show has got people laughing, and also crying. The stand-up comedian, who gave up a UK-based corporate job to become a comic in 2005, has headlined Carolines On Broadway with the performance, and also presented the act at Soho Theatre, London, UK, in February. This July, he is headed to the Just For Laughs festival in the UK. Here, the artiste speaks about his influences, an upcoming book, and where he draws the line with his jokes.
How would your describe your journey as a stand-up comic?
The journey has been wonderful. I’ve had the privilege of making thousands of people laugh; of seeing them throw away every care in the world, even if it is for a little while, and just be happy. I have performed at comedy shows, corporate shows, weddings, birthdays and even baby showers. And on countless occasions in India and abroad, I’ve had people come up to me after shows and tell me that I make them feel proud to be Indian. All these words have given great meaning to my work.
Do you think freedom of speech should be complete, or do you feel there should be ‘reasonable restrictions’ on what a person can utter on public platforms?
Unfortunately, our audiences often don’t realise that offence has a lot to do with intent. A comedian’s intention is almost always to entertain and not to offend. The problem in India, however, is that stand-up comedy is taken seriously. I have a lot of respect for all my audiences, and while I have no problem teasing and embarrassing them in jest, I’m very careful not to be hurtful. In my experience though, most audiences are ready for anything. Once they understand that your intentions are simply to entertain, they will allow you to play with them. The danger comes when you put content from a live show on the Internet; it is very easy for that to be taken out of context.
But where do you draw the line when it comes to the kinds of jokes you present?
As comedians, I don’t think we should have to think twice about expressing our views. But, what we have been forced to think about is ‘where’ to express our views. My thumb rule is that if I’m performing at a corporate or personal event, it is my duty to respect the boundaries of the audience’s environment. However, if you have come to my show, you’ve come to my environment to see what I do. If you don’t like it (the show), you’re welcome to leave and never come and watch me again. I need my audience to relate to where I’m coming from, and not necessarily agree with it. Also, with a live audience, sometimes the only way to know where the line is, is to cross it. And each time that line is crossed, it goes just a little bit further. So as comedians, we often playfully dance on the line – two steps forward, one step back. Then, repeat.
You’ve also said that you don’t want to offend people…
No. Offending people is definitely not the point of stand-up comedy. Each comedian does comedy for different reasons, and may have different goals when they are on stage. My goal is to spread happiness, and therefore, I try not to intentionally offend anyone during my performances.
Who have been the greatest influences on your life?
In my early years as a stand-up, Chris Rock was probably the comedian I admired the most. Russell Peters has influenced me by virtue of the human being he is – large-hearted, down to earth, generous and helpful.
Are you altering your show in any way for the upcoming Just For Laughs festival?
Naked is already designed for international audiences. There is very little I need to do to adapt it for any English-speaking audience anywhere in the world. That being said, the show is being turned into a book, which will be released in early 2017.
What have you learnt in your 11-year career as a comic?
Always keep experimenting and making mistakes; that is the only way to grow. Ignore what people say about you online. The only opinion that matters is that of the audience that has paid to come and see your show. Don’t ever think you know it all, and compete only against yourself. And most importantly, have fun.