When production restarts, there’ll be heavy demand for comedy: Vir Das
Actor, comedian and multi-faceted Vir Das launched his comedy consultancy, Weirdass Comedy, in 2010. After experimenting with edgier concepts for brands and web sketches, his company broke into the big league with the launch of their first Netflix Original, ‘Hasmukh’, on April 17, 2020.
Das has strengthened his collaboration with the global OTT giant, after delivering three comedy specials and an entire series. Prior to ‘Hasmukh’, Das and his team at Weirdass Comedy had conceived another show for Amazon Prime Video, called ‘Jestination Unknown’.
While he has always been active on digital platforms, the interdisciplinary Das isn’t limited to creating content only for them. In a candid conversation with Adgully, he talks about the upcoming projects of his content house and the lodestar behind his creative throughput.
Tell us about your journey with Netflix?
The Netflix journey began in 2016. They were getting set to launch in India and a year before that Robbie Praw, who heads comedy at Netflix, happened to see me perform at Improv in LA, where I had done a showcase show. I had been signed by an agency there. There was talk of putting together my first special because, you know, they are very experienced in that area.
The thought was it would be a special not just for India but for America as well. That is why we came up with that idea of shooting partly in Delhi and partly in New York. After that special did well, it was a year later that they said let’s do another one. This time, it was a two-Specials deal.
We were developing ‘Hasmukh’ in the midst of that and took that to Netflix. It wasn’t really a conscious collaboration, we just tried one thing and really enjoyed working with each other. Our first product performed, so we kept trying to make products that performed. Touch wood, they’ve all done well!
Why did you start Weirdass Comedy?
Weirdass Comedy is doing a bunch of different things and not just digital. We have two theatrical features that were supposed to go into production this year – one small budget feature and one big budget. We have about three or four OTT shows written, but we are also doing classical television. Apart from the TV show, we were also working on a TVC (TV commercial) in the agency format as well.
The idea behind the company is quite simple. Younger, fresher, edgier, newer ideas seldom find a severe bank – bankable talent, bankable filmmakers, bankable writers, etc. A lot of writers we’re working with at Weirdass are first time screenwriters. We’re putting them in a room with very experienced filmmaking and acting talent. That’s our modus operandi – be a bridge between fresh new ideas and established talent.
Production has been at a standstill due to COVID-19 and the lockdown. How has this impacted your company?
We are not a very large company, there are just 23 people. Our overheads aren’t massive and we had a really good year last year. So, we are all right and kind of hanging together and trying to make sure everybody’s okay health wise and mentally.
Apart from that, it’s going to be a while before you can shoot a full-scale production. We are gearing up for smaller scale productions that can be shot with a skeletal crew, social distancing production and heavy amount of research, so when we are allowed to shoot again, we can shoot in the safest possible atmosphere.
We are taking solace in the fact that we primarily work within a genre that has unlimited demand. Once we’re through the lockdown, the demand for action or dark shows may vary day to day, but you pretty much want to laugh every single day. Whenever we are allowed to produce again, there is going to be a heavy demand for comedy.
Do you have a vision for the kind of content Weirdass Comedy should produce?
What I always tell my company is, let’s make every Indian laugh five times a year.The challenge is, can I make you laugh five times a year? Which means, will you watch a movie that I produced in theatres? Will you watch an OTT show on a Netflix or Amazon, produced by Weirdass Comedy? Will we catch you on YouTube with some very good non-fiction topical content or news comedy content?
Will you come up to a live show or comedy festival that we produce? Or on social media, where we engage on a daily basis?
How have you stayed connected with your audience during the Lockdown?
We do a show that I’m in, called ‘The Bright Side’, which is about taking dark thoughts and finding comedy through them, which is a Weirdass Comedy product.
We do a show every night on Zoom. I’m performing for between 150 and 250 people every night on Zoom calls, which is a ticketed event at Weirdass. We have started touring internationally on digital. Last weekend, I did a show just for San Francisco, London, and New York. There were 200 people in each of those cities that had bought tickets and I got to do the show.
We are creating content as innovatively as we can. Multiple brands have reached out to us to do videos for them. We got to do two really cool videos for Black Dog, called ‘Paused with Vir Das’, which got millions of views.
Will Weirdass Comedy always try to bring comedic sensibility to different genres of shows? What are the interesting places that your experiment has led you to?
It’s not a question of comedy, but whether the idea is twisted and mad. We try to do mad stuff within different genres.
Right now, we’ve got a Punjab heartland drama under development that is set entirely in a plane. We’ve got a political comedy with an all-female cast, crew and writers. It is a political show from a woman’s perspective. We’re developing a horror comedy in Telugu.
They are all mad ideas which blend different genres. The Telugu show is action-horror. The all-female show is a political drama. The Punjab show is about entrepreneurship in the heartland. If nothing else, these shows have taken us to all sorts of different places like Punjab, Delhi and Tamil Nadu.
There’s a lot of genre mixing in your shows. What’s your approach when developing a script for a new show?
Primarily, what we’re trying to do is infuse comedy with other genres and trying new things. We've all seen classical comedies and classical genres. So, we’re doing hybrid or a first-time thing. ‘Hasmukh’ was a very dark comedy with a mix of stand-up, murder and thriller.
‘Jestination Unknown’ is a mythic, large scale travel show, combined with the pettiness of comedians who are on the road together, complaining about small things while traveling the biggest country in the world. There was also the idea that you might not be able to come up with jokes. Three comedians go to a place that has never seen a stand-up gig before and have to set up a show, market the show, perform the show and deliver jokes about the destination.
We visited Jodhpur, Ladakh, Kumarakom in Kerala, and other really remote places. Everything we do is a slightly unusual concept. Sometimes, I feel that we would be a much bigger company if we did the usual concept. But for now, we're just happy trying to reinvent the wheel.