Special Interview with PAPA CJ for Spark Icon
1. In the world where everyone dreams of an MBA and a huge MNC job, how did you chose Comedy as your career despite you having both the MBA from Oxford University and a Job with IBM? What was the SPARK that made you take this decision?
In 2004 I set off on a one year sabbatical from my management consulting job in London. It was a year when I tried many new things. I learnt to fly paragliders, trekked up to Mt Everest Base Camp, went backpacking in Kerela and went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. It was at the Fringe that I saw stand-up comedy for the first time. Here was a man on stage with a drink in one hand and a microphone in the other, just having fun. And that was his job! I could not imagine anything more awesome than that. With that inspiration, three months later I took to the stage for the first time.
2. What made you realize that you were a Good at doing a Standup Comedy Show?
I still don’t realise it. In fact the longer I perform the more I realise how little I know about this profession and how much more it is for me to learn.
3. How did your family react when you told them that you were going to choose Comedy as your Career?
My family were very supportive throughout my journey because they could see that I had found something that I was passionate about. It’s only ten years into the profession that my parents told me that they thought I’d do it as a hobby for six months and then drop it, but I just kept going on!
4. Over 2000 shows in 18 countries and still going. What motivates you and from whom do you draw your inspiration from?
It’s actually 25 countries now. I absolutely love doing stand-up comedy and being the reason for a smile on somebody’s face. That is motivation enough for me.
5. As a child, what did you dream to become?
I think when I was really young I wanted to be an actor. I was always a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan.
6. How did you feel when you were Performing your first Comedy Show? Can you describe your Journey starting from your first show to the Present?
My first comedy show was on a boat on the River Thames called the Wibbly Wobbly Boat. It was known for being a rough gig. As you might expect I was quite nervous but the show went surprisingly well. As regards my journey from then till the present, it’s been 2000+ shows in 25 countries and you’ve got a hope in hell if you think I’m going to describe all of it here! All I can say is that it has been a wonderful journey that has taught me a lot and also been a lot of fun.
7. How many times have you been dejected in your life? How did you bounce back each time when things were not happening the way you wanted it to?
That’s the beauty about comedy. We channelise our pain into comedy material and it provides relief not only to us but also to others who may have been through similar challenges. It allows them to see the lighter side of it.
8. Can you share with us the events in your life that shaped you into one of the Comedy Kings in India?
Your words not mine. Comedy, in my personal opinion, is not a competitive sport. The only person you should aim to be better than is the person you were yesterday. I did start off the English language circuit in India in 2009, thereby giving a platform to new comedians. For that reason I’m occasionally referred to as a pioneer in the industry in this country. However anything else that has happened has been due to my passion for the profession, hard work, blessings and help from well wishers and my share of luck.
9. What will be your 3 “Life Quotes” to our audience?
Don’t let the world change your smile. Let your smile change the world.
Ideas are funny things. They don’t work unless you do.
10. People say, “Failures are the Stepping Stones to Success”. Do people need to actually fail to be successful? Can't things be learnt in a Winning Path?
Not in comedy. In comedy, you learn nothing from a good show. You just walk off thinking you’re fantastic. However in our profession, when we are on stage, we get feedback every 15 seconds by way of audience laughter. If they aren’t laughing, you need to adapt instantly. Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation when you can’t. And trust me there are few things worse than trying to make people laugh and getting five minutes of silence. So when you’re on the way home, you think to yourself, “If I’m ever in the same country with a similar audience again, what can I do differently so that I don’t look like a fool again”. That is what makes you grow. So you just have to keep putting yourself in different and difficult situations repeatedly so you learn how to play them. In comedy, therefore, failure is the only route to getting better.
11. Who is your mentor and what qualities of his do you like to possess?
I don’t really have a specific mentor but there are multiple people from whom I’d like to imbibe a range or qualities. The character trait I admire the most in another human being is humility. Also, I like people who respect the time and show respect to their fellow human beings.
12. Can you tell us your experience about sharing the stage with Russell Peters?
In my opinion, Russell Peters’ greatest attribute, one that I would like to practice to whatever extent I am capable of, is his large-heartedness and generosity. That alone is enough to make me a fan.
13. Forbes Magazine called you ‘The global face of Indian stand-up’. Can you share the lessons learnt the hard way to get to this height?
It’s just a quote from a magazine that I’ve put out there for marketing purposes. You can’t let it get to your head. You’ve just got to work hard and be good to and professional with the people you work with. And if you have the talent and luck, things will work out for you.
14. You have coached executives from over 50 blue-chip companies including Nike, Google, BBC and more. How were you able to shift between Corporate Management lessons and Stand-up Comedy? Do you see an interlink between them?
Yes. There is an interlink. Both of them require a great understanding of human psychology. And your soft skills and emotional intelligence need to be on point. Well at least if you want the audience to like you on a comedy stage. However, the key difference is that in comedy you are the star of the show and in an executive coaching session, your audience are the stars. When you coach, the less you speak and the more they do, the more successful the session is.
15. For the people who would like to choose standup comedy as their Profession, what will be your advice?
Nowadays everyone wants to get famous before they get good. They want to learn the tricks of the trade before they learn the trade. It is important to grow in the dark. Before you hit the limelight you have the freedom to make mistakes. Enjoy that freedom, experiment and make your mistakes. Also remember that with most artistic professions, you love what you do, you get good at it and then the money comes. But the fact is that you never know when the money will come or if it will come at all. So you have to be able to last that out. You have to figure out a way to feed your stomach while you feed your soul.
16. The nightmare for most of the Professionals is Shifting careers. Is this something that one should fear so much? As you have already had the experience of choosing an entirely different field, can you share your thoughts about this FEAR.
If you don’t roll the dice, you won’t get a six. Roll the damn dice. Like they say, if you want to walk on water you’ve got to get out of the boat!
17. You have created World Records of having completely filled theatres on your show in many countries. What do you consider as your Ultimate Achievement?
Being respectful to my fellow human being and having been able to bring smiles on the faces of hundreds of thousands of people whether through comedy, motivational speaking or some of the charity projects that I have supported.
18. What do you tell yourself every morning when you look into the mirror?
You need to lose some weight fatty. And, do I really need to shave?
19. How important is everyday learning to you? Do you read books or watch movies to take your inspiration for the Show?
I’m not that disciplined. I go with my gut and feel. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn’t. I just go with the flow.
20. Tell us about the book “Naked” that you are authoring based on your show. How close is that book to your heart?
Initially, when I was offered a book deal I could not understand why anyone would write a book. They way I saw it, either you had a story that you were dying to tell or it was an ego trip to see your name in print. I already tell my stories on stage and the ego trip is not a motivator for me. However, as I’m writing more and more of the book, I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s allowing me to delve into my past and bring back and relive so many experiences, stories, people and feelings that I had forgotten. That is turning out to be a lot of fun. The book will have so much more than what the live show had.
21. Being full of energy is a vital part of your Profession. What do you do at the times when you feel very low? How do you handle emotional problems?
I remind myself that the hundreds or thousands of people who have showed up for my show on the night have come because of a promise. A promise that I will make them laugh. So no matter how I’m feeling, as a professional it is my duty to my audience to deliver on that promise.
End Of Interview