The comic takes a potshot at TNM in his Amazon special and we didn't let him go lightly.

Aravind SA in green jacket and black T shirt from the Amazon Prime Video show I was not ready da
Flix Comedy Friday, November 27, 2020 - 18:18

SA Aravind made a grave mistake. What caught TNM’s attention in his latest special I was not ready da, released on November 27 on Amazon Prime Video, was him taking an open potshot at a few media platforms, including TNM, for stories on the 'Chennai comedian's lungi dance' parody outraging north Indians. He says on the show, “You know journalism has gone to the dogs when media platforms take a comedian seriously.”

Now, how dare SA question TNM’s journalism? Our Entertainment Editor Sowmya Rajendran, who interviewed him recently, was not going to take this “joke” lying down, and planned to show him what true journalism is. Her first question to SA – “What do you think is the socio-political and cultural impact of your performing art?”

SA goes blank. “What do I think ah?" he asks nervously. He looks around and tries to get out of it with a silly joke about this feeling like college practical exams. “If you could break it down into simple terms I could probably give you an answer,” SA says sheepishly.

Sowmya then assures him that she was just kidding and that this was not the first question, much to SA’s relief. The real interview begins, and we don’t plan to take him too seriously. Here are edited excerpts of the interview. 

Sowmya: The visa story that you mention in the show, that was really unbelievable. I actually Googled to see if that was true. I can’t believe you are so…. (laughs)

SA: (laughs along) Don’t worry, go for it. I am a comedian. One interview you are allowed to do it.

Sowmya: (laughs) I can’t believe you are so naive. So, can you tell me more of your goof-ups abroad.

SA: Well, I have had multiple people in the airport come up to me and hand over my passport saying, ‘Sir, this might be yours.’ I am extremely careless, I am never in the moment and thinking, so much so that I don’t even realise the small things that I do. I have had airport authorities call out my name, and I am talking about places like St. Petersburg, all kinds of crazy places. My parents always used to give me so much hell for it, saying ‘You are going to get into so much trouble for being so careless’. I have lost some 50 cycle keys, 20 mobile phones and 30 house keys. But today it is all becoming great content for me, although I have become slightly more responsible. But yeah, the biggest goof-up has to be the visa story. The pain in my body that I feel when I think about how someone cannot even know what a visa is, is shocking.

Sowmya: In your show, you talk about how comedians are taken too seriously by the media. So, do you not want to be taken seriously? Because in international stand-up comedy, and even in India for instance, people are making a lot of serious points using comedy.

SA: That particular joke or sentiment is directed at the oversimplification of rants against comedian’s opinions. I would never go out and say there should be blanket ignorance towards comedians’ opinions. Anyone who puts their opinion out there, it should go through due diligence. It is not like we also put opinions out there in an unfiltered manner, there is so much processing that happens before the show and when you put it into the system.

When we say ‘don’t take our opinions too seriously’, the point most of us tend to agree on is, the position that our opinions take, in the hierarchy of opinions out there. We are like, “Really, of all the silly stuff people say, it is us that you want to pick on?” It is never to say you cannot scrutinise us. If I had not been scrutinised as much as I have been in the past and I continue to be, I don’t think I would have ever had the chance of evolving. I have so many jokes of mine which I never understood came from a certain conditioning or background etc. Only if you get challenged you can evolve. But if you question me on prime time in a news programme, then something is really wrong.

But it is an easy thing to joke about, that is why everyone laughs at that joke. Because the minute you take a shot at journalism, the whole world is recognising that. But I am like – ‘You are the one who is consuming it, suddenly don’t think you are also some cool audience who don’t watch Indian channels. We are all enablers.’

Sowmya: When you are performing onstage, it is just you and your audience. But when a show like this goes online, there will be people like me who will be analysing it from different angles, taking screenshots. Like you compare yourself with black people whereas you are brown, maybe we can accuse you of appropriation. (laughs) So, does that get to you at some level? You may think this is overanalysing your work, but others may think your art needs to be critiqued.

SA: Art definitely needs to be critiqued, even I am critiquing things. The overanalysing part, I would disassociate that from the critiquing part. Yes, the overanalysing does get to you. It is just the scope of work of public artists. You have to be willing to take this. We have to develop a thick skin, and if you can’t develop a thick skin, then a way of deflecting it as much as possible.

There is a lot of self-censorship which helps. Would I want complete freedom, or I can have some kind of a trade-off where I can get satisfaction from my profession and in my personal life, then that (the latter) is what I would like to go for. Even in this show, I have removed so many things that many wouldn't even be aware of. In fact, there are some things in this show that have been censored that nobody will even find out. That tells me that there is no such thing as a safe space, everybody is thinking the same thing. Whether you are the individual creating it or the organisation distributing it, we are all in this together. So yes, I want to balance it. The joy of being able to impact people’s lives positively outweighs this feeling that I want the freedom to say whatever I want.

Sowmya: You spoke in your show about the abuse you received, for the 'lungi dance' song, from north Indians. Can you tell us the most colourful one you got, the one you still remember?

SA: My most favourite one is when, for the lungi dance break-down clip that I did on YouTube, someone started a comment saying, “hatt s**le, this is why Harbhajan slapped Sreesanth” (laughs). I responded to him saying, “I hope you know Sreesanth is from Kerala and I am from Tamil Nadu.” So ironic that whatever they say, it still ends up happening.

Sowmya: When did you start thinking that you could do this, that this is my career.

SA: Half-way into the I was not ready da tour, about two years ago I would say, even though I had been doing this for 10 years. My first ever solo show happened in 2015, which was Madrasi Da and that got picked up by Amazon Prime Video in 2017. And then I started I was not ready da in 2017. I need repetitive data points for the reassurance that I am here to stay, and people are actually coming back to it and making a habit out of it. When the second show started selling out and I started getting good response, then I was sold on the idea that this is here to stay. There was a lot happening in our ecosystem too, with OTT platforms picking up shows. So, then I told myself, ‘stop faffing around, this is full-time’.

Sowmya: How do you gauge whether a show has been successful?

SA: There are multiple parameters. One, if people are still buying tickets for your show, then they want to listen to you, see what you have to tell them. Other than that, I am always monitoring the laughs and feedback that I get. I am always looking at how I am evolving as an artist, what are the things which are influencing me, and also how does it reflect on people’s feedback. When you can see all of that match your expectations, then that can also be a measure of success.

Sowmya: Thank you, that brings us to the end of our interview. We look forward to more jokes from you on TNM.

SA: Thanks a lot, and this was far more fun than I expected, and that tells you a lot about TNM. (laughs)

Sowmya: We are really not that bad, you know, we are chill people, seriously.

SA: (laughs) Thank you so much!

Watch the full interview here: