‘We hope no one kills us’: Varun Grover on Aisi Taisi Democracy’s Aazaadi Tour 2019
Aisi Taisi Democracy – The Aazaadi Tour 2019 with Varun Grover, Sanjay Rajoura and Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram kicks off on 16 March. Now in its sixth year, the show involves standup comedy, storytelling, it’s even got music… but it also throws up difficult questions that compel you to reassess everything you think you know about politics, societal conditioning, and cultural biases.
We caught up for a quick chat with Grover on the opening night of That Comedy Club, Mumbai, where he was testing a 10-minute bit (to loud hoots from the audience) in last minute preparation for the nationwide tour.
Hi! Tell us about the deliciously timed Aazaadi Tour.
India has so much new content every day… UP se hi har roz do ghante ka content mil sakta hai. Every year we do a tour, and it’s almost new material every year because our show is topical, our show is political, we are not bound by the idea ki humko setup-punchline waali comedy karni hai. Some of our stories don’t really have that big laugh moment, they’re just bittersweet stories.
This year we are bang in the middle of elections (humne tour pehle announce kiya tha, election dates baad mein aaye hain!) so there will definitely be jokes, or our comments on the scenario, on the campaigns being run by different parties. We also have a song, ‘Chunaav Ka Mahina’ [Edit: just released]:
The second big chunk of the show is our take on what all has happened in the last five years. We don’t know whether they will come back or not, but it’s still end of Modi-1. So how India has changed—not just politically, but also emotionally.
A third section deals with more generic issues like arranged marriage and caste. We are coming from our own perspective; being upper caste, how you’re blinded by caste and how society or your family or people around you condition you to that. Sanjay has some stories about how patriarchy affected his mindset… so issues which are not political in the typical sense, but they are political in our own way.
We also have a section of quirky stories from around India; we included it two years ago and it did really well. We do a list of crazy news from India—like PUBG is now banned in some districts in Rajkot, I’ll probably put the attack on [Bangalore’s] Karachi Bakery in here as well, or that they keep arresting these pigeons in Amritsar saying “yeh Pakistan se aaya hai…” we’ll see where it goes, but these kinds of really ‘what the fuck’ stories.
…One sec, are you still figuring it out?
<laughs and shakes head> So today was the day I was supposed to put out the show flow… we have our chunks, and we’re starting day after, but we still don’t have a show flow. Basically, it’s a 90-minute show with four big sections and five songs. We start and end with a song, and then there are four sections where me and Sanjay talk for 10 minutes each, and every section is loosely themed.
What’s the process of putting a show like this together?
We spent two days [on it] this time before the tour. In those two days, we just threw ideas at each other. We knew the broad areas that we want to talk about and just jammed, three of us together. There were some lyrics Rahul (Ram) had written already, which we refined. Like a song on unemployment data and how the government is trying to hide it, and then there’s a song on pollution because they both live in Delhi so they feel it on a daily basis.
So how long have you been workshopping your material?
Um… We met on 28 February and our first show is on 16 March, so 15 days?
This is what it’s like to be a pro, is it?
I don’t know how it will be, I’ve just done two trial shows, that’s it, that’s the only time I got to try my entire material. Otherwise I’ve been trying out 10-minute bits at open mics. See, the thing is that we’re starting with Ahmedabad, so it’s not a big stress. We’re going there for the first time so we know we can quickly fall back [on some of our earlier material] if required, they’ve not seen any of it. But we can’t do that in Bombay, for instance, because they saw us last year.
You’re touring smack in the middle of the General Election—is there anything you’re likely to highlight or censor?
No, no, we are not censoring anything. We will probably release some of the material [online] as we go because it will be pointless after the election, no matter who wins. We’re talking about campaigns, the bitterness in both campaigns, and the level of discourse. Of course we’ll keep our ears open and if there’s something crazy happening, we’ll include that in our material.
What is the impact you’re hoping for?
First thing we hope is that nobody kills us. The second is that people have a good time and they engage with the ideas. We’re doing comedy, so we want people to laugh at that time, but also to go back with some questions. Like if they come completely blank about, say, arranged marriages, but when they go back and they at least understand that there is a big part of it which is WTF. That is the kind of engagement we want, let’s see…
And your biggest fear about this tour?
Lack of prep. When I performed at a big lineup show on 2 March, I was going on stage after five and a half months. It’s the longest gap I’ve had since I started performing. I was writing Sacred Games 2, we were shooting… so now I don’t know. The fear is not that it won’t work, it’s more like have we covered enough in terms of what we are talking about, are we missing out on some really obvious things, things that could’ve been included?
What’s the best kind of feedback you get for this show?
“I’m a Modi lover but I came to your show because someone dragged me, or I wanted to see how fucked up you guys are, and I still liked it.” That kind of feedback we love. And it has come from every corner. We have done shows in Delhi with people from Aam Aadmi Party in attendance where we’ve been doing jokes on Kejriwal. On this tour, because it’s covering elections, we’re going to do jokes on everybody. Yes, there’s one chunk on what’s happened in the last five years, but there is also the failure of everybody, and we are going to talk about that.
The thing that gives us the most joy is when people who really should be hating us they say okay, we don’t haaaate you, because it was fun.
Aisi Taisi Democracy: The Aazaadi Tour 2019 starts 16 March. Book your tickets here.