Internationally known comedian Vir Das brings his globally unifying humor to Spokane

click to enlarge Internationally known comedian Vir Das brings his globally unifying humor to Spokane
Vir Das has been acting and performing stand-up for over a decade.

To millions of his fans, Vir Das has been a trusted name in comedy for a long time. Yet ahead of his performance at Spokane's Bing Crosby Theater, the Dehradun, India-born stand-up quickly admits that he's "not sure how many people know me over there."

It's a position that's surely familiar to Das by now. His 2017 Netflix special Abroad Understanding made a point of cutting back and forth from a packed theater in his home country of India to a decidedly cozier club in New York City. It was an inspired editing choice for a special that served as both Das's proper debut to an international audience and the culmination of a full decade spent honing his talents in Indian film and television.

Though Das enters Washington state on his new Wanted world tour a seasoned pro, his performance nonetheless promises to be a breath of fresh air. Far from any grumbling over smaller audience sizes, Das seems thoroughly energized by the prospect of sharing his singular perspective with a new audience.

"It gets tougher and tougher, honestly," he says of the rigorous process of creating a new TV special and tour. "Right now, I'm focusing on just trying to get it out in front of as many different crowds as I can. I just did six weeks in the U.K., so I know that British people like it. I also did a week in Canada, so I know that Indian people like it!"

Indeed, Das's blend of topical jibes, offbeat personal anecdotes and broad pop-culture musings seems to be as much of a one-size-fits-all proposition onstage as it is on paper.

"It really boils down to rooms, and alcohol, and energy, far more than nationality," Das says, reflecting on crowd reactions to his new material. "I think anyone who knows comedy knows that it's all about a specific room on a specific night."

True to those words, a specific room on a specific night looms large over Wanted: the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 12 in the nation's capital, where Das first performed his now-infamous "Two Indias" monologue, contrasting pride in his people and culture with the reactionary currents that threaten to undo its decades of hard-fought progress.

"Two Indias" immediately became the flashpoint for a heated debate over India's social politics and the way the country is often perceived by the rest of the world. In addition to the expected online deluge of disgruntled non-fans, members of India's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party quickly moved to ban Das from performing in his home state and even to file sedition and defamation lawsuits. On his flight home, Das confronted the possibility of an immediate arrest on arrival.

Understandably, he expresses some reluctance to milk such a nerve-wracking ordeal for laughs, citing his rule that "content can become controversy, but controversy should never become your content."

"I think comedians often romanticize how much they are 'truth-speakers,' and how they speak truth to power," Das continues. "I wanted to take a much more humble, inward look at things, rather than any kind of posturing."

Nonetheless, he's sought after the kernels of universality in the political and media circus that surrounded him.

"It's a lot funnier than the average person might expect... Once you get a little goddamn distance from it!" Das says. "I wouldn't wish a whole country's anger on anybody, but in a certain sense, we've all experienced some version of that."

In keeping with this desire for a more grounded, less ego-driven show, Das has also done away with the stage dressing and ritzy wardrobes of his previous specials, avoiding a trajectory he describes as "same comic, fancier suit, bigger venue."

Still, though his current onstage attire may be more laid-back, it's no less deliberate, a direct result of Das's experiences in screen acting.

"If you work in Bollywood or in Hollywood, or do a certain amount of acting, you start to sense how your stand-up image blends into your acting image, and can sometimes hamper the suspension of disbelief when people see your face," he says.

With Wanted on its way to Netflix and a very literal world of comedic possibilities in front of him, Das expresses a refreshing optimism surveying the state of his field.

"I think what's most exciting is that we're in an era of asking what comedy is right now, and nobody seems to have the answer," he says. "For me, as an outsider, that means open season, that's my time to shine."

Despite his tumultuous past year, Das is more determined than ever to do what comedy does best: bring people together.

"We've never had more global common ground in the world," he says. "I could not be more excited to be a global comic." ♦

Vir Das • Sat, Oct. 15 at 7 pm • $41.50-$115 • All ages • Bing Crosby Theater • 901 W. Sprague Ave. • • 509-227-638

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