After performing more than 2000 gigs across the world, “the global face of Indian stand-up” Papa CJ finally made his debut at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Alys Francis gets him to talk about his new show
Comics getting up on stage and telling us about their lives is a well-worn routine in stand-up. Of course comedians’ lives are not actually slapstick; they just have a knack for finding the funny in the everyday.
But Papa CJ is a little different. A man who has performed on a plane, on a train, in a bus, on a boat, in a police station, and in the emergency room of a hospital while holding the head of a girl getting 32 stitches on it, it’s safe to say he’s lived an extraordinary life. And when it comes to bringing out the big laughs, he has far more material than most.
It’s no wonder then that festival organisers wanted him on their stage for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival that was held between 26 March and 12 April, making him the first ever Indian comic to be invited for a solo show; before this he was the first Indian invited to perform at the prestigious Just for Laughs Festival in Canada, and he’s been winning over audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for more than a decade.
The Indian sun picked his brains about performing stand-up with a gun pointed at his head, climbing mountains in Nepal, and his side job teaching ‘laughter yoga’. And the tea-planters son with an MBA from Oxford bared all, telling tales of school, work, sex, and heartbreak.
Tell us about your new show, Papa CJ Naked.
‘Papa CJ | Naked’ is a very intimate comedy show. In this autobiographical journey that I take the audience through, one brick at a time I remove the walls that most human beings keep between themselves and others, exposing myself with all my vulnerabilities and all my pain, until I am completely naked in front of the audience. It is both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time because at the end of it, while I’m completely naked, I’m also completely free.
You once performed at gunpoint, how did that happen?
Johannesburg. South Africa. 2007. I was headlining a comedy tour. The promoter refused to pay me. I said I wouldn’t perform. He pulled out a gun and said I would! So there I was with 500 people laughing from in front of the stage and one person pointing a gun at me from behind the stage.
You’ve done 1000 shows across the world in 10 years, what was the most memorable?
Actually 2000+ shows. The memorable ones have been a stadium show in front of 9000 people in Malaysia in 2014, a gig in Las Vegas in front of 2000 people at the Paris Hotel in 2008, a rowdy Late ’n’ Live at my first Edinburgh Fringe in 2005, and a show in a hospital in Singapore where the father of a boy who had been in coma for 25 days and was paralysed waist-downwards walked into my room and laughed non-stop for 45 minutes.
Have you ever felt burnt out from too much comedy, or dreamed of a different career?
Never. I love what I do and there is no place I’d rather be than on a stage spreading both laughter and happiness.
You’ve got a really impressive CV, with an MBA from Oxford and being Parade Commander, National Cadet Corps. What’s been most useful for you?
Every experience you go through shapes the person you are. However, the greatest reason for any success I’ve had in any field whatsoever, has always been the love, support and encouragement that I have received from my family.
You’re a qualified ‘laughter yoga’ instructor, what exactly is this and will it be the next Bikram?
Laughter Yoga combines laughter with the breathing exercises of yoga to provide multiple benefits to mind, body and soul. The beauty of it is that it does not rely on humour and can be done with people of any age and background. I find it very useful when I do free shows in hospitals across the world. As regards the next Bikram, I don’t think I’d want to go there because he [Bikram yoga founder BikramChoudhury] is currently in the news for all the wrong reasons!
Tell us about your experiences scaling mountain peaks in Nepal.
I’m a trained mountaineer. In addition to the peaks I climbed on the Indo-Nepal border during my training, I’ve also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and trekked up to the Annapurna and Everest Base Camps. I probably have a thing for heights because I’ve also been bungee jumping and skydiving.
You’ve performed in Australia before, what did you find most surprising about the country when you first went there?
How expensive it was!
You’ve been doing stand up for 10 years and had huge success, what can we expect to see next after this show winds up?
Easy tiger! I’ve only just launched this show!