…that stand up comedian Papa CJ gave up his secure job as a management consultant to pursue his passion. He tells us why it is imperative to follow your heart, like he did.
In India, as we grow up, our families are always keen for us to ‘settle down’. There is a sense of urgency created around the point of ab hamaara beta settle ho gaya. What I have understood from it is this: finish college, get a job, get married, have two kids and then you are ‘settled’.
It is only recently that parents have started telling their children that they have the freedom to become what they want. However, I think parents say it but don’t necessarily mean it – often because they don’t expect you to call their bluff or deviate too far from the line. Try telling your dad you want to make a living playing in a band, or being a juggler or a magician. He will suggest you pursue it as a hobby. He will explain to you that it is almost impossible to make a decent living playing in a band and that the odds of succeeding are very low. As someone who is now making a living doing stand-up comedy, let me tell you one thing — he is right.
In the artistic field, you love what you do, you get good at it and then the money comes. The problem is that the time between starting to pursue your passion and the money coming is not only indefinite, it is also different for different people. There is no guarantee that the money will ever come. During that gap most people go back to their day jobs and stick to pursuing these things on the side.
When I was a child, my father always said to me, you can be anything you want to, even if it is a sweeper, but you must aim to be the best in the world at it. The catch here is, to be the best in the world at something you have to be passionate about it. It is the reason why I’m such a big fan of Sachin Tendulkar — because he simply loves playing cricket. It really is that simple. It is that passion that keeps him trying to learn and improve in spite of having been at it for over 20 years. It is that passion that takes you from the just loving it to loving it and making money from it.
I grew up in a simple middle-class family. As the son of a tea planter, the fact that I managed to get into the Oxford MBA programme and then got a consulting job in London was probably as much as my family could have hoped for.
But three years after being bored out of my skull in the corporate world, I did something very few Indians do: I took a year off to follow my heart. In that year I tried many things. I learnt to fly paragliders, I set up schools for underprivileged children, I trekked up to Mount Everest Base Camp and, most importantly, I stumbled across stand-up comedy. In my first 10 months as a comedian, I did 250 shows. After two years of being broke, I took up a job ‘on the side’ to support my comedy habit. Note that the comedy was my main focus and the job was ‘on the side’. I became the hardest working and most prolific comedian in the U.K. and every promoter knew that I’d go anywhere, any time for work and on short notice for whatever money was on offer. That got me a lot of work. In hindsight in my case ignorance actually was bliss because had I known how difficult it was to succeed right at the start and how few people actually make it, I might not have dived in at the deep end like I did.
I’m in my ninth year of doing stand-up comedy. I’ve now done over 1200 shows in more than a dozen countries across four different continents. I’ve performed on a plane, on a boat, on a train and on a bus. I’ve performed to audiences of thousands and to an audience of only three. I’ve played some of the largest festivals in the world and I’ve done weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and even a baby shower. I’ve had some fantastic shows and some that I’d really like to erase from my memory! Most importantly, I’ve had a lot of fun and I love what I do for a living.
If I were to give you advice, the most important one I’d give you is this. First, find something that you are TRULY passionate about. If you can do that, that’s half the job done. Beyond that, talk to people who are doing what you want to do, understand what it takes to succeed in that field, don’t let your ego get ahead of your talent and be humble and be good to people. If you can help others in their journey they will help you in yours.
And finally remember, while your passion will help you face your challenges, don’t be under the illusion that it is easy. If somebody is making it look easy then stand back and applaud their talent, because making it look easy is one of the hardest things to do.
I am reminded of the story of a lady who at the end of a concert was overwhelmed with emotion and ran up on to the stage to the pianist and said, ‘I’d give my life to be able to play like you’. To which the pianist calmly responded, ‘Madam, I already did’.
Papa CJ is an international stand-up comedian based in Delhi. He is the Chief Entertainment Officer of The Papa CJ Comedy Company and also runs a charity for underprivileged children. He can be reached at www.PAPACJ.com