Before diving in to discuss Vir Das’ trailblazing Netflix special, let’s all just take a minute to bask in the achievement of the man. Having a Netflix comedy special is a mantle bestowed only to the top comics from around the world and with this, he takes a significant step toward putting India on the comedic world stage. With the special now launched on the mammoth digital platform in 130 countries, Das joins the ranks of renowned comics such as Louis CK, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Bill Burr, Aziz Ansari and Russell Peters.
The 75-minute long show was filmed in both New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi stadium in front of 12,000 people, as well as in an unassuming New York comedy club for 200 people, with the entire special seamlessly intercutting between the two, making for a remarkably dynamic show. You can’t help but marvel at the tremendous amount of thought and planning that’s gone into every cut and transition between basement comedy club and sprawling stadium, both visually and thematically in Das’ material.
The use of the two vastly different shows allows you to experience the enormity and energy of a massive arena show as well as the more personalised vibes of an intimate stand-up gig. More than that, it is how Das manages to serve up material which touches on issues which can be related to by a global audience, while equally offering a healthy dose of the localised desi humour we love, with Air India jokes aplenty. This is undeniably where Abroad Understanding shines – its ability to juxtapose, compare and contrast two different cultures and audiences whilst celebrating the richness and diversity of them both. Not to mention just how self-assured, unapologetic and fearless he is in front of either audience.
The man is in fine form here, armed with his distinct eloquence, sharp wit and undeniable charm in full blast as he broaches topics of gay rights, his failed marriage and dick jokes all with equal fervour. He by no means plays it safe with no topic or issue being off limits, taking a gutsy stand on issues ranging from Modi to Trump to Sati to Article 377 to Kashmir to America’s love of cereal. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. Race, religion, cast, class, the media, Pakistan – all are up for grabs as he provides a towering example of how you can push a strong message through comedy.
Examples include comparing Kashmir to a woman who has two guys – namely India and Pakistan – ordering food for her with no one asking her what she might like. Equally, Das suggests that every religious scripture is in dire need of an update and so all religions scriptures should be headed by Apple going forward.
Abroad Understanding ends on a fittingly profoundly note, such that you can’t help but be in awe of this comedian who has undoubtedly put Indian comics on the map. Abroad Understanding may not strictly be the funniest stand-up special you see but it is rich in relevance, greatly personal and a very enjoyable show, which is only added to by the context of knowing that that’s our man up there, being true to himself and making us proud.
To quote a line from the special:
Maybe for the first time in your lives the Indian accent can be a perspective not a punchline . Wouldn’t that be nice?
Wouldn’t it indeed. Abroad Understanding is highly recommended viewing and hopefully will set the scene for many more Indian stand-up specials aimed at global audiences. Till then, I’m just wondering how the American audience reacted to the Mastizaade joke.