Comedy pioneer Papa CJ lays things bare, says he's not afraid of being judged
MUCH BEFORE THE current breed of stand-up comics in India began cracking up audiences at offshore and onshore shows, one funny man had already paved that path. Making the world go ROFL since 2004, Papa CJ grabbed attention with his gigs at The Comedy Store in London, Just for Laughs festival in Canada (2009), Melbourne International Comedy Festival (2015), Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and not to forget the Showtime USA Stand-up Comedy Special with Russell Peters in Amsterdam (2011), apart from kicking off a laugh riot with English Language in Delhi. However, entertaining people and making them laugh is not this 42-year-old stand-up comedian’s only forte. ‘Asia’s Best Stand-up Comedian’ according to a leading publication in 2014, CJ is also known for his motivational talks, and last month, the Kolkata-boy turned author and released his autobiography, Naked, inspired by his popular show of the same name. Feeling ‘at-home’ at Starmark, South City Mall, CJ who turned the book launch into a stand-up comedy show, giving into the request of a fan. In a free-flowing chat that we got to have with him, CJ touched on a number of topics, as the conversation veered from not fearing being judged, future plans and more. Excerpts from the interview:
Man without a plan
Papa CJ never planned to write a book, and as he explains it, being open to possibilities shaped Naked. In simple words, the humourist says, “After seeing my show, Naked, somebody came to me and asked if I could turn the show into a book. Shelving it for two years, I finally decided to take it up.”
Pizza and biryani
Writing a script for a show and the draft for a book is very different, remarks CJ. Elaborating on this, he explains, “In stand-up comedy, we try and remove every extra word so that we can get to the punch line as soon as possible. A book, however, offers you the luxury of making the experience richer for the reader, as you can throw in details and anecdotes. Also, a comedy audience that maybe three drinks down has less patience.” Agreeing that the gratification in comedy is instant as compared to books, he draws the analogy of pizza and biryani to explain that they both are worth relishing. “Pizza is fast food and biryani takes longer to cook. They are both enjoyable,” says CJ with a smile, emphasising that he wants to bring joy to people through his book.
Exposed yet comfortable
First with the show, and now with the book, CJ is exposing himself, but he’s not afraid to be judged. “The idea behind Naked is that as human beings, we build a wall around us that hides our deepest fears and desires. Throughout the book and the show, I have been removing one brick at a time from the wall. I am laying it bare and giving it to the world to judge me. It’s a difficult thing to do for a firsttime author, and it is terrifying yet exhilarating at the same time.”
When broke, motivate others
It was when he went broke that he nurtured his acumen of motivating people through his comedy, the alumni of the University of Oxford makes us note. Having joined a recruitment firm in London exposed him to executive coaching and soon, as a qualified coach, CJ trained employees of over 50 companies across the world. “I developed a module called A Comedian’s Guide to Marketing and Content Strategy, where I break down how comedians scientifically look at business,” explains CJ. He adds, “Today, as a comedian, my values and messages are the same, but in a world of limited attentiveness, I have to grab the attention immediately, retain it and convince the audience of my point of view.”
To say or not to say
Though CJ tells us he’s not following the Indian Comedy scene, he is happy that the art form is growing in the country, with the efforts of fresh talents. Making an observation on the flak that many fellow comedians in India have been receiving lately, he makes us note, “It is only when a comedian is quoted out of context, mostly because of recorded clippings during performances, that controversy arises. What is important is where you say something, rather than what you say.”
Fresh plans for 2020
Though at the very start, CJ makes it clear that he’s not a man with a plan, he has a few things lined up for this year. That includes more books, the audiobook for Naked, dealing with international rights of the book, and the possibility of a screen adaptation.
Naked, Westland, `414