The Story Rules Podcast E08: Aravind SA – Standup comedian and Storyteller extraordinaire (Transcript)

Aravind SA
5. General

The Story Rules Podcast E08: Aravind SA – Standup comedian and Storyteller extraordinaire (Transcript)

This transcript has been created using a combination of AI transcription tools and (some painstaking) human effort. Please excuse any typos, grammatical mistakes, inaccurate time stamps, or other errors. Specifically, the time stamps would not account for the intro portion of the podcast.

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Intro hook:

“So the best way to address this, I thought, is the tip I give any aspiring public speaker just whatever your fears are, tell them that. Put it out there. If you’re thinking “Oh my god I’m gonna have a disaster tonight and I can’t believe all your faces are looking extremely ugly and it’s making me even more anxious”, tell them that. Yes, it’ll take them a minute to second or two to process and be shocked, but then the brutal honesty of the connection that you’re doing there will take you with them for the rest of the piece once you do that leap of faith you have to take the risk and that jump.”

Welcome to the Story Rules podcast with me, Ravishankar Iyer, where we learn from some of the best storytellers in the world, find their story and unearth the secrets of their craft.

Today we speak with Aravind SA, a leading stand-up comedian and extraordinary storyteller.

I had attended a show by SA in Pune many years back. I vividly remember one statement he made – and I’m paraphrasing here – he said, “I don’t make jokes, I tell stories.” 

Which is what he does in most of his shows. SA takes real life incidents that he’s undergone, many of them traumatic…  writes them down after extracting every drop of humour from them and then proceeds to perform them with his manic, intense, infectious energy.

But more than his funny bone and intensity…, what struck me was his deep, unabashed honesty. SA presents his full authentic self to you, warts and all.

For instance, he talks about his deep-seated need for attention… which makes him want to perform… coupled with his paradoxical fear of public speaking (which means he practices his routines obsessively).

He also opens up about mental health and how he copes with Attention Deficit Disorder.

This episode is a fascinating deep dive into the mind of an artist who’s as driven as he’s talented… and who’s fearlessly pushing the boundaries in his profession. 

Let’s dive in.

Ravi 00:19 

Welcome to the Story Rules podcast, SA.

SA 00:21 

Thank you so much for having me here. Looking forward to this.

Ravi 00:24 

Wonderful. So I do a bunch of research on the guests before, and this is one of the times SA when I’ve had the most fun researching a podcast guest. So my wife, by the way, who’s a big fan of yours,

SA 00:37 

That says a lot about your guests so far. That they have been boring and you probably found the most interesting one.

Ravi 00:45 

Well, ya, so it’s tough to compete with someone like you right? When it comes to the engaging nature of the content. But so, she’s like walking and I’m watching your videos, she’s like, , “what are you doing?” “I’m doing work.” So yeah, this is fun. And some of the questions that I’m going to ask you might strike you as, “Hey, why are you making such a big deal out of this?”, , it might be coming very naturally to you. But coming from the world of business, I feel that a lot of the things that come very, quote-unquote, naturally to a lot of storytellers like you, it’s not so easy for others, right? So my questions might be to try and figure out from your own natural, intuitive way of doing things that what is the method behind that madness? Right. So that’s what I’m going to try and get into and with examples that will take from your sessions. So I want to start with a question about your Twitter timeline, and I said, “Okay, , he must be putting a bunch of stories out there, his ideas, etc.” And I’m scrolling and I’m scrolling and I’m scrolling. And there’s football and basketball and basketball and football. You are a big sports nerd.

SA 01:51 

Yeah. But it’s also you have to view it in the context of what artists are using Twitter for. Rather Twitter’s journey as well, right? I don’t think Twitter is a place for stories anymore.

Ravi 02:03 


SA 02:04 

So we, I mean, people jumped off that ship, Twitter years ago. It’s almost now, today become a journalistic medium, official statements giving. Brands giving official statements or journalists getting to the point first, who’s getting the first news out who’s getting the first… Yeah, therefore, my point on Twitter, I am there purely for the data consumption part. For the story part there, but, yes, it enables me to keep my, my hunger for sports going, given that I play every sport possible, and also follow some of it very keenly, like basketball, football. I tend to, , it really helps me channelize my energy into doing something that I believe is right up my street in terms of interest, that’s all you’re looking for. You don’t want to be wasting time on something that you don’t really feel a calling towards; something often keeps assessing regularly. Whatever are we doing, is it adding to our overall what we have no, as a calling. Right from even if it means say having filter coffee every day “Hey” it’s still like “Hey, ya, this is something I’ve conditioned myself to believe I wake up every day to do.”

Ravi 03:24 


SA 03:25 

So, That’s how I see sports as well.

Ravi 03:27 

Do you find parallels between your work, storytelling using humor, and sports?

SA 03:32 

Yes, I realize a lot of my terminologies are reflecting this, the kind of sports content I consume. I realize a lot of my methodology is also reflecting the kind of sports successful sports templates that I feel, I am attracted towards. The whole point of the process, the whole point of staying in the moment, the whole point of never getting too high or too low, because every week managers and are expected to give press conferences, right? And, every week, the journalists are out there to create a big story out of it. Nobody, journalists don’t want the balanced approach because “Hey, that’s not going to sell my papers.” About how “Hey I am not too high or too low. I’m just about the path…” Who wants Buddhism in a press conference? But I mean, that’s I realized that sports have influenced me in so many ways, in terms of creating your own philosophy, blueprint but also like I said, in more explicit ways, like my language, and my command of the language, of English has improved big time, I would say primarily say due to sports because I’m not a reader. I stopped reading after school. That’s more down to my mental makeup. I have severe Attention Deficit Disorder. So, therefore, I know for a fact that I can never see through the books like how I used to, but my need and hunger for consumption is still there. So I acknowledged and accepted the fact that there are different ways in which you can consume. Yes, I would, I would preach reading to everyone, but, if somebody comes and tells me that, “Hey, I suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder” or anything along those lines, I would be able to, today, strongly tell them, “Hey, there are other ways in which we can equip ourselves. You figure out what works for you, it can just be consuming…” Like my language improved primarily from the consumption of such content, not necessarily from I mean, you think today, if someone talks to me, they think I’m one of those readers who has this nice wide wide range of books that has enabled me to, , go from point A to point B so comfortably, but no, that’s all come down from the long reads and the continuous consumption of, say, podcasts, or interviews or YouTube videos of ESPN’s, the mainstream things that Sky Sports and things like that. I realize a lot of those things influence you positively. And yeah…

Ravi 06:09 

This whole Leeds episode that happened, which is one of the most funniest parts of your act. I’m very curious to know what story was told to you by someone when you were a teenager? I don’t know how old you were in 2002 or 2003? When you became a Leeds United fan, because it’s not a very common thing, right? What was that story that was told to you?

SA 06:33 

Nobody told me a story. It’s just my exploration. I realized as a person, and I’m so attention-seeking, I have the trait in me, this all retrospect, of course, I have a severe demand for attention in me, there’s a deficit always on an everyday basis. And I feel like I felt when I look back at it, I realized that I’m also smart enough to understand that going with the crowd would not get me the kind of attention I crave for.

Ravi 07:03 


SA 07:05 

So if everyone’s doing Sachin, I did Mark Waugh

Ravi 07:07


SA 07:08 

Everyone liked, Red, and Blue, I did Yellow. So if everyone’s favorite Harry Potter characters were Harry Potter, Ron whatever, I did Longbottom. I’m like, “What do you know about Longbottom to even warrant being his fan or taking his username for your Yahoo id or whatever, my point would be, “Hey, exactly, you don’t know more. And therefore, I would be like to be the one who represented that person who is not represented enough” because deep down I think that is also what I feel reflects me in the sense “Hey I want to be represented more than I am.” Maybe it has deeper family things running behind how it manifests this way, but that’s how I looked at Leeds as well. Everyone’s doing Manchester United, and Arsenal and Real Madrid and Barcelona and I, I always feel like a “Hey, what about those other people Man?”, I’ve always stood there, I realized that’s how it’s manifesting. “What about all the other people who’s gonna be there? Okay” Yeah. So inadvertently, it also ends up giving me the attention I seek because I kind of positioned myself that way. But I don’t think it’s primarily driven by attention as much as driven by empathy. Because it’s that ability to empathize, which I think makes you want to put yourself in a shoe that others haven’t as much around you and therefore and take that as yours and embrace it and be able to run with it.

Ravi 08:30 

Incredible. When I came to your show, I came to your show the Pune one, I live in Pune 2018 or 2017, I don’t remember, Classic Rock. And one thing that you said around at the beginning immediately stood out for me. And at this I just, I think maybe six months or a year back I had attended a show by another stand-up comic. And that was the typical stand-up comedy around that time, which was a set of jokes typically made around saying okay, , Punjabi and Tamil and whatever, accents and how will a Bengali behave and, and so on. Right? And we lapped it up, so we were none the wiser. I remember you saying at the beginning SA, that I’m not going to do that. I’m going to tell you some stories and you actually called it out at that time. So, which was interesting. And now I think probably many more stand-up comedians call themselves storytellers. But was there in your journey, as a comic, was there a moment when you realized that “Hey, this should be about stories”, or was it kind of always there with you?

SA 09:34

I think it was always there with me. I’ve always, but there are continuous moments where you do feel reinforcements of that. But the fact is, it has always been there because I studied film direction as part of my post-graduation. And I worked as an assistant director with aspirations of wanting to make a movie and write a story long enough to befitting of a movie, the long form of a movie, and all those things. So, again, due to a combination of reasons, but primarily being Attention Deficit problems, it is very hard to crack, the kind of intensity and long hours required to do that long-form justice, especially if you’re (having) high standards for yourself. That’s, that’s those are two things, either you lower your standards and finish the goal and take that as progress and move forward and say, “Hey, I learned on the fly”. Or you keep such lofty standards that you cost yourself insane self-loathing, but at the same time, you keep a pedestal that makes you feel like “Hey, by keeping it that lofty you push like you would like to be pushed”, right? So it’s a, I’m very aware of these things, so, therefore, I realized that storytelling was my thing. But filmmaking required a discipline that I was not capable of. Whereas stand-up comedy offered an outlet where in spite of my lack of discipline, I could still find a way in which I can tell those kinds of stories. Even if it was not fleshed out, like how it needs to be for a film. The level of fleshing out that I could do was more than good enough for the level of stand-up comedy required. Given that in stand-up comedy, especially when we started, we were the first movers in India. So it’s not like there was a standard to be met, or a template to be followed, or anything of that sort, we were pretty much punching in the dark. So that really helped in terms of exploring something with no judgments at all. By judgments, I mean, from within, because I had so many judgments or whatever I was trying to do for long-form, given, you’ve been so judgmental of everything around you in that form, and you consume so much and you have so many strong opinions. When you’re so stubborn and opinionated and passionate, and all, it, I mean, we always think we can get away with it, but if you have an honest conscience, I think you will be the first one to suffer because of it. Because you will be passing all of those about your own

Ravi 12:00 

One of your worst critics.

SA 12:01 

Yeah. So of course, so whereas in stand-up, though, whatever limited ability I had, whatever I could manufacture with that, turned out to turn out also in a time where there weren’t too many limiting factors in the ecosystem of stand-up comedy. So it ended up coming out in its such an original form that I had, and it ended up taking up the position of an original in quotes just because of the nature of the situation then, and I stuck with it. Because I also like to, I don’t like to experiment. So if I cracked something, I like to, I guess I’m very risk-averse, also in certain ways and I take a major risk, and am also risk  averse. It’s a funny paradox that I still to date, I marvel about how our minds can be… but… So I just stuck with that format, I didn’t really care about having to add more to that, expand, the style further, beyond stories and say, doing the kind of short-form stand-up that is popular all over the world, that need not necessarily be about stereotypes but it’s more a case of writing short-form jokes.

Ravi 13:22 


SA 13:23 

Whereas I can, I’ve never written short form jokes, I am writing my third special now I have written, say 400-500 minutes of material in my life. And, and I can say I, 5-10% of it would be two-minute, one-minute, two-minute, three-minute jokes. No before-afters. Everything else would be an 8 minute-10 minute story with so much of a before and so much of an after. And a lot of segues in between, I realized when I start dumping data from my brain, it’s like, “Hey, brother, let’s just explore within that framework, and, bifurcate, as much as possible, within that framework.” And whereas, which I realized works also because for the outsider if you’re not a keen analyst, you’re just gonna think, “Oh, he’s touching multiple topics.” Whereas if you talk and we have a conversation like this, where I also feel and I don’t necessarily explain myself this way to everyone but there then you will know that I am not touching multiple topics. I am trying to get to one topic, but because of my ADD nature, and my whole obsession over this restless energy that I have, I end up bifurcating within the topic that gives you the impression of – “Oh, look at him while talking about birthdays ended up talking about Facebook’s and Alumni reunions and, what else, social media and things, stuff like that. That is, yeah, that’s something only the artists, the creator would know where it came from and what that process is, and if you asked me to write a two-minute joke today, I mean, it’s not that I can’t do it. It’s like that, I’d rather take a challenge and write on that kind of a challenge than do a two-minute joke. Because hey again you have to fill up 60 minutes, I am better off because ‘Volume’, you need to fill it out in volume, right? Like if I see when Bombay comics come to my show, and they’ve seen me perform,

Ravi 15:17 


SA 15:17 

The comment you get for them is “what you do in one show is what I do in three shows” They tell me your 60 minutes of one special is my three specials put together. Because I cram so much information in and because of the speed at which I talk, my speed of thought, speed of delivery, and all those things. I realize I can’t do slow-burn because it makes me, I’m too restless and anxious that way. I have to keep, I have to do this unwinding, I’ll have to do it whenever I have the main. So but that doesn’t make me insecure to the point where I want to because three shows me thrice the money. Right?

Ravi 15:58 

Yeah, of course

SA 15:59 

As opposed to what show I can complete from a business point of view, I can completely understand. But 

Ravi 16:04 

It won’t be you

SA 16:06 

Yeah, and business, money never motivated me like that. So it’s been. So, therefore, I can acknowledge that I sometimes try to take that into account, which is why the Leeds United story that you spoke of in my show, I had kept it in that show, despite that, not originally being part of that show. The, It is, so ‘I was not Ready Da’ the show name. And of it, the Leeds United story is what 10 minutes, which is the bang in the middle. And though ‘I was not ready Da’ to show, so if the 75 minutes of the show or which 10 minutes is Leeds United, remaining 65 minutes was created in an era where I had understood stand-up and I had written lots of types of stand up to know how to create a really tight set. Leeds United was one of my earliest first stand-up writing ever 8 to 9 years ago. And at that time, I just wrote standup like I was writing a blog. But then that is a story that I wanted to share with people and get it out of my system in some sort, so I tried doing it my first special in ‘Madrasi Da’ I didn’t fit because it all Madras, there’s no need to do Leeds

Ravi 17:12 

Yeah, yeah

SA 17:13 

It wouldn’t have fit. Then in my second special, I thought, “Hey, it’s not a great fit, because I can see how the story is going like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.” And I reached the point where before Leeds United, the whole Sanskrit and all of that, that gives you a really nice high and then post that, is a strip club, and then condom buying story, and the one-night stand, and those are all really populist and high laugh kinda things.

Ravi 17:35 


SA 17:35 

But I chose to put the Leeds in because of what I just explained to you as a theory, which is to say, “Hey, let’s try and, and learn or explore what it takes to put such a misfit of a set, in terms of structure, format, everything about it is, because it was created eight years ago. For you to go rewrite that today, you’re not, you’re never going to be able to recreate that excitement that you felt that you wrote in the first time. Re-tweaking doesn’t give you that kind of joy at all. So for you to, so I had to take what it was and try and just do minor tweaking here or there. And I realized it’s verbose long stuff, it’s going to bring out so many lulls. So I had to put it in the middle because I knew I could still pick them up after that and give them a breather in between. So positioning of it in this special matters. And I also realized, it is so not like the style of the rest of the show. When I get to that, mentally, when I’m in that, when I start the story, I, every show, 100 shows I’ve done, I still tell myself, I had to recalibrate my head to say, “Now we’re slowing down, we are going to tell them a story. You’re not even going to act like there are jokes here”, which is also to manipulate them to believe that “Hey, relax, this is not going to be funny. But I still want to tell you. Why? Because this is what I want you to, this is what I want to take you with, a ride I wanna take you on. So that took a lot of conviction and convincing myself every show because I know that portion is shitty, because when you said it’s a favorite or the best thing, I was like, “Hey, I can tell you that in terms of data it’s not”, like in terms of laughs per minute, or the 100 shows that I’ve done, it’s the part that would always die. But I’m like, “Hey it’s still my baby.” And I wanted to put that baby here to feel the discomfort of adjusting to an act that might not be your style. Because you get a lot of learning from that. And you have to get it out of your system to discover the next time you go into a scenario like that. Right? In the next special you might get into a story that’s going to be really uncomfortable and it’s not necessarily ‘haha’ funny. It’s more of you thinking about the shit whatever you said. So stuff like that, this allows you to explore and that’s how I put it in. And you know what, throughout that Leed’s story I have to motivate myself in my head to say “Don’t quit, don’t quit, we are almost there, we are almost there.” Because, the crowd is, you are losing the crowd because one out of 10 shows only you, you end up getting the kind of applause for that Leeds story like how the rest of the acts get because you need a crowd that relates to your kind of world, ‘football world’. For example, if I go to a very youngish Chennai crowd, who are not necessarily following football or just there for the craze of everything they’re not going to be interested in. They’d rather hear me get, want me to go to a strip club as soon as possible.

Ravi 20:32 

They don’t get the context of all the craze for a particular club and all of that

SA 20:37 

and the times of chat rooms and like if I’m talking about chat rooms, wherein I’m talking about a chatroom story of how they propose to a girl in high school that’s more fun for them than about how I spoke to a white guy who’s a Leeds fan who took me under their wing, right? So it takes certain, so you should have the awareness to know what type of content works for what kind of audience. Like when I go to Seattle and perform, the crowds there are pretty much in my age group. 30+,

Ravi 21:03 

Yeah, yeah correct

SA 21:04 

Microsoft and Amazon,

Ravi 21:06 

they’ve done this,

SA 21:07 

they’ve gone through the same journey as me, they have gathered the same kind of Western exposure. And they would relate to that more. So then I motivate myself to give a better performance there, whereas some shows in Coimbatore and all, where I know,  this is a young yuppie crowd, I’m like “Okay, listen, I’m not gonna not do this. I’m gonna breeze through this” as soon as possible. But like I said, that,

Ravi 21:27 

I’m glad you’re doing it but SA. Because I feel, yeah laughs, unfortunately, everything, we tend to metricise, right? We said, “Okay, how many are the laughs per minute?”, you know, why should it be about laughs? Why should it not be about engagement? If people are interested, and they’re listening, I think that’s a great metric.

SA 21:43 

So that’s what I went after the first few shows when I had to take a call of ‘Am I keeping it or not’, I basically went with “Hey, I don’t hear them talking when I’m doing that.” 

Ravi 21:52 

Yeah, yeah

SA 21:52 

I don’t hear them clapping or, or the laughs coming as often as I mean, they’re

Ravi 21:56 

not picking up the phones or

SA 21:58 

Yeah, I don’t hear them murmuring with each other. Or I see them clearly really really stuck to me, which is where I have to also end up realizing, “Hey, why don’t you up your skills of selling something that is bad.” So then I’ll also act supremely passionate about that story, and I’ll sell it like one hustler probably… The lamest joke, I do an over-exaggerated physical thing so that I grab their attention so they don’t sleep. It’s also the dip point where the attention span would dip. You are aware of that. Everywhere. It’s that point where they want to take their phone and be like “I wonder what’s for dinner?” Right?

Ravi 22:35 


SA 22:35 

And I like no, I can’t make them do that. So. So I have to do

Ravi 22:39 

I love this focus that you have SA, on the audience’s energy and attention, right? I mean, that’s a great lesson for anybody who’s a performer, we don’t think even like 1% of this level when we kind of do corporate presentations because there in the first five minutes people are on their phones. So I think that there’s some interesting learning for people like us, coming to these stories, right? So you’ve got a bunch of stories that you string together. I want to know a little bit of your process when you’re creating the set. When you’re scripting it out, do you like almost have, a set of stories written on some posts and you’re trying to see which one and this one will come? Then this, then this, like, how do you figure out your narrative?

SA 23:18 

No, I, that’s just a blank paper, Google Doc, and just go about pouring your heart out.

Ravi 23:24 

Just empty it out.

SA 23:25 

Staring at it every day. And there will be weeks where you make progress and there will be weeks where you’re just, your cursor is blinking. But it’s like I was reading, I don’t know who said it, I’m not sure if it’s Stanley Kubrick or, Woody Allen, but I was reading that one concept how they were explaining about how writing is almost like one floodwater system wherein you have to, like your first three, four days, you have to drain out what has been stalling or stagnating and that draining out is actually that purging is part of the process.

Ravi 23:59 

Yeah, sometimes, it’s will be just air that comes out of the pipe, but you need that and you need that dirty part and after that

SA 24:05 

and after that the dirty water. And then after the dirty water, there will be silence again and then you’re calling out saying “Hello, is anybody there?” Then some water will hit your face, that time, you will feel so amazing about it and you will stop beating yourself about the last 12 days of nothingness. Right? But you have to acknowledge that ‘nothingness’ is not nothingness, that is everything. So that is pretty much how I also create my these things as in, it just comes from staring, staring, staring. And of course, you also, for every person it differs. I only respond well if there is pressure. Unfortunately, I’ve created that dependency of 

Ravi 24:40 


SA 24:41 

deadline and anxiety and shame and, there has to be something that I have worked up in my head to the point of saying, “Oh my god, this is going to be so embarrassing if I don’t do” that level of self…

Ravi 24:52 

And it’s usually an external deadline or do you set it yourself?

SA 24:56 

It’s, I mean if it’s internal, when you’re so self-aware, you are so restless and you find so many ways of going around it. Whereas with external, you can if you’re honest enough as a person, then your only two options, self-flagellation, or you will meet the deadline.

Ravi 25:14 

So let’s say you do this right, on a Google Doc, you kind of emptied out, after all of that, then you’ve got, let’s say, a lot of material, and how do you then create a show out of it? … saying, “Okay, this will I’ll start with this, then then I’ll move on to this.” That’s the narrative part. How do you do that?

SA 25:30 

Yeah, I guess. See, I’ve created three shows so far. And all three happened in different contexts. Like the first show is never meant to be written as a show. The first show when it happened four or five years ago, I just had a bunch of stand-up sets that I had written as part of me trying to do stand-up comedy with a group where they will give you a 20-minute slot as part of that group’s… I mean ensemble, wherein three of us doing 20s – a 60-minute show. So I read multiple, I had made such multiple 20-minute contents because they wanted you to seasonally repeat the same group so that even if a repeat audience comes, you can tell them, “Hey, it’s a new 20”. So that gave me a good glossary of content, reserve of content, because of the way that but none of it was ever written with the idea of the end goal would be, you’d be a solo comedian…

Ravi 26:27 

Creating a big one, yeah

SA 26:28 

…people will come to watch you, they like you, you’d become, you can make a living out of this. And, the way to make it is creating shows based on you and your identities and everything right? So when I did my first one, I simply just lined up out of the 300 minutes of material I had, I just chose the best 90, or 100. And I felt, let’s draw the line here. And I chose the best order for it and the whole thing. So it is not the same as what I’m going through now. So I’m just trying to be clear on – I don’t know one universal thing is what I think

Ravi 27:05 

Way of doing it, yeah

SA 27:06 

… yeah so for the second one, I looked at “Okay, what is left from the previous one”

Ravi 27:13 


SA 27:13 

that I could use. But that requires tweaking because a lot of time had passed between the one and two. Evolution of the audiences has happened, you need to be very mindful of that you can’t… and your own sensibilities have changed. My first draft, my first 200 minutes, had so many cringe-worthy, sexist, casteist jokes, I myself had to unlearn. And I might have to go through the evolution of being a public figure or being put out there being criticized, being pulled up for things, and being an if you’re very sensitive as a person, you’ll pick up all the small details, and you have to apply it in your work. So the second one also came about in a way where I had some stories then I wrote some stories, also, because it was, it felt like ‘organic’ at that point of time. Then again, it came down to whatever I’ve written before and written now, I had to find out in order to put them together. And normally the order is dictated by what content is there in front of you. For example, if I have stories, and I realize but none of them can be a starter, then you go specifically think of how to start. By starter I mean…

Ravi 28:14 

And what drives that? Starting is really important, I guess what drives that?

SA 28:18 

Like in ‘I was not ready Da’ if you see the starting, I had done as the starting was about I made something that’s very relevant and topical. In the sense about how I was, the ‘Lungi dance’ video went viral. And then I got interviewed by the news channels, right?

Ravi 28:31 

Yeah, yeah.

SA 28:31 

So, I figured that could be a, so I actively wrote that. That is not something that was a written set, I wrote that because I wanted the new show to start with who I am for people who wouldn’t know. So I always believe because it’s that first 10-15 minutes is where you have buy-in from them. And you really need to go and give yours… I wanted to come up with strategically the best form of the 15 minutes possible in terms of should have good enough jokes, should also have enough of a hook for them to understand “Hey, this is, he is this guy.” In terms of legitimacy, in terms of conviction. By legitimacy, I mean, you don’t want to come across as a guy who they feel like is faffing around, or random stories out of thin air. No, you have come to a show for a guy who’s actually in the thick of the action.

Ravi 29:17 

Yeah, yeah, this became big, and yeah so…

SA 29:19 

Not big or small, the point is ‘legitimate’. By that I mean, I want your time and I want you to believe, give me your best time. Because only if I have that hook and buy-in from you will be, the next 60 minutes will be amazing.

Ravi 29:31 

Yeah, yeah.

SA 29:33 

So that’s something I’m very mindful of in terms of what to start with.

Ravi 29:37 

What are your other principles? So one could be this, what could be other principles that you apply to figure out what you start a set with.

SA 29:45 

So I think, again, your, start of your set should also be manipulative. At least that’s how I am because I’m so insecure, I end up manipulating the audience towards me by expressing all those insecurities in an indirect way. Now, that’s something I tell my friends who are all who want to go public speaking thing and they come to me for advice and I realized, unfortunately, today, like it or not, I’ve become an example, I’m not comfortable speaking in public at all, to date. I can’t do it. I mean if I have to do it, I’ll have to go and rehearse like a maniac.

Ravi 30:17 

You were not one of those ‘debate guys’ in school and stuff

SA 30:20 

Never. I would not even get on stage to talk. I would really be afraid. I took up film direction for a reason because I was afraid of being the person…

Ravi 30:28 

You’re behind the camera.

SA 30:29 

Yeah. I’d rather send people with my lines in front of the camera, you face that, and I’ll be behind and take the bigger role of “Hey, I’m the bigger man here”

Ravi 30:37 

It must have been so, taken you, so much courage SA to actually do your initial sets when , crowds may not know you, and people are not looking at you, they’re eating and

SA 30:48 

Well, it helps to have A) a therapist who thinks this is the best thing that could happen to you for your nervy nature, for your ranting, angsty, nature, etc. Because that, when we were contemplating stand-up comedy, it’s not like she knew what it was. We both googled it together when I said, looks like there’s something like this happening. And they’re asking me to give it a go. And that’s one and the other thing is, it also helps you have your best friend who started the stand-up comedy movement in Chennai, and his name is Bhargav/Baggy and when he started the stand-up comedy movement in Chennai, as part of the company that he was working for called Evam then. He pretty much pulled me and said, “Hey, I know you’re gonna run at what I’m gonna just tell you. But I really need you to think about, give this a go” because I blindly trust him with my life. He’s like, “I’ve seen you… When you talk about your stuff that’s happening to you and you’re not talking to 8-10 people, you’re just talking because you want to get it out of your head, it’s affecting you so much, you have no idea how engrossing and engaging and hilarious it can be.” He observed that one day when I called all my close friends to Besant Nagar beach in Chennai, one day 10 years ago, and I was telling them one of my love stories, I had to put them up to speed on, it’s the one week, we caught up after ages, then I had to put them up to speed with six months of one one-side love story that was happening my life. And I sat them down and I stood facing the beach and on the other side and, it was in the public space, in the, walking path was there. I was just telling them the story about what happened, hey this happened, that happened, I told this and she didn’t care. I tried this she wouldn’t care but then my ego grew blah, blah, blah. And then and then I, Bhargav basically, pointed out at, around 20 minutes later he asked me to stop and he asked me to look behind me. There were, apart from the 5 of us, there was a group of 20 sitting around us, listening.

Ravi 32:43 


SA 32:44 

And I didn’t realize because I was so emotionally engrossed in that I didn’t realize shit, I was just like, I gave all my personal life story, not to just 4 of my closest friends. And people around have also come in and it became a thing where they were laughing and they were like “yaaru da inda paiyan?”.Who’s this kid? Why is he so full of energy and at the same time, like a crazy range of emotions from sadness to happiness. Right? So that is what led to Bhargav actually cheating me into auditioning for the company. He cheated. He literally told me “come to the office, I have an emergency. I need your help here.” And the minute I came there, he was like, “Okay, buddy, there is no emergency.” I saw the finest of talents of Chennai there with the paper in their hand. And he’s like “there’s no emergency”, locked the door and he said “you’ve come to the audition for the stand-up comedy that we are starting in Chennai. And there’s no, there’s no running now. Remember the story you told in Besant Nagar beach a few days ago, just do the same thing.” And I was like, I said, “Bro, are you kidding me?” and He’s like No, you have to blah blah, blah. And I remember saying I said “I can’t, I don’t like being judged. I can’t do this. They will judge me. My English is not good, my accent is bad”, blah, blah, blah, everything. All the worst demons came out and then “he was like it’s okay, I’m here. It’s okay, I’m here”. So that, then the audition happened and I killed the audition. Simply because I was the only one who’s not prepared. I was raw. And there’s no style to it. no coherence

Ravi 34:20 

Also, it’s genuine, right? You’re not? It’s not a set of jokes. You’re saying it’s your life and sharing your story.

SA 34:25

I am exaggerating with jokes in those stories. Because exaggeration is something I like. That cute manipulation of that thing she would have never said but I would have made it like she said that, just so that I can get you to laugh… is what he spotted as a talent, right? Now I just did it to make them smile … my friend smile, but I didn’t realize it is a skill they’re involved in. So that is what started off this and for to answer your question for the next few years, I think I made it in life as a stand-up comedian only because of the fact that my first three-four years of that impressionable period. I had my best friend, I was part of that company who was trying to start a stand-up comedy movement in Chennai, and my best friend was leading the movement there. And therefore, for every setback, quitting was just not an option simply because he’s there to put an arm around my shoulder and say, “Hey, you got this? It’s okay. No, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, your brain is telling you, you’re, you just embarrassed yourself in front of…” because I had so many bad shows. There have been times where, in the middle of a show, I put the mic and I walked off to the side of the stage, where he’s standing, to say, “I told you, I don’t want to do this.” And the audience is still waiting like “why’s this guy in the middle of the performance leaving.” And I was like, why should I give them something, they are not even laughing or not even caring about who’s performing, etc. I had bad shows like. And then he’ll push me back saying “just go, we’ll talk and we’ll analyze and we’ll do all that later.” The kind of energy and bandwidth he had to handle the drama, an angsty person like me, and that’s why we got along from school because he has that kind of temperament. But that, I realized, oh my god, those four years or three, four years of him, just helping me normalize it; It’s not like today, the fear is not there. But today, the conviction is also there along with the fear. Like if I have to go try, I’m writing my new show now; even now if you see me, you go, if I go to an open mic night in Chennai, all 20 upcoming comics would be there. And they will see me in the road, sitting in and pacing around with the script in my phone, nailing the mechanics of every line. Because I cannot do it any other way. Because of those four years of that level of training, or that regime that I had to develop, to cope with my own fears about this, is lifelong, it’s going to be there. It’s never made me feel like I’m good at this now that I can wing it tomorrow with an idea that’s in my head, I can never do that. This process is what I hold on to for the rest of my life. Till I do stand-up comedy because I know this is something that I was not supposed to be doing. But I’ve done it. And every time I go there, I feel like “Wow, I can’t believe I’m doing this…” Even now, I can’t believe that. And I’m very happy that way, because I think that’s a unique way of how this works for this particular artist. I’m not saying it’s how it should be for everyone. This is this artist’s story. And I hope that can help people.

Ravi 37:06 

I think that’s a great lesson there SA that, ya, you have to find your own path. And in your case, there is this interesting one more paradox. We are talking about paradoxes that you love that attention that you get, you like you want that attention, but at the same time you have fear which a lot of people have fear of public speaking, but in your case, it seems to be reasonably high up there, right in terms of that. And so to combine these two that, okay, I want the attention, but no, I don’t want to be in front of so many people talking. Having that process, and, as part of the process, it’s writing down, it’s a lot of preparation, I guess…

SA 37:41 

It’s writing down, it’s reading out, it’s multiple feedback loops through focus groups that I would end up creating. So it is activating muscle memory every time. So then when you go to the stage, that’s not the first time you’re doing it, I am, because I have a very bad memory, so I can’t retain the line. So I really have to do it four times on that day before I go. So I have friends individually come up to me, I’ll book their times in advance saying I need 45 minutes of your time one-on-one. Come, I’ll do a video call and I will do the lines. Without assisted by a script.

Ravi 38:15 

So normally, I would, like assume that or I read that, people actually they say stage time is best. And you’ve mentioned this yourself, stage time is the best time. So I would assume that people try out or do these kinds of rehearsals in open mics. But you’re saying even the open mics need to be your best performance.

SA 38:31

I have to do it because I am not confident. I don’t back myself to date to just be able to go to the open mic and use it for me for that stage time to actually do me good, I have to do this much level of back work for me to get there to do that open mic to eight people. Because at the end of the day, it’s also because it comes from my nature, I can’t do a half-assed job of anything. And I’ve spent a lifetime of ‘not doing anything.’ And therefore I tell myself “Hey if you’re you’ve been this stubborn and you’ve spent a lifetime of not doing anything and when you end up doing something if you’re not obsessed over it that what is even the point of all this passion and this all this energy in you that’s all pent up in you. It has to manifest somewhere, some way and as long as this is not consuming me in a way where I’m… in a negative way, I think this kind of consumption in a positive way is great because I have acknowledged and accepted this as my method to indeed my madness. This is madness, absolutely because this can never make sense to people. Today I tell them like if I go tell them I’m a very insecure anxious person and especially about this job and this being in this line of fieldwork being a public figure is not what I signed up for. I don’t want to be a public figure. It’s so happened that a stand-up comedian’s profile is one that beyond a storyteller you also become a brand.

Ravi 39:47 


SA 39:48 

Because you, there’s all the other elements to, the visual elements to Who you are?, How you look?, How you present yourself?, What age do you appeal to?, Who do you appeal to? What do you stand for? And the fact that stand-up comedy in India is massive for that reason that you end up talking things that are not spoken about, in the way that we do here. So right now there’s a big representation, lack of representation that you’re also feeling. So there are so many other things that come because of us more and you have to take it in your stride. You, even if you’re comfortable or not, you have to take it. And I acknowledge all of that, and, and I’m okay with the, with this kind of, what do you say, the consumption that it takes because I think at the end of the day, the output is if it’s if it makes me satisfied about the output. And I’m, I’m super lucky to even be in the situation where, that’s what I keep telling “Hey, I’m super lucky to have even been in that situation where I’m able to make a living out of it.” Because before that I was one amongst the 1000s of aspiring creative assistant pupils out there in industries in whatever fields, waiting for their break. And today, looking back at it, there are still many of my friends who work way harder, and are way smarter, and have way less issues than me. And they are the kind of people I will hire, you understand?. I’ll never hire me, I can never hire me but I can, I’ll be like “Bro you…” but I realized it’s not always that way. Life can work in different ways where different people will get different kinds of calling/ calls. And, when you get it, I guess you if you’re, if you have gratitude that keeps you grounded, then I think it’s a beautiful thing because it’s every time I go there, the only time I feel comfortable, I feel nervous, 24×7 in a day, but then the only time I feel comfortable is that I take that mic and start talking to them. That’s when I feel the stress is not there anymore. And that’s so strange. Because this is what you’ve been stressing about the whole week, and then you pick the mic, the stress is not there. Now, that’s also because you pick the mic, the stress is not there because what you’ve been stressing about is over. Because that now just you and your prep, and it’s going to take you and then you, they have you, you have their attention because they believe when you create that belief, and I play off people’s belief, and so when I see them sitting there, feeling like “Man, I’ve come to spend quality time because I believe in this guy” that’s all you need. I’m like, “Done!, I can’t wait to go out there and do my best for you.”

Ravi 42:03 

For a 60 minute let’s say act, how many minutes or how many hours of rehearsal, what would be a rough ratio would be like three times four times?

SA 42:12

So again, it depends on the context of the rhythm in which I’m doing like if I’m in the middle, if I’ve been performing it week on week, the rehearsal necessities would come down, because there’s muscle memory, whereas if there’s a month of gap or something like that, then, on the days before leading up to the show, I would end up at least doing it two to three times.

Ravi 42:33

That’s amazing and that you’ve written

SA 42:33 

And again if it’s in my 10th or 20th or 30th show, by the 70th or 80th or 90th show, those things also change…

Ravi 42:41

and must be, right. But I noticed that you also add new stuff, even though because you would, something recently that has happened, I noticed that you added to…

Arvind 42:50

You do, sometimes, again it comes down to. That’s just pure laziness. In the sense you can always add, but it’s about when you spend so much effort and when you’re so obsessive and exhausted about during the creative process. Once it’s locked and you have something working your ego tells you, “Bro shut the system down, this show is set. We’re not changing.” But then there is an OCD in you, saying “but can we keep tweaking? Can we keep tweaking?” so you are like and you tell them “Can you please shut up?” Because if I am perennially gonna be doing it, where do I put my feet up. So I try and not tweak after 1/3 into my shows … deployment, I’m not saying, creation; Deployment, right? Because the 1/3rd of your touring with your new show, is when you’re also excited about the data you’re getting. Because you’re also in a time where we are flexible and you’re willing to give the show a wide enough range to say, it can go here, I’m willing to accept feedback and changes I’m willing to accept. 1/3rd later, for the 2nd, 3rd of it you’re like, “Bro, I, this is my expectation level for the show, and this is where I’m drawing the line, right?” Unless and otherwise something I had discovered in an improv improvised manner that’s amazing or somebody gives me a superb idea, I’m not changing anything. Then the final third you’re like, “Bro, I need to finish, I’m making money now, I need to pay my bills, and sell it to whoever or put it online and move on in life and write the next one.” So you would be mindful of that, of course, for the Amazon recording of ‘I’m not ready Da’ I have added the first 10 minutes the Biswa part of where I talk about how… Those are all things that I added one or two months before the show, because I did two months of US tour, and in two months and 30 cities and some 35 shows you’re bored of doing the same. So you want to genuinely do something but you don’t want to do something that will disrupt the whole flow because then I have to memorize, by heart, and recalibrate myself and you’re like, “Oh! I don’t want to do that.” So you try and do the stories that can just be a good starter. So, then you get it out of the way and then you get into your show, which is why I, whatever I try to add to the start. Because once, if you put anything in the middle, then the recalibration is a lot more, Imagine like, imagine you’re putting a bookmark in the middle of the book, as opposed to starting first few pages. So which is why I try and do all those things is the starting you do because you tell, at least in my head I always work in a very linear way, it’s first this and then this, and then this, like you throw a spanner in my works that’s it I’m all over the place. Which is why I can’t, so one of the reasons I can’t. I struggle to act, to date, I’ve never taken up acting because I realized when you’re so rigid and you have so many things you created a framework that, but, it’s a framework only I know how to operate in. Others, I can, like directors who reach out to me saying “No, you can, you are on stage, with so much connection you remember so many lines, What do you mean you can’t do this”. I’m like “Bro you have no idea about the process.” So don’t think, I respect your judgment call on thinking I can do I can pull this off, but if I’m gonna suffer to pull something off, I’d rather suffer for something I love, than for something that makes sense to do but don’t necessarily love, I don’t love acting, I don’t have any desire also. No matter how much money or whatever crazy opportunity; I’ve had some crazy offers given to me, never motivated me… and I’m very happy to be that way because I’m, I mean, I guess, it, that gives me the clarity I don’t ever lose sleep about, ” Hmmm If only I would have taken that Mani Ratnam’s project”, no it’s not, it’s okay. There are plenty of actors out there, How many stand-up comedians are out there that are good enough.

Ravi 46:16

In this Biswa story that you mentioned, I noticed one very small thing which is an interesting storytelling technique that I teach. So you talk about you are in a flight which is going from, I think Chicago to Minneapolis so the flight is delayed, and you’re like stuck in the flight. and I remember how you, like, slowly introduced the challenge of being there right so I call it, releasing information in a controlled manner. So you, kind of, don’t directly say “Hey I was” you could have directly said, “I was sitting in the middle seat with two white ladies.” No, you said, “you know what, I’m stuck in aircraft for six hours. And you know what made it worse. I was in the economy section, you know what made it worse. I was in the middle seat” this when I was, hearing you say this and, finally come up with the white ladies. There’s a line by Christopher Nolan which I was reminded of where he says that narrative is nothing but the controlled release of information. So you’ve got information but you’re not giving it all away at one go. And this has incredible implications, even in the workplace, when we are dealing with even corporate presentations, we can use this principle. Do you again, do this consciously?

SA 47:29

Yes, conscious, very very conscious because this is the part where being so manic about things, so particular. This is where it really helps. Yes, you’re absolutely right in terms of, I’m very aware of. For that story to work, I really have to escalate it. And that escalation has to be organic. And I have to gauge that is the skill wherein you gauge how many such escalations are required for you, to be within the realm of possibility. You don’t want to go way overboard and make them lose that suspension of disbelief and be like “He is actually faffing here.” So that tightrope balancing is something that you’ll have to gauge, through a combination of ways. I guess one way is you will have to have an honest assessment of the audience, are they with you or not? I’ve seen a lot of artists and I’ve always felt, they are not honest about that. Then there you will lose 90% of the battle. So forget. So, by the audience even if you’re doing a presentation, you should know if you’re doing a bad job or if you’ve lost them even if you’re doing a good job. Right? If you’re not honest about that, then in your head, “I’m killing it, they’re the worst.” Right? In every show, every comedian can have this excuse, right?

Ravi 48:38 

Yeah yeah yeah

SA 48:39 

So it comes down to one would be that this, in terms of awareness of what tempo, rhythm, and what intervals to position this information in order to keep the engagement going, and the other would also be, you should judge the scope of a story. I knew that, Biswa story the high points are the white lady and the Inzamam-ul-Haq joke, but unless the tension is built, and that universe is built, in that universe, the tension is built, and for, and when I know, I gauge that based on what level of building would take for the payoff of that Inzamam-ul-Haq to work. So, you have to be aware of, like you would’ve if you do very little, then the payoff won’t be there, so all seeds you sow now, you have to know how much to sow for that payoff. But that’s a call, you will have to take based on your instincts of what has worked for you. And for that joke, it was, I really needed to bring the tension of “Oh shit! I was going to miss a show, I’m late for a show, the flights are all canceled and it gets worse, it gets worse. So, but I could have just said, “Hey, I was just having the worst day of my life one day”, then the thing is, you don’t want to give away hyperboles that easily also man. Because you’re a comedian, you’re gonna have many such days. You really want to hold on to that, hyperbole to your best case worst day, right? So yeah, that’s, yeah there is a lot of thought like that put behind it, which I feel is a very very important skill to have, because that is pretty much the same blueprint I apply for the whole show in terms of writing it, to be honest, to know, “Hey, this is not working off because I have not done enough work for it before, that particular moment.” It’s not, it’s never about that moment, it’s about what you did before.

Ravi 50:35

Fascinating stuff. A couple of last questions SA one is tha  do you have a reflection, or  thinking process. So for example give an example right, you talk about how elders in the family, especially Chennai, when they go to a gathering, they’re like, trying to match horoscopes. And then you go so crazy on that analogy that you come up with there which is, people selling Ganja, Ganja dealers. Right? So nobody would ever combine those two ideas together. Does that come to you as a Snap idea when you’re writing it, or do you actually, you know it comes in the shower, when you’re taking a walk or jog or how does that connect like this, come?

SA 51:17

That was an improv. I mean that was a moment. The ‘my mother going about distributing horoscopes’ was always there, but I realized while doing the show for what the first 20-30-40 shows I did, I realized it so that’s something I gauge based on the audience’s laughs. In the sense that there are some times I realize “Hey, this is not a finisher laugh”, by that what I mean is there are some laughs, wherein my work, there are some jokes where I know when I’ve written, my script is full of segments, so I know that joke is the last part of that segment. And in the next segment, a new thing is starting but the audience has no idea, right? So if I am writing it in a way thinking that’s the max, I can go at the close of that segment, and I finished it and I’m moving on to the next segment, when the audience are seeing it, they are seeing it in one flow. So when you’re aware of that, and then you’re performing it, and then you realize that closing joke of one particular segment did not necessarily get you a laugh that was actually a reflection of a closing then you are perennially reminded of the fact that “No, when they are laughing they’re given the hope that…”, that is, how do you put it, “…a catalyst.” That is a something to, that is a joke to keep it simmering, it’s not a joke to end it. Because, how I gauge their perception? With their laughs, so then that thought continuously kept telling me that there is something more there. To reach that escalation. To reach that high. So then, by the 30th or 40th show, I realized, Okay, let’s try let’s, let’s go somewhere and when the thought keeps bothering you, then you’re right about the shower part, it can be the shower, it can be driving, it can be in the middle of a show when you’re performing. So, or it can be when you’re writing the next, so when, like I said sometimes every time before the show, if I feel I’m not confident about my lines I go to the same script again right? and for me to read the memories I have to read the lines again. And when I’m reading those lines again, I could see, it can pop up then, because I’ve been thinking about “Hey that line, remember that line, remember that moment, remember we made a mental note in that 52nd minute saying, “This is not finisher but now, but just because there’s a full horizontal line in your script saying this is the end of the segment, remember it’s not complete.” So then that nagging quality would eventually crack, and say, “Okay, my mother is like Ganja dealers but for horoscopes.” And then you are like “horoscope, horoscope, horoscope” that, once the first data comes, you will know. “Okay, that’s here to stay”. And then when I perform that the conviction you get from this thought process is only then, when you perform that thing you throw it in there a segment and then you saw it explode, you’re like “Oh shit! You were right, that’s a good read.” In the sense see they were so, because many times it happens, because I have told you earlier, because I told you earlier about how I tend to bifurcate in the middle of a while writing, I’m aware that many times I can get into topics that I was not looking to, and not necessarily go deep. When you’re aware of this being your style, and as an audience, you don’t know that you’re always thinking, “Oh my god is going so many places”, and therefore every time I’m going somewhere you think that’s a new topic I’m going to go deep. For example in that particular point in the story they might be thinking, “Oh, he’s gonna talk about horoscopes and parents and what are all the things they do with the horoscope.” But no, all I did was compare to the Ganja dealer and then move to my honest experience. So, but then the awareness of the fact that you have a style like this and there’s an expectation like that and therefore there’s a void that can be beautifully filled with one joke, and not necessarily a four-minute segment again. You should be able to tell that, which is where gauging the audience is important.

Ravi 54:53

Incredible empathy SA, because it needs, I guess it comes from spending that much amount of time with different audiences, like I would honestly never have described a laugh saying ‘that’s not a finisher laugh’. That’s an incredible insight, I think this just shows so much empathy that you saying “No I don’t think these guys are laughing as at the end of a segment”

SA 55:12

Because I am very, very honest on, yes that’s something you realize with time, it humbles you so much because many times, in many a show, when you get the laughs, you’re always being, when you’re being so judgmental you as a comic, you have to be judgmental, judgmental of the laughs as well. a number of times I’ve had a standing ovation but I walked off saying “Oh! What a faff crowd.” By that I don’t mean, I don’t mean disrespect but I am like, it’s like you have a certain ego as well as an artist, and you feel this is the show I’m trying to tell, and this is the kind of crowd that he gets it, and the kind of laughs and the positions of those laughs, the intensity of laughs will tell you whether they got that or not. Like when I get crazy laughs and crazy standing ovations for say very yuppie low hanging fruit jokes, you walk off saying “Man, you today, you cheated for a living man, but it’s okay it’s all part of the process today was just practice” and you satisfy them there, never show them that disappointment. I never showed that to them, but deep down, I’ll be honest enough to know there is work to be done here, this particular thing needs that pushing bla bla bla bla. So, because only having, I feel this is what motivates you to get up and perform every day. Otherwise, when  it’s gonna work you’re just like what you just doing it for the money after a point. That continuous pruning gives you something to wake up for.

Ravi 56:20

Incredible stuff, this. We talk about this many jokes and many segments. I love your ideas of doing segues right, and it might be just a very small one-liner, but you make sure it’s there. I’m just trying to  quickly. Yeah, so for example, you start off in I was not ready Da show, somewhere in the beginning, you talk about “And is dedicated to my mother”, and then immediately you segue to say how many of you have brought your mothers to the show, and then you pick and catch some people. Even the horoscope one, you kind of  finished and you say “Okay, horoscope didn’t match”, and then say “now, nowadays everybody matches on Tinder”, and then you go on to the riff on Tinder. This – just that word match, connecting or, mother connecting … that’s something that I teach to people that when you’re moving from one slide to the other slide you’re actually moving between almost two segments you need to have something to do that connects. Again is that something that you do consciously?

SA 57:19 

Yes, because I feel it comes from my innate insecurity that I don’t want to lose you. So, if there is a potential of me losing you, because if I would assume every audience member to be as judgmental about every line and to be as micro analyzing it like me. So then I’m like, if I go from one topic to another topic with absolutely no segue, no effort and no, just being very casual about it, that’s also a style. And if my security allows me that I’ll be like, “You are huge, I’m just switching jokes bro. I don’t care” Because stand-up comedy is one of those things that are, there are no rules. Who the hell is, who the hell am I to come and say, right? So these are all my rules for myself. Right? So, therefore, I switch that I mean I create the segue simply because I’m like, I walk, I’ll walk off if somebody is just shamelessly flipping pages with no collections. So I create the segues from that. It’s not like some horoscope, strip club, finishes with horoscope and connecting to, from there to Tinder and all, was a functional thing, right? Very functional in the sense, I have two topics I want to connect it, because I like the whole thing being coherent and consistent and giving you the impression of that at least if not, it being perfectly consistent and coherent. The example you gave before that, what is the first one you quoted for a segue you said,

Ravi 58:40 

The mother’s dedication to ‘How many of you brought your parents to the show?’

SA 58:44

Correct. Now, that is pretty much pure. What do you say craftsmanship, in the sense, that was a “Hey I have a show ready and I did three, three versions of it, and I saw…”, okay, there is a big, that is, those are lines that happen after your first two-three shows in the trial shows itself, because, when you do your first two, three, your show’s never ready. Okay, so I realized, certain glaring data’s okay this show makes people uncomfortable. Okay, I’m also the type of person who attracts all kinds of audiences. So there are parents coming to the show and kids bring their parents but I’m also the type that is clearly attracting the 18-year-olds or the 19-year-olds or 20-year-olds who can’t come to a stand-up comedy show on their own, they have to bring their Mom-Dad please, because I’ve been that person asking my Father “Please take me to Mortal Kombat … it’s an A-certificate film, therefore, they won’t let me go in so you come with me” and my father just sat there saying “Why the hell I am doing this?” and I was just enjoying so I come, you understand this, Right? So you understand why kids are doing that. So then if their parents are also going to be there. And more than that it made me feel uncomfortable, in the sense. “Oh no, I can’t believe I’m talking about these things.” Again, this is my personality, I’m aware of the shame I associated with it or, even though I want to be on stage breaking it, deep down you’re still aware, it still affects you, right? So the best way to address this, I thought, is the tip I give any aspiring public speaker just whatever your fears are, tell them that. Put it out there. If you’re thinking “Oh my god I’m gonna have a disaster tonight and I can’t believe all your faces are looking extremely ugly and it’s making me even more anxious”, tell them that. Yes, it’ll take them a minute to second or two to process and be shocked, but then the brutal honesty of the connection that you’re doing there will take you with them for the rest of the piece. Once you do that leap of faith you have to take the risk and that jump. So, I wrote that mother thing because in the first two shows I realized there are parents and kids and the kids are struggling to laugh, because the parents, the parents are struggling as well because they’re like “What is this culture? I thought this boy was a good boy. The first show was so nice and cute. What’s this, he’s suddenly talking about the strip club and everything” and I’m not going to change that because I want to talk about what I feel like writing, okay. And at the same time, I also felt uncomfortable so I like the best way to deal with my discomfort is to share it with you. So I put it out there saying, “So who’s here with the parents?, because for me it was a strategic move to A] Help me cope with my fears, and B] To also set the expectation at the start we have spoken about this at the start, saying “This is the show you’re gonna get into. This is who I am, this is the show you’re going to get into, and these are the expectations that I think you should have. If you have anything beyond this, great” But if I could somehow manipulate you into this and keep you there, then that’s great because I am setting the boundaries and making sure you fall within it. So overall, you’re limiting the damage and I guess damage control is where it all comes from.

Ravi 1:01:35

I love this authenticity, this complete brutal honesty, it’s not easy SA and do you have some line somewhere “Okay, I will reveal this much but then not beyond this”, or is it like, if I’ve gone through something, then I’ll be completely brutally honest about it.

SA 1:01:52

I guess, I mean I do have a line because you share it with so many people, and you end up either drawing it yourself or someone to tell. But yeah, I guess, if there is a line, then I try to work on that line to see how much can I push it, how much am I comfortable pushing that line today. Like next show is about mental health, what I’m writing now is about my 10-year association with mental health with my, with this one shrink I’ve been seeing for 10 years and, and how I want people to know “Hey, what you see here is all completely different to who I actually am” and I want to break that whole thing down and tell them, “Hey, you all think I’m super confident super happy super funny, look at him taking the mic” No! it’s absolutely there, and the fact that I couldn’t live with this mismatch, then I couldn’t, I’m like “Hey, what’s the best way to cope with it, express it in your show, break down that all, that myth as well.” So that whole thing’s about that so I feel so I realized, I would have never been able to cross this line until now because I had to go through the journey that I have gone through. I remember three, four years ago I used to talk with other comedians and live show and mental health was like some “Wow, we will never ever do it no? Who has the balls to do like too much to comprehend no? Who’s going to put up”, but now I’m like “Hey we’ve done enough and more we put ourselves out there”, so I realize it’s the journey, it’s the maturity, you also get security through this validation the social capital that you have this financial capital, you’re also having all these things are continuously working against the conditioning that you’ve gone through right? So you have to let both happen it’s not like, completely one will take over the other, at least not in my case, it hasn’t. So, but then I, that’s why I love this job because then you, I can immediately express it in a way and, and share it and if you have people who are who like this brand of humor wherein you really don’t know what I’m going to throw at you. Every time you come, because it’s really happened, the harsh truth, what I’ve been going through in the last few years, then that’s something I would like to keep going for, for as long it does.

Ravi 1:03:52 

It’s Incredible SA. I’m really looking forward to that one and I think a great note to end this podcast, anything else that you’d like to add something that I missed asking that you’d like to share any influences or…

SA 1:04:04 

Hey, well, I mean first of all, I genuinely, am glad, what now, 70 minutes into this. I’m I did this and I’m glad my read was right, given that I’m not one to give interviews or talk about these things unless otherwise I feel the conversation would be meaningful and something that would elicit the kind of passion and emotion and intensity that I, I think I speak from and I speak about these things and based on how you put yourself out there in terms of from the moment you reached out to how the conversation whether it’s checked out completely and I’m very happy that we did this and I think you’re doing a great job in terms of getting storytellers to be able to share their principles and take blueprints from that and accessible to others. I think it’s a beautiful thing there is. That’s something I’ve been doing ad hoc whoever I meet in life What is their process?, What are their stories? Fascinates me, because I always feel because I don’t have a conventional way of consuming or reading or learning, I take such unconventional routes and I think you’re also adding to that kind of idea and I think that’s great and I’m glad I did this and I guess if there’s anything to that I have not told or I’d like to tell it… I don’t know maybe I have this mantra, that I feel should that worked for me, it’s, I would probably like to leave you with that, which is often people ask me, Were you the funniest guy in your gang?, Were you the funniest guy in your school?, Wherever you go, Were you a head boy or the class jester? I was like, No, I never was any of those things, and I realized, I feel and understand it, especially with comedy, but I think you can apply this beyond comedy also, it’s not, It’s not about being funny, actually. I think for storytellers, it’s not about being funny or it’s not about being popular or any of those sorts, it’s about feeling that need to be heard, and I feel that’s how I remember telling myself, the first few times I tried this and my friend asked me, Why are you doing this, and I’m like “I know I’m scaring the shit out of me… I’m, I didn’t even come up for that. I’m doing assistance direction on the side. That’s my dream. I’m failing there. And this is some, this is just some hobby kind of a thing on the side”. But at the end of the day, I felt, it’s the need to be heard, that I feel is so unnoticed and I feel that it’s so beautiful and that is that I feel, is be the principal mantra for storytelling, because you need to have that, then you will be whoever that means if you’re a stand-up comedian or a filmmaker or a motivational speaker. Hey man! I have, and for that, I think empathy is a big thing, but the need is what will drive my funniest guy in my group never care to hoots about wanting to do something about it. The least funny guy, who had so many things inside, and what, I did want to be funny, but I was not good at it, but to date I’m able to acknowledge the fact that “Hey it’s not about… had I got all the validation that time I would have never been here right? So… Long may this last.”

Ravi 1:07:08 

Amazing, amazing SA. Thank you so much, thank you so much for doing this.

SA 1:07:10

Pleasure. Thank you, man.

And that was Aravind SA, a stand-up comedian and storyteller extraordinaire.

A few things which stayed with me:

  1. Be Authentic: Own your true self – the audience would rather see a flawed genuine person rather than a perfect phony
  2. Shar your fears: They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. Putting your fears out in the open will make them shrivel away and die.
  3. Prepare well: When in doubt practice. SA’s dedication to his process even for open mics tells us – no stage is too small to prepare well.

If you find this content valuable, please rate and review this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to them. It’ll help others like you discover these insights!

This podcast was hosted by me, Ravishankar Iyer. Audio editing by Kartik Rajan. Transcript editing by Sanket Aalegaonkar.

Until next time, may the force of good stories be with you

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