Daniel Fernandes on His Most Ambitious Comedy Experiment Yet, ‘Talk To Me: Iron Man’

By Ravina Rawal 15 April 2019


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Daniel (Danny) Fernandes is currently touring two specials, both in India and internationally. The first is his live standup hour Shadows, which addresses mental health through his own experiences with anxiety.

Then there’s Talk To Me, an unscripted, crowd-work show running in parallel, with a runtime of 60-90 minutes, depending on the enthusiasm levels of the audience that night.

But Fernandes, still restless, just announced his biggest challenge yet, Talk To Me: Iron Man. A six-hour-long marathon crowd-work show, premiering at Cuckoo Club (Mumbai) on 28 April. 

How is he going to pull it off? We sat him down (it’s harder than it sounds) and asked him for you.

Talk to me about Talk To Me.

When I started doing standup, one of the best tips I got was from British comic Imran Yusuf. He said, “MC as many shows as possible, that’ll make you a really good comic.” I took that advice seriously. A big part of this is warming up the crowd by talking to them, bringing up the energy of the room up before you get the other acts on. It’s a way of personalising the show, removing the invisible barrier between performer and audience, so they feel connected to you. 

I worked on developing those skills for a long time, of connecting with the audience by finding in comedy in their space. Instead of me telling them what I find funny, I dive into who they are, and find comedy there. One day I thought, what if I do this for the entire length of a show?

Also, if people are going to see me do Shadows over the next few months, what can I do to get them to come back and watch me again this year?

That’s when I turned Talk To Me (TTM) into a full-fledged tour. Because it’s unscripted and entirely crowd-work dependent, no two shows are alike. So if you like it, you can keep coming back.

Break the magician’s code—how do you pull this off for a whole hour or, notoriously, 90 minutes?

I’m still working on it, it’s not something I’ve perfected, like a lot of stuff that comes with this space—you just try to get a little better at it than you were the last time. When you start doing crowd-work, it goes like this: what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do? And then you craft jokes from whatever information you get. 

But sometimes you’re not able to get past it. So a trick I developed was to ask one more question. Then take that information and make a mind map: Where can I take this conversation? Can I share my own experiences? Should I ask one more question? It’s asking the right question, asking one more question, mind mapping, and having presence of mind. You cannot be blank. The audience is not going to give you a punchline. That’s work that’s going on in your head. 

TTM is a risky format… 

Oh yeah, it could go anywhere…

And it could also not go anywhere. What’s your fail-safe?

I have none. That’s where the thrill of performing this comes in for me… I have no backup plan, no rescue material.

See, the idea of the show is to get people to understand that besides how we see the world as comics, there’s comedy within just the average person’s life as well, you just have to show them how their situation is funny. That’s my job. 

One of the ways to do that is to share something similar you may have gone through. It’s a way of saying hey man, we’re both the same, we’re both fucked up, let’s talk about it.

Who else is really good with crowd work, in your opinion?

Mandy Knight from the UK. She is insane. She MC’s a lot of shows and I’ve seen very few people tear up a room like she does. The minute she’s on stage, the crowd’s in splits. I’ve seen her perform a few times, and I’ve always thought man, I wanna be able to do that!

In the Indian scene, I like how Kunal Kamra works the crowd; there’s also (Rohan) Joshi, Kanan (Gill), and Biswa (Kalyan Rath). Although I think Biswa just hates the crowd <laughs> and they find that funny. 

What kinda prep goes into this kind of format?

Have a clear mind, don’t try and preempt anything—clean slate. Check your zipper, walk on stage, back yourself and jump in.  

Ok, so what’s the deal with Iron Man?

Talk to Me: Ironman is the first of its kind six-hour improvised standup show. The performance is divided across three slots of two hours each. The audience can buy tickets for a minimum of one slot and a maximum of three. I will be on stage for six hours straight. At the end of every two-hour slot, there will be five minutes for audience changeover. Not a single joke will be repeated.

What’s wrong with you?

That’s a different interview. 

No, srsly. 

As a performer, I always feel that you need to push yourself. I’ve seen comics internationally who’ve been doing the same set for 8-10 years, the exact same 20-30 minutes from start to finish, and that’s all they do. They travel, get on stage, do the same set over and over, and leave. Man, that’s a terrible way to live. I enjoy a challenge, I want to see how much I can do. 

Level with me. What kind of drugs will this involve?

…serotonin. And lots of water.

Won’t this be tiring for the audience?

It’s very informal. They’re free to step out in between and stretch their legs or take a loo break or whatever, whenever they want. 

What about your loo break? 

I’ll pee into a bottle. 

Internationally, Dave Chappelle and Dane Cook hold the record of the longest single set at a club—both at Jamie Masada’s The Laugh Factory in LA—at 6.12 hours and 7.34 hours, respectively. Think you’ll beat the record?

<laughs> I can’t predict how this will go. You’re stressing me out! And I normally do well under pressure. 

It takes time and effort to build a mood, connect members of the audience through their stories, then they leave. But you’ll have to start all over again from scratch… as a performer, are you worried about that?

That’s part of the challenge. The idea behind the name is also that it’s going to take superhuman effort to pull this off. It’s not just about me being on stage for six hours. Physical fatigue, mental exhaustion, those are obvious challenges. And then stuff like this—how do you create, build it up and start all over again. But I want to keep obstacles in my path.

Fair enough. What are you going to be doing the night before?

Sleeping.

And the day of the show?

Staying calm, not thinking about it, shutting down.

How do you shut down?

I draw the curtain to keep the sunlight out, metaphorically. That’s what I do when I’m in shutdown mode. I keep everything I need close to me and try not to get pulled into any distractions.

Is there a hair product that can get through this marathon with you?

BBlunt’s Total Control Maximum Hold Fibre Paste.

What are you planning to wear?

Something comfortable. I know the sneakers I’m going with—the new Jordans I just picked up—but other than that… wait, WTF is this question? I have no idea what I’m going to wear.

Too late, but okay. What kind of person should come for this show?

Anyone who wants to be entertained? I’m most comfortable with variety—different personalities, different age groups… when there’s a healthy mix, not too much of one particular type, I know I’m going to have fun.

What if someone actually does sit through all six hours?

That champion gets personalised merchandise, and they will be on my guest list for any six of my shows in the next one year—any city, any show. 

Excited?

I am. The thing is, whenever I’m on stage, I’m having such a good time that I never want to get off it. With Iron Man, I’ve removed the choice. This is going to pose some challenges, but YAH. I’m excited. Aren’t YOU?

Here’s an episode of TTM for those who want a taste of what’s coming:

Book your tickets for Talk to Me: Ironman in Mumbai on 28 April here.

Crowd-Work Cuckoo Club Daniel Fernandes Improvised Standup