Hold on tight. This story is going to take you for a roller coaster ride. His sarcastic slapstick is his strongest arsenal. His wit stands as catalyst for laughter. He also represents an alter ego where he calls himself DJ Soapy.
One of India’s only partially blind artist, Sundeep Rao lost his sight at the age of eight. The Bangalore-based standup comedian has been a regular in the Indian Standup Community Circuit since 2010. He started working as a professional from the year of 2012.
Unlike his sight, his comedy is quite clear and sharp around the edges. His jokes are twisted with life lessons, true talks, sarcasm drawn upon caste, his personal disability and insecurities of life.
Highlights of this episode
- His bon voyage as a standup comedian since 2010.
- Structuring a standup comedy show.
- His impairment of being partially blind and how he overcomes this battle.
- Standup comedy being a session of therapy.
- Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr and George Carlin.
quotes and takeaways
- The world having too many absolutes to conquer although being the best is relative.
- It never too late to pursue your dream. Do not let anyone tell what your dream is. Do not forget it is your dream.
Tell us about your journey as a standup comedian. How has been the journey so far?
I was never planning to become a professional in performance arts. It was more a spontaneous decision. Bangalore had no path carved for standup comedians. Further, it is not a entertainment hub. The Comedy Store London had an influence on the Bangalore standup comedy which gave it a boost. When I started out in 2010, it was more about educating people regarding standup and convincing the audience.
Prior to me career with standup, I had a corporate life for five years. In the work space, we did not get to see the end product. It goes through iteration or changes in the IT sector. What comes outs finally isn’t what you intended to put out there. In standup comedy, if I’ve messed up as a comic, I get the feedback then and there. No one can say that the joke did not do well because the person who wrote did not make it good enough!
As a teenager, sometimes I would day dream of getting up on stage, crack a few jokes and make people laugh. But I never considered it as a career option.
In 2009, I did my first performance in which I had three shows. In each show, I got a 2 minute slot to perform. I think it was very amateur! (laughs)
In 2010, I along with a fellow comic performed in a show where I performed for 20-25 minutes. So that was a major jump for myself! When I startout my family and friends were a great support as well.
What was your first motivation to become a standup comedian?
It is still a very new art form in this country. At fundamental level, my content, performance, my mike, my audience. There are no filters. Unfortunately, people are good with cutting corners to tweak success.
The beautiful thing about it is in standup you have to earn your respect – whether that is by having bad experiences on stage, growing as as man or standup comedian.
We are having too many absolutes in this world. But being the best is very relative. Just because someone is popular does not mean they are good. On a very artistic level, I have been very open about my vulnerabilities, ups and down and have been very honest to myself. As I spend more time in this career, I realise we must be honest to ourselves.
In a flashback, which moment comes to you as a comic at a glance?
About three years back, I started talking about my eye condition during my performance at the Comedy Store. People thought I was making fun of disability and did not find the jokes funny. I did not find the laughter.
At the end of a show, people would say, “Oh god you really can’t see!”
Another situation happened while hosting a show for the book launch of Anubhav Pal at Crosswords. I had asked the person going on stage before myself to leave the mike at the mike stand. But unfortunately he forgot. So when I went on stage, I was groping around! Everyone thought I was playing the fool. I grabbed a coffee mug, I grabbed a handkerchief and everything my hands could find. Those few seconds were petrifying.
Has your impairment been a hindrance in your persuasion? how did you debacle it?
In the beginning I was petrified. People would say, “What’s up with your eyes?” In such moments, I would go into a very depressive mode. But now, thanks to standup I am more confident about it. I think everyone has got a problem in their lives – some are physical, some are emotional, some are mental. Everyone has got an issue from a day to day basis. Fortunately, because of my work, I am more comfortable talking about it. I like to point out the fact that everyone has got problems. We are all made differently.
As a performance, I just want to keep going on. I’m happy to be on stage. I feel I have come this far, I can go much further.
I’d say everyone who had come for a show so far has left happy. Sometimes, people are a bit intolerant when I’m picking jokes at them. Sometimes people get offended which is very natural. But even if there is such a situation, I make sure to always make everyone feel good at the end of it. Laughter is the cause for the show. And that is how it should go.
Standup is like a session of therapy for myself. The more I talk about it gives me more confidence and much reverence.
Do you tend to come up with spontaneous jokes or do you follow a specific structure to brainstorm your jokes?
I day dream a lot! You must write it down to not forget the good lines. I would say it is fifty percent of writing and fifty percent of improvisation and spontaneity.
I also try to make my jokes relatable. I question myself if I can get it from the perspective of the audience, can I make a joke in different ways, what are the multiple angles to this approach, can it be more concise, more longer or shorter, which part needs to be drawn out, which has to be delivered slower or which has to be delivered faster, does it deserve a character, doe it deserve an accent. A show is a result of a large amount of planning.
While planning a show, what are the genres of comedy you like to talk about?
I like comics which are honest. I am a bit sarcastic on race, religion, human behavior, how the society works and about life as a whole. I like people coming up to me at the end of the show to say that joke made a difference to them. Laughing through what I’ve been through
I am not a confrontational person. So when someone said something a little uncomfortable I used humour to diffuse it. So, yes humour was always like my arsenal.
How have you evolved has a person after starting to pursue standup comedy?
I think I have grown up a little more, I think I have improved as a comic and I have become more aware as a man.
Are there any icons you lookup to? How do you think their work has been influential?
Dave Chappelle – as a human being he has been through a lot. I respect the choices which he made over the past few years. I also like the shows of Bill Burr. Of course there is George Carlin. That goes without saying!
And then there is Sundeep Rao!
On a retrospect, one person who has always made me laugh has been my father. Another person, who has always been supportive has been my mother. She has always helped me to make it through and help me become who I am.
What is your message for people wanting to pursue standup comedy?
There are going to be a lot of ups and down. Unfortunately, in this world money drives everything. You might have to keep your passion in the backburner. My message is when you are facing a problem, there are going to be people facing other situation which might be little more severe than yours or little less. But we all face problems.
It never too late to pursue your dream. Do not let anyone tell what your dream is. Do not forget it is your dream.