Papa CJ Stands Up For A Good Cause
Papa CJ counts among his fans MP Shashi Tharoor. Should that not persuade you to go see him this Sunday, September 4, at Blue Frog, then know this: the stand-up comedian will donate all proceeds from his show to his charity One Child, which helps provide education and health services to children across rural India. The New Delhi-born CJ has done over 800 shows worldwide, and can list among his many achievements being shortlisted in 2008 as one of the world’s top ten comedians on American television show Last Comic Standing. Ahead of his Sunday gig, he tells us about why he thinks comedy on Indian TV is rubbish and the dodgy origins of his name. Edited excerpts:
Tell us about your ‘Great Comedy for a Great Cause’ series of shows.
I’ve always believed that better education is the long-term solution to many of the problems our country faces. I set up a charity six years ago that works to get underprivileged children in India out of child labour and back into the formal schooling system. Every year, I’ve run fundraising nights in London under the banner of ‘Great Comedy for a Great Cause’. Now that I’m back home, I’d like to take this initiative forward here. Hence this series of shows.
What’s the origin of the name Papa CJ?
Papa CJ is but a literal translation of my real name. I was born in the Vatican where it is customary to name the child after his or her distinct physical features; my parents thought it would be appropriate to give me a Latin name. The word “Papa” comes from the Latin word “massivus” and the letters “CJ” come from the Latin word “genitalius”.
Finish this sentence. Anna Hazare, Manmohan Singh and Suresh Kalmadi walk into a bar…
…Kalmadi asks for chai-pani and Anna refuses to have anything until Manmohan agrees to sign the bill.
If you had to, who would you rather take on in a stand-up comedy battle: Vir Das or Russell Peters?
I’ll take on the winner between them in the final.
You almost got knifed after a performance in a Birmingham mosque. What happened?
If I told you, I would have to kill you because if the story got out, chances are someone would come to kill me! That being said, I do talk about it on stage…so just come along for the show. But I have performed in the strangest of places including inside a police station in London, for the police, in order to get someone off the hook for drunk driving. I’ve also performed stand-up while holding the head of a person, while a doctor put 32 stitches on her, in order to distract her from the pain.
You went to Lawrence, Sanawar and then to Oxford University for an MBA. Which schooling experience has provided the best material for stand-up?
Sanawar of course. Nine years of mischief in a boarding school provides enough material for any human being to become a stand-up comedian. Although if you went to the wrong boarding school, you may have ended up walking funny for the rest of your life and you could make a career as a clown instead of as a comedian. That being said, an Oxford MBA throwing up his corporate career to become a comedian is a joke in itself. Let’s put it this way—I’m not exactly in their MBA brochure. They’re not telling people—come spend Rs40 lakh on an MBA…you could become a comedian one day.
You’ve been quoted as saying that stand-up comedy in India is rubbish. Do you still believe that?
I’ve probably been misquoted. This comment may however refer to my thoughts on what they show on TV…where someone cracks a joke, then the band smacks the drums and the audience takes the cue to laugh…and stupid “judges” laugh as if they’ve just heard the funniest thing ever. I fully respect that this caters to a certain market, however in my book, stand-up comedy is like sex—best enjoyed live and not in front of a screen.
Lastly, tell us about your first stand-up gig ever. Where was it? What was it like?
My first show was on a boat on the river Thames in South East London called the Wibbley Wobbley boat and it went better than I expected. Had it not, I would currently be rotting in the cesspit of a corporate organisation as an underachiever with little ambition who compromised on his dream to follow his heart, and now has to kiss the rear end of a man he despises so he can put food on the table and give himself the illusion that one day, his pathetic life may mean something when he has a fancy meaningless title that impresses nobody.