Welcome to the Gaana Music Festival blog! As we count down to the largest Indian music festival in North America, you can expect exclusive content here – from interviews to behind the scenes, from observations to insider tips.
One of the India’s first stand-up comedians returns to stage after a long gap. It promises to be an exciting time for his fans, especially those in New Jersey & California, where he makes his American debut this June during Gaana Music Festival. We caught up with ‘mojorojo’ for a chat about his comedy.
GMF: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us, Rohan! This will be your first show in the USA, yes?
RJ: Thanks! I’m quite looking forward to it, actually. I’ve never done an international festival, so this should be fun.
GMF: Welcome back to the stand-up stage! We’ve missed you! How’s it different now from the last time you were actively performing?
RJ: The scene itself has changed and evolved. There are so many comics with a multitude of languages and voices. Comedy is going to new cities, and audiences are demanding better content beyond stereotype-based. So it’s gotten tougher to write material! With so many comics, you need to bring your A-Game. Sure, reputation gets you a show (and five minutes of niceness from the crowd), but once you’re on stage, that doesn’t matter. So the scene is seeing growth and complexity. We’re at the end of the beginning of stand-up in India: the second act is going to get more interesting. More non-traditional narratives and lived experiences are going to come, the ‘urban hipster’ phase is over.
GMF: It’s interesting that stand-up comedy started as a means of alternative entertainment from Bollywood – and things have now come an almost-full circle with Bollywood embracing comedy, our comedians acting in films and doing shows with stars… How’s that happened?
RJ: It’s a sign of acceptance of the subculture by the mainstream. Which is a good thing, because – at the end of the day – that’s where the money is. So if you want good comedy to come, you need to give talent access to that mainstream. Plus, I think we live in an age of content where you can be mainstream without compromising on art – especially if you see what’s happening on Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. It’ll also be interesting to see what happens when non-traditional forms enter the mainstream. Will these forms change? Maybe – but then they can also change the mainstream, which is what happens everywhere else in the world! You start up with stand-up and then go to movies, or sitcoms – like Chris Rock & Kevin Hart.
GMF: A non-comedy example of that being hip-hop, and gully rap.
RJ: Oh absolutely. There’s a great line in a Drake song, which sums up what’s happening in the scene.
And me doin’ the shows gettin’ everyone nervous
‘Cause them hipsters gon’ have to get along with them hood
GMF: You’re much more than a “funny guy” to your followers and are seen as someone who’s caring, cerebral and committed to fitness – post-workout cupcakes aside. Do you see your role as someone who motivates people to exercise, read more, adopt animals, more than just make them laugh, given your follower base and how they look up to you?
RJ: I don’t see myself as a motivator or role model, or don’t want to preach, patronise. I think I’m just aware of the reach I have, and I think I just try and share any decent practices I adopt. On Instagram, I can’t be a funny guy all the time – it’s exhausting having to portray just one aspect of your personality 24*7. I’ve always been a bit of an oversharer – so if I find a good book or fitness routine, I love to share it and hopefully that helps someone else.
GMF: Performing in India vs performing abroad: What’s the difference? Is there one?
RJ: I’ve performed in Dubai and Singapore solo before, this is my first time in the US! You do need to be watchful about doing specific local Indian references – would the people here get the cultural references? This is going to be exciting though, since I will now be performing at a music festival. The vibe there will be totally different.
GMF: Thanks so much for your time, Rohan – have a great time at Gaana Music Festival, see you there!
This interview was conducted over the phone, and has been edited for brevity and clarity by Gaana Music Festival.
Follow Rohan Joshi on Instagram.