Editor’s note: This interview is Part 2 of our conversation with SA. It has been edited for grammatical accuracy and clarity but may contain speaking quirks of the interviewee. This piece is not for the weak as it contains strong language. Click here to catch up on Part 1
I feel that a good chunk of people who came to watch Madrasi Da are going to come to this show and be like “I was not ready for this da!”
Almost audacious in his honesty, it is refreshing to hear Aravind share his opinions with candour and thoughtfulness. This grown-up version of Aravind has taken the time to unfold his personality and it shows in the polish of his expressions and ideas. Yet, it is comforting to know that buried not very far beneath, still exists that goofy eager Chennai kid that we all fell in love with. And trust me, none of us are ready for this new SA! In the continuation of our earlier conversation, we get a glimpse of what makes Aravind, SA as he takes us through his motivations, his thoughts on India’s standup scene and how he makes himself laugh the hardest. Enjoy!
Where do you get your content ideas from?
It is extremely autobiographical.
How much of it is true?
Safe to say, almost 50%. *laughs* The foundation will be somewhat true
So even the foundation is shaky?
Okay, sometimes you will end up having truth on the top floor so you have to come back and change the foundation for the truth on the top floor to work. Sometimes the truth may happen in the foundation and then by the time you build the top floor, you will be exaggerating! You keep shifting the goal post so somewhere there is the truth!
Describe a day in your life, please pick an interesting day!
A day in my life is pretty much being on the internet. The writing happens somewhere in between. Actually, when my internet connection is not working, then the writing happens. Pretty much everything happens online: doing my backend, helping a team produce my shows, striking up deals, planning tours. I end up working out of a space but pretty much I go online. Writing for me, happens in moments and then once it gets on paper, it becomes about workshopping it on stage.
So, you get up, brush your teeth, go straight to the office and then sit there in front of the laptop…
…with a lot of breaks in between, excuses for coffee and walks. I am not someone who can sit for long hours in front of anything. Even though I rent office space, I only go there 2 or 3 times a week. I like to keep changing up my routine. It’s very hard to explain.
You sound like you are in the witness protection program with all this moving around…
Possibly. They have put this chip in me. they are tracking me. Yes correct. How did you know?
We all have that funny friend who tells hilarious jokes but how is standup comedian different from him?
The difference comes from the fact that a standup comedian needs that attention and would go to any extent to get that attention whereas the funny guy does not need the attention beyond what he gets in a group. Wanting the adulation and attention from performing is what sets apart someone from being great and a professional.
When you first started, you failed 25 times but you kept going. What was the motivation?
If the failure was really scarring to the point of no return, I would not have come back. It was not of a scale where it would have killed me especially since standup was still new. I also had enough friends who saw potential rather than just my immediate results; turns out that’s what you need friends for! I have to give them a lot of credit because we don’t have people who look at your growth, from a non-fan point of view. You need people to look at your growth and tell you more than ‘you’re amazing’
When was your aha moment, the moment when all of it clicked?
That would probably be the solo show debut in Chennai, in 2015. People have come to see a multi-comic lineup but it was the first time anyone ever did a solo in Chennai. The solo was the first time, we realised that there was a clear commitment to a brand. Before that, we didn’t have an identity or brand that fans could root for. We were all backstage, we were holding each other’s hands like one deep karmic exercise, passing on good energy to each other and we could hear the crowd go mental just for the house music and the show announcements. It was that moment when we realised that there was a shift happening and we were scene breakers. In fact, when I went on stage I was not ready for it at all; the first 3 minutes you could see it in my eyes: what are they screaming for? That’s when you realise that is how standup comedy works: it’s when the audience is connected to an artist and is invested deeply. There is a huge payoff once they connect and you also feel like pushing yourself more than ever imagine doing before. On stage, they like you for your naked self so you don’t hold anything back.
What is your ambition as a stand-up?
I want to explore the pushing boundaries and also explore facets of my personality. Standup comedy is the place to unravel all these. Balancing on the tightrope of winning the audience over while still conveying my points would be it. I want the audience to have a good time and not just be ‘ look how well he handled the sensitive topic!’ but the sensitive topics also attract me because it is a challenge. Anything sensitive automatically means there is a huge potential for it to resonate in the same way everything relatable, like wife and middle-class jokes, can also resonate.
Do you think vulnerability is key to be a good stand up?
It is super duper important. Why would you want to go and listen to someone who is amazing at everything he does…that is a Tedx talk, not a standup comedy show!
How did you develop the self-deprecating #forever alone stage personality?
That is really who I am in real life! It is an extension of my personality. On some level, and where you know it can be used to your advantage, you can play it up. Once you have the confidence that people like you, it’s okay being vulnerable. You are just telling them that you are a ranty angsty person and expressing these sides of yourself on stage. When you know that the overall feeling towards you is love, what’s the big deal?
In earlier interviews you have mentioned that stand up is where India’s middle class is represented accurately, more than cinema or television – why do you say that?
I would rephrase it as stand up representing the urban privileged upper middle class. Stand up is filling that space because it is in English and is a live show, which costs more than a movie. Economics and language act as automatic filters. TV is already playing to a different demographic. Cinemas are a different ball game.
Does that not disadvantage the scene?
In India, stand up is predominantly for this segment of society. The language might differ but you would have people with the same social background coming to watch it. In Chennai, Tamil speaking comedians play in a completely different market and there is no intersection. English is becoming more and more the common language and all of them have access to social media. Naturally, stand up becomes a natural fit because it is their identity, the English speaking jeans wearing pub hopping culture, that is being represented. They are never going to be able to be represented fully at home because they are still living with their folks who aren’t really that way. That said, it doesn’t stop anyone who considers themselves the opposite but has the interest and spending power, from enjoying it.
What makes you laugh?
My own jokes.
Macha, what? Come on, try again!!
No seriously, my own jokes. If you see myself laughing my head off, in all honesty, I’ll be watching my special or some youtube interview or clip. I would not call it as narcissism because it doesn’t extend to other works of mine. It is something my friends accuse me of and tell me ‘Do not enjoy your own jokes so much, it is not nice!’ But so many people don’t appreciate my jokes so I am going to do it.
What is your favourite joke to date?
That kind of advanced system I don’t have… *trails off* How come nobody has ever asked me this before? *pause while SA mildly panics and does some internal assessment* Okay, I can assess it from an objective point of view but not subjectively. I know which are the popular jokes, which are safe and which are tricky. That is usually my assessment of my jokes.
Oooh, which one in Madrasi Da is the trickiest?
The trickiest one has to be the joke where my Hindu friend converts to Christianity and my whole take on the conversion and the wedding. It was the first time I went into social issues that Madrasi da didn’t have much of. I did it the first time in Singapore and it worked like a beauty. It is the power of taking topics the audience doesn’t expect you to. But since it is tricky, the satisfaction I get out of it is also “wow.” These are all things that we see but where are we talking about it?Cinema or TV can’t show your friend is converting because there will be ten thousand other factors. You will either see it on the news or you hear it in social circles. So imagine a proper act, with a story, drama and some information about stereotypes associated with conversions packaged in comedy – that is why it works the way it works!
Name your 3 comedy influences
Goundamani*, Crazy Mohan*, Louis CK…pre controversy
What’s the one surprising untrue fact about South Indians?
South Indians are extremely humble.
Umm, it’s not coming through this interview…
Well, it’s more of a case where North Indians make us look humble
What do you think Singapore can learn from Chennai?
Nothing. Singapore is the model we want to learn from. Let there not be a position where Singapore is learning from us because that will be sad.
What do you think Chennai can learn from Singapore?
Good question. Ummmmmm. Hmmmmm. Mmmmmmm.
Are you thinking of the politically correct answer?
Correct. Oh right. The Singapore government had a campaign asking Singaporeans to take more leave so they can stay at home and… what is the politically correct term for “fornicate”?
Um, Chennai doesn’t need to learn that from Singapore…
Correct. Chennai SHOULD not learn that from Singapore
Share with me your funniest troll comment
Stop dividing India as north south east west! *laughs* I’m like, ‘Okay, I put my scale [ruler] and pencil down’
The last time in Madrasi Da, you talked about your brother getting married. Since then, it seems a lot of your friends have also gotten married but uh, you have not. We can help..want to tell us about your dream girl?
My dream girl is like Boomadevi*, she should be able to take so much drama to put up with me. I am a walking drama king, wait let’s not be sexist, I am a walking drama machine. I mean, just taking and not giving any back in return, okay?
Have you considered this is why you are single?
Yes. This is why I am not committing to a relationship. Watch “I Was Not Ready Da” for ONE DAY only on 7th January at 7pm, Nexus Auditorium, 5 Koek Rd, Singapore 228796, For more information on buying tickets, click here
Glossary *Goundamani is a Tamil actor, famous for his comedy in films from the 1980s to mid 00’s *Boomadevi is is the Hindu goddess representing Mother Earth.