Vir Das may not be a household name in America, but in India, the actor and comedian is a huge Bollywood star who has changed the stand-up comedy landscape in his country.
He makes his Comedy Zone debut Thursday on the second U.S. leg of his Unbelievable Tour. Das recently discussed doing stand-up in a volatile world, how stand-ups evolved in India and how it translates here.
Q. Since we first scheduled our interview, tensions have escalated globally. As a global comedian, do violence, racism, hostage situations, shootings, bombings, etc., change the climate for comedy?
A. I think it changes what you’re looking at, but maybe not the glasses that you see the world with. In the last three weeks, I’ve added 10 minutes about Islamophobia and social media hatred to my show. A comedian can’t not talk about the world we live in, even in a personal show like mine. There’s too many elephants in the room these days, but let’s not forget that those elephants are fodder and are funny. I think every time I do edgy bits in my set, both the audience and me are just relieved that someone said it. We then smoothly move on to vulgarity and funner stuff.
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Q. What kind of comedy were you exposed to growing up?
A. Not much. I didn’t get into stand-up till I was 20. Then it was Carlin, Izzard, Eddie Murphy, Cosby and Chris Rock. I was always a kid that kind of lived in my own head. Growing up in three different countries will do that. Whether it was in Africa or India, feeling like an outsider gives you an interesting view on where you live.
Q. What kind of comedy existed in India prior to your success?
A. It was this very posh, British and above (age) 45 sort of art form in Mumbai specifically. So when I started doing shows (with more objectionable language), that got a lot of attention and a younger fan base.
Q. Is there a younger generation in India that wanted to see and hear something new in entertainment?
A. Absolutely! We have the largest population under 35 that is working on the planet. They have purchasing power, they are exposed to the best entertainment from across the world, they have very high standards, and I’m proud to call some of them fans.
Q. Do you think your experiences speak to Indian audiences in particular?
A. The show is about touch-points and failures in my life. Getting fired, losing loved ones, getting laid, first kisses, finding the right woman, a series of wrong women, getting arrested and more. Somewhere in there are also terrorism, the news, Islamophobia, social media, American movies, my culture and yours. So I feel like the material travels no matter where I am.
Q. With things like the Pajama Festival (which Das started), where do you see the comedy scene in India heading?
A. The Pajama Festival went from 4,000 to 27,000 people in three years, so it’s growing faster than we can handle. When we started in year one, our lineup was 100 percent domestic. This last year, it was 70 percent international. If we play our cards right, it will be India’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival in a few years, I hope. If we don’t, I shall be bankrupt!
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Friday, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Comedy Zone, 900 NC Music Factory Blvd.
Details: 980-321-4702; www.cltcomedyzone.com.