Vir Das wears a lot of hats: he’s a Hollywood actor, a Bollywood actor, and a TV show host, but first and foremost, he’s a comic. When I met him via Zoom, he was in Goa, India, his only hat on being one of gunmetal gray perched high on the head of a friendly, down to Earth fellow seemingly unaffected by the extent of his notoriety.

Though known internationally for his comedy, the temporary ceasing of stand-up due to public health measures forced Das to spend the worst of the pandemic acting. As a comic, he sees all his other roles as fodder for his comedy, considering humour to be a way of keeping himself grounded.

Das sheepishly admits that he cannot shoot movies year ‘round because there’s only so much he can stand hanging out with other actors discussing stuff like protein shakes and intermittent fasting. At the same time, he admits that touring is exhausting and his ideal would be a balance between all the roles he plays in the entertainment industry.

He laughs occasionally as he speaks, realizing the humour of his remarks, the sign of a man for whom comedy is as natural as breathing. He says that as you age, the acting roles on offer become smaller and more nuanced, whereas as a comedian, the work gets bigger and better.

As an Asian Canadian working in the arts, I have had my share of experiences dealing with the disapproving reactions to my profession. I wondered if Das had a similar experience with his family.

Das admitted that he waited two years before telling his family that he studied theatre, adding that his parents’ attitude has always been that if he can pay the rent, whatever he did was fine with them. He says it’s been a long time since he’s worried about making an income, adding that the cultural attitude toward working in the arts is changing.

“I think the whole ‘My Strict Indian Parents’ stereotype and joke, and sitcom, and movie, and series, and documentary is losing steam and validity as we speak,” he says with a smile.

Das is one of the few artists to work in both Bollywood and Hollywood. Though Bollywood is the bigger industry of the two, it seems mostly unknown to white English speaking audiences.

When I think of Bollywood, I think of beautiful costumes, elaborate makeup and jewelry and dance routines that put old Hollywood musicals to shame. I wondered what the differences were to someone like Das, who has an insider’s view of both industries.

Das said there isn’t much a difference, and that everyone involved is trying to tell authentic stories, though he admits that Bollywood sets seem to work a bit faster, something borne of experience more than anything else. When I asked him about his dancing, he said it was good.

“Give me the right choreographer and enough rehearsal time and I can dance,” he says, adding that he finds it ironic how audiences appreciate the escapism of Bollywood and yet the only movies that succeed in America are Avenger movies and Marvel movies. He points out that in the latter everyone is wearing ridiculous costumes in a fantastical world, suggesting that perhaps superhero movies are America’s Bollywood.

Das is often presented as a man bringing an authentic Indian perspective to audiences worldwide. He agrees that it’s a fair assessment, given that most perceptions of Indians come from British, American, and Canadian versions of India, which are more “palatable versions”. He says that such views miss out on the voices of 1.3 billion people who have things to say.

He speaks fondly of other East Asian comedians such as Russell Peters and Lily Singh, the former showing a young Vir Das that Indians can do standup. He has immense respect for Lily Singh as a community builder who created one devoid of gatekeepers. In terms of celebrities who opened the doors for more East Asian actors in Hollywood, Das credits Priyanka Chopra.

When playing to white, English-speaking audiences Vir Das’ primary goal is to make them laugh and get to know him. His comedy influences include Richard Pryor for his vulnerability, Eddie Izzard for history and making his shows seem unscripted, and George Carlin for punching up and being anti-establishment.

Das admits that his comedy is likely to change over the years, pointing out that Carlin only found his stride twenty years into his career when Das himself has only been doing comedy for fifteen. At present his comedy hinges more on being an outsider rather than a specific cultural identity. He prefers to begin a show with something the audience knows nothing about and then systematically proving the similarities between his world and theirs.

His upcoming Just for Laughs show, Vir Das’ Wanted World Tour is based on the premise that home is anywhere, adding that it will have a story. Das is also appearing in the Patton Oswalt Gala, though he grins and says he’s looking forward to his own show more, adding that in the latter he only has eight minutes for audiences to get to know him, something that he does happily, though he prefers the kind of “friend sits you down for a talk” format better.

In terms of his future work, Das says his Wanted World Tour is going to thirty-eight countries, followed by a Hollywood rom-com, and a Bollywood action movie

If Vir Das’ Netflix special, Losing It, is any indication, his Just for Laughs shows are bound to be fun!

Tickets are available at hahaha.com

Acclaimed British comedian Eddie Izzard was in Montreal last week to host a Gala at the Just For Laughs festival and Ethan Cox was lucky enough to saw-off five minutes of his time to talk dick jokes, politics and his absolutely serious run at the mayoralty of London in 2020 for this piece that originally appeared on Rabble.ca and is repubished here with permission from the author.

Eddie Izzard: What was your name again?

Ethan Cox: Ethan Cox

Oh, I thought you said Ethan Hawke, I was confused…

I wish! He gets to be rich and famous and all I get are dick jokes …

That’s true eh? Have you ever considered changing it to “Penises?”

From Cox to Penises eh?

Yep, there you go, there’s the comedy line!

I noticed in the news this week that your Prime Minister, David Cameron, is trying to ban pornography from the internet. Seems like an unfortunate infringement on our right to jack it in the privacy of our own homes, so I was just wondering if you support a porn-free internet?

I don’t know if that’s possible, is it?

Well I would imagine not, no. But David Cameron seems to think it is…

I haven’t studied his policies on that, but I thought it was more about kids, protecting kids wasn’t it?

That’s the pretext, but it’s basically to block pornography of all kinds. Written, the Sun page three, what have you…

I think that’s got to be a tricky thing to do…

Now, I got to know you originally, as with many people on this side of the pond, through your tragically cancelled television show The Riches, before being introduced to your stand-up and other work. And I actually crowd-sourced some of the questions for this interview from twitter and Facebook and one that kept coming up was whether a) you will be returning to TV and b) whether you would ever consider playing Dr. Who? There was strong support for you to play the next Dr. Who!

I’m not really going towards Dr. Who, but I am already doing Hannibal, the TV series. I’m in episode seven and eleven I believe, and I’ll be doing more in the second season but I have no spare time! I play Dr. Gideon, a competitor to Dr. Lecter.

Now obviously you’re from England, but the big news here last year was the student strike that happened in Quebec. So I was curious, I know you’re a very political person, whether you were aware of that student strike or…

No. What was it about?

It was about tuition. They tried to raise fees by roughly 80% and students went on an unlimited general strike for over six months and actually succeeded in defeating the government and forcing the government to repeal the tuition hike.

Wow. I hadn’t heard about that. Well, it’s a big issue in our country. We had free tuition and tuition fees came in and now people are doing loans. Emotionally I always thought it would be nice if everyone could have free tuition, but it has become so difficult, with so many people now going to university, at least in the UK, I assume it’s the same here. It’s a tricky old situation.

But yes, endlessly hiking the fees up is not great for students. If you come from rich parents it’s so much easier, no stress at all, you just say yes, whatever.

Snowden and Manning: heros or traitors?

Tricky one that. I think its good to get information out there, but if I was in a position of power I’m sure I’d be saying “Well it’s not such a good idea!” So I’m going to say I’m not sure…

Another crowd-sourced question: Cake or death?

Always cake.

You’re obviously famous for impressions, what would you say is your best impression?

Well you know, I’m really bad at impressions! I do terrible impressions…

Well the rest of us quite like them!

Sean Connery and James Mason are probably the favourites of all the ones that I can vaguely do best. Sometimes I can do Christopher Walken, I was on it, then it would float away. I think you have to spend a lot of time, as an impressionist, working to get the stuff right, and I just do the lazy version. I just want to be good at them!

Now are you familiar with the tar sands? Obviously in the context of climate change the Canadian tar sands are a big issue because if all the oil is removed from the ground there, scientists say it would cause global warming of over the two degrees that is the most we can allow without catastrophic consequences. Are you familiar with the tar sands?

No. In fact I thought you were saying Tarzans!

Yes, it’s called that because the oil is heavy, tarry bitumen mixed with sand and it’s particularly C02 intensive to extract and burn it. Around 3-5 times more polluting than conventional oil.

Well yes, I don’t know much about Canadian politics but don’t do the bad stuff there! Because with climate change… I mean the weather is just going all over the place. All. Over. The. Place. So it does seem logical that something’s gone wrong… We are coming towards serious climate change.

Is there any truth to the rumour that you’ll be running for mayor of London?

Yes.

And what are the main themes of your platform?

Well, I’m going to announce my platform much closer to 2020, when I’m running. Seems foolish to come up with policies now, because then you’ll be saying “steam driven cars? That’s a bit weird!” “Well I came up with policies 9000 years ago!”

Basically I’m taking all the energy I normally throw into things, like gigs in French, or German, or running forty three marathons, or any of that stuff, and that’s the energy I will bring to this.

I’m at the centre, a radical centrist. I think extremists are the people that take the world down. So I think it’s really about centre and extremes, rather than left and right.

What’s the last book you read?

I’m reading one by Max Hastings on Churchill. That’s what I’m reading at the moment. And just before I go I should say, not only am I going to be doing this gala tonight but I’m going to be touring the whole of Canada, from one end to the other. It’s only the second time I’ve toured all of Canada. That’s in November, so if you hold your breath for a few month’s time I’ll be there…