Recorded in San Francisco, Indian comedian and Bollywood actor Vir Das’ new special Losing It provides insightful explorations of life in the U.S from an Indian perspective, Indian culture and politics, and modern religion.
An interesting element of Das’ stand-up strikes at the difficulty of being an immigrant in the U.S, and how he translates his Indian identity abroad. Noting the Indians’ reputation for intelligence, he jokes about how, while not necessarily agreeing with this stereotype, he feels pressured to go along with it when he hears it from white tourists, and complements this with pressed hands and expressing “Namaste” just to get out of the conversation as soon as possible. As someone brought up in the UK, I’ve always felt our understanding of Indian culture is overwhelmingly maternal and condescending in nature given our colonial history, so to see Das address these issues in his stand-up was a breath of fresh air.
Das also spends a large part of Losing It tackling the dangerous mythologies of our shared cultures, from our hardened faith in institutional religion and religious icons, to stifled gender roles for men and women, to the role Hollywood and Bollywood play in shaping problematic, contemporary ideologies. His takes on Hinduism, Christianity and Islam are well executed, joking that Hinduism is like The Avengers superhero movies. “There’s too many guys, we don’t know what the story is, and we don’t eat beef.” He proposes that the way out of classic religion is for America to create their own form of progressive religion. He proposes “Eidster”, where you get to hide chocolate goats in the garden once a year. While very funny, the segues between this portion of Losing It does become a little disjointed at times, and I wished that at certain points he would go into more detail or develop his material more.
After a funny dissection of certain literal elements of the ancient Indian epic poem Ramayana, he heads into a discussion about the power of committing to a lie, and how the more forceful the lie, the more they can become reality. He tells the story of how he pretended that he had appendicitis as a child so he could get a few weeks off school and a tonne of ice cream. When this eventually led to him being taken to hospital, he jokes that when the three Sikh surgeons operating on him found a perfectly healthy appendix in him, out of pressure to not be accused of being duped by a 10-year old, they took the appendix out anyway. It’s well performed material, and plays with the numerous social pressures that we all have to navigate, and a topic that Das finishes his special with. As the special continues, Das jokes about the concreteness of the stories he is telling his audience, emphasising that certain portions of his material could be just convincing lies. It works well, and offers an interesting form of comic commentary on the need for a story to be true for it to be meaningful, as well as pointing to the dangers of holding onto ancient ideas of truth or meaning too literally.
In one of his strongest pieces, he talks about the nature of toxic masculinity, arguing that “80% of masculinity is bullshit”, and that, “Why can’t we just be male?” He illustrates this by shaking hands with a male audience member, and joking about why he feels the need to forcefully squeeze the man’s hand for no reason whatsoever due to these machismo instincts. In one of his most eloquent moments, he goes into detailed material about the toxicities of patrolling female clothing and female behaviour, and why this objectification of women is so harmful. However, this material goes on to mesh with clumsier expositions such as when he explains that women shouldn’t aim to be at the same level of equality as men, as women are typically able to achieve so much more. While I’m sure this material is well-meant, it echoes the same patronising tones towards women that Das mocks in his discussion of fellow male feminists.
The rarity of Das’ position as an Indian stand-up comedian performing to an international audience is a major strength of the special, and although I found some myself puzzled by some of the references, it was fun searching them out online, such as his narration of Das’ father buying a Maruti 800, or Das’ discussion of Doordarshan, the Indian news network. He explores a lot of really fascinating areas, but there are a lot of issues he covers that I wish he would’ve taken the time to describe in greater detail. For example, he talks about the quixotic, problematic nature of Bollywood and the dreams it encourages in Indian audiences, but then quickly moves into less critical material. However, he finishes his special on a high note by questioning what it truly means to be a man, and why so much of male identity is entwined with questions of success and accomplishment. While a little unpolished, Das provides a great stand-up special from an overlooked political and social angle while delivering some quite hilarious moments.