Your audience will find you: Papa CJ

Photo: R. Ravindran  

What’s in a name? But then again, would stand-up comedian Papa CJ by any other name be as funny? It’s difficult to tell, because the 38-year-old comedian’s real name is one that has remained shrouded in mystery, since he first took the stage in 2004. But why? He chuckles, “The only reason I don’t tell people my name is because they keep asking me.”

His name, though, is something he reveals, along with many other personal tales of happiness and heartbreak in his latest show, Papa CJ: Naked. But why is a comic act so revealing? “There are no guidelines in stand-up, so you are forced to think about what you want to talk about. Initially, you just want to make your audience laugh, so you do some observational comedy. Then you want to be seen as edgy, so you use foul language on stage and pick on people in positions of power. But as you mature, the only way to grow is inwards. You start talking about the things that matter to you, and eventually your audience will find you.” And find him they have, in different parts of the world, for the show that has already been staged at the Shared History festival in South Africa and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is also to be performed at the Soho Theatre in London and on Broadway in New York next month.

One of the most popular stand-up comedians in India, Papa CJ never imagined a career as a performer. “My father was a tea planter. He went to Assam to work — at a monthly salary of Rs. 845 — and stayed with the same company for 35 years. As a middle-class tea planter’s son, you don’t dream of these things.” After a £ 30,000 loan to put himself through an MBA at the University of Oxford, and a four-year stint at IBM to repay the loan, CJ took a sabbatical in 2004, which took him to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There, while watching stand-up for the first time, he found his calling. “Then, in just the first 10 months, I did 250 shows — meaning everyday, I was on the road.”

But being a young, amateur comic is hardly a money-minter. So his quest for a day-job eventually led him to the Mind Gym, where he became a corporate trainer, working with Google at their European headquarters in Ireland, Nike in Netherlands, UBS in Zurich, Deutsch Bank in New York and Unilever in India. “That was phenomenal, because it really supported my comedy; I could perform whenever I was free.”

Once he moved back to India in 2007, international offers started coming in. In 2008, he was in the final 10 of the TV show Last Comic Standing and has also been featured on channels like Comedy Central, NBC, BBC and MTV, among others.

While he has performed with international stars like Russell Peters, he has not collaborated with many Indian comedians or branched out to make his presence felt in the digital space. “If you are going to leave the rat race to get into the creative profession, and get into a rat race in the creative profession, then you might as well be in the corporate world making safe and easy money. I do what I do because I love doing it. At my shows, I just want to sit and chat with my audience.”

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2020 4:41:21 PM |

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