Born and brought up in Mumbai, 22-year-old Joel Dsouza is an up and coming standup comedian. He’s also a contestant on Season 2 of Amazon Prime Video’s Comicstaan, and he’s had a similar trajectory in his open mic career as he does on the show.
The second time he’d ever performed at an open mic was a night of ‘on-the-spot comedy’. His topic was ‘Netflix and Chill’. Joel, who was 18 at the time, had no idea it had sexual innuendos, and got laughs more because his cluelessness was hilarious. In the improv round on Comicstaan, he misunderstood the topic again, this time not knowing WTH a baby shower is.
Besides standup, he’s also written for the fourth season of Abish Mathew’s talk show Son of Abish. “Abish is such a sweet boss to have, he’s like a teddy bear of average height,” he says of his experience there. Here are more such gems.
1. What words have people used to describe your comedy?
Awkward, weird and unnecessary.
2. What do you love about the scene right now?
To be honest, I have a lot of friends in the scene. I mean, for me, I never found my thing in college. I think it’s very encouraging right now. If someone sees someone who is funny, then people do genuinely try to give them a push. They try helping them by giving them opening spots or small spots in their half-hour shows. The intention of the scene towards younger people and newer talents is pretty positive. At least I felt that towards me and other people around.
3. How many minutes do you have right now?
Right now, I have around 35-40 minutes. But I’m also planning to do a trial show of an hour on 12 and 31 August.
4. A recent bit you saw that blew your mind?
Uhh, recently a bit that blew my mind was a bit that I saw Kanan [Gill] do live at an open mic which was about, I think, being in a band. I can’t tell you more about it because it might be in his special. But I think it’s a very solid bit.
5. Your current favourite Indian comedian?
Oh, I think it’s Kanan Gill, definitely.
6. Your current favourite international comedian?
It has to be Bill Burr.
7. An international comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?
I think most bits by Bill Burr I’ve seen more than 5 times. But if I have to [tell you one], it would be the bit about Steve Jobs.
8. Do you have any rituals before you go up on stage?
I usually have a small piece of paper on which I write the premises I’m gonna do. Even if I don’t refer to it mid-show, the fact that it’s in my front pocket or back pocket makes me feel very secure. Otherwise, before the show, I’m usually listening to music but it’s not really a ritual. And sometimes, if I’m doing a bit that didn’t work last time but has worked before, then before going up on stage I listen to a recording of the time it worked the best, so I know what needs to be done.
9. Who do you test your jokes on?
A friend in my building, Akshay. He’s not a comedian. I don’t test jokes on comedians.
10. What songs do you have on loop right now?
Oh, I listen to a lot of Kendrick Lamar. So this song called Element, is what I’m looping right now.
11. What’s the first joke you performed that got a laugh?
It was a joke about rich parents vs poor parents <chuckles> and I sometimes still do it. I mean I’m done with that joke, but sometimes when I get done with my 40 minutes in 18 minutes, I’m like “Theek hai, what happened in 2016” <laughs>”What about rich parents vs poor parents!”
12. What mode of transport do you use to get to a show?
I have a scooty. I use it for like 90% of my shows. I drive it myself. And it’s also very cheap. So like Rs. 500 of petrol gets me through an entire week. Otherwise, for the rest 10%, I use the metro or the train.
13. Have you ever performed a show while you were high?
No, no, no, I don’t smoke up.
14. What’s the weirdest place you’ve performed at so far?
I performed at an open-air boat in Goa, and I had to follow two Russian dancers dancing to Bollywood tracks.
15. What social media platform are you most active on?
Instagram, and Twitter comes very close. Usually, Instagram is where I think one step: like, is this good or bad? But Twitter is where my rawest form of thoughts go. Basically, I watch a lot of sports. But I can’t bore all the people on Instagram [with that] because I think they’re the ones who buy tickets. But Twitter is all Bajrang Dal and all, so I can irritate them.
16. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far about being a comedian?
I mean, it’s a very cliché thing, but you just have to keep doing it.
And—I’m such a big fanboy of Kanan—one thing he said in a recent interview: he revisits his premise to see why it’s funny. When you do it over time, for a long time, you just say it because you’ve learnt it by heart. But when you revisit to see why it’s funny, you add more stuff to it.
17. One thing Indian comedians should stop making jokes about?
This is one thing I’m against. I don’t care what people make jokes about. People say engineering jokes and Tinder jokes are done. But then we hear a good joke. This means the premise is not done, we are done hearing bad jokes about the same premise. I don’t mind Punjabi jokes, I don’t mind Tinder jokes. Everyone’s like ‘Tinder jokes are hacky’, but there’s a comedian called Mandar Bhide who has a very good joke on Tinder.
18. People have started associating your style with that of Biswa Kalyan Rath, how does that feel?
I don’t mind the association because I know my dialect is similar to his. But I also feel that’s just typical Bombay Hindi. I’ve been told I sound like Siddharth Dudeja and Kunal Kamra also.
I don’t mind this, but sometimes it’s annoying. [For instance] when Amazon put out that video, there were 10,000 views and some 12 comments saying “Oh, this is Biswa”. No one from Bombay really says that [because they get that this is how everyone basically talks]. But I get why people do it. And I’m like, yeah, whatever.
19. Also, a baby shower is an event where the baby isn’t present and… have you understood now?
YES, I’m aware. At the time of the show, I genuinely did not know that. In the edit, they’ve shown it in a different light. I’ll expose Amazon here:
Basically what happened was, I said ‘bacche ke aankh mai saabun‘ or whatever <laughs loudly> how stupid. And I’ll tell you the difference between live and edit—nobody laughed for 10 seconds, the joke tanked. Then Shreeja [Chaturvedi] and Ramya [Ramapriya] went up on stage and that’s when I think Kenny or Kanan started laughing, and then the whole audience laughed.
I can’t believe I’ve received most messages because of this and not some standup. People thought I’m actually doing wordplay <laughs>.
20. What’s with the one-line Instagram captions and ‘coolboy’?
HAH, so ‘coolboyjoel’ [his handle across social media] is supposed to be pretty ironic. Some people are like, “Dude, tu cool nahin hai, samjha?”. I’m like “OKAY. Thanks for putting it out there”. But basically, on Instagram, I exhibit this immense confidence that I don’t have. I hate self-deprecating humour. Kya ‘I’m not good’? Be good and come back then!
As for the one-line captions, I don’t wanna be seen as that guy who puts in a lot of effort. People should be like “Yeah, he’s chill”. I want to have a rapper vibe there. It’s either very cool or very cringe. (I think most of the times it’s just cringe.)