Comics are complicated people. Their job is to make you laugh by cracking jokes at others’ expense, drive home uncomfortable social and political truths by making light of unpleasant episodes and easing your stress by giving you an hour or two of unadulterated laughter. Most photographs or profile pictures of stand-up comics will also show them inevitably making funny faces and striking funnier poses. But what happens when the lights go dim and the laughter from the crowds ebb? Are they still as chilled out, humorous and happy-go-lucky?
My knowledge of the world of stand-up comedy says ‘No’. Behind the funny poses, witty puns and laugh-out-loud one-liners, lies an individual who is as complex as you and me. Who goes through those very emotions that make us such fascinating creatures – pride, jealousy, depression, anger and so on. Who have the same issues as say, a doctor, lawyer, teacher or banker – having to deal with ego, heart break and anxiety. And whose profession sees the same problems as any other – competition, intense rivalry, super highs and bigger lows. The only difference is that comics are often expected to be ‘funny and happy’ all the time, whatever they may be going through inside, while we are allowed our bad moods, insecurities and vulnerabilities. Occasionally if the mask slips, it’s a plunge into abyss. Just ask Kapil Sharma.
But there are those who brave through the darkness and come out of it, well enough to make a joke out of it – that’s what ace stand-up comic Daniel Fernandes does in his latest show Shadows, that he performed at Headlines Café, as part of comedy collective VDesi Laughs’ initiative.
Frankly, it was a whole new territory in comedy that the Mumbai-based comic covered – once that delved deep into his dark side, laid bare his soul, revealed his weaknesses – all with a huge dollop of humour. To be fair, the journey Daniel spoke of eloquently was the one he took before becoming a comic. It was more about the discovery of self before the world discovered him. Neverthless, I reckon, it wouldn't have been easy for him to write it.
I also realise it’s easy to make fun of life, celebrities, incidents and politicians; the hardest joke to crack is often the one on your own self. And this is what set Shadows apart from a regular stand up act. For one, it was shorn of all clichés. Thankfully, there were no ‘Dubai is so rich’ jokes, ‘How many Sindhis/Gujaratis/Malayalis in the audience’ jokes and mercifully, no Kejriwal-Rahul-Modi jokes either. Mocking politicians is the easiest route for a comic.
Daniel, instead, goes straight for the jugular, without mincing words. Taking us through his ordinary ‘90s childhood, confused teens and even more confused early adulthood, Daniel pieces together a personal journey of battling depression, confusion and anxiety. Not that he shies away from mentioning religion or politics or cinema. Salman Khan, the church, the rabid right wing all made their appearance in the two-hour piece but the core was essentially his battle with mental health issues. When he spoke about his battle with depression, his therapy sessions, his confusion at not finding his calling, you could feel and identify with it.
Of late comics, especially in India, have become the conscience keepers of the nation. They are the ones who raise uncomfortable questions about current affairs, make the most pertinent comments on burning issues - perhaps far more than journalists do. Daniel joins the rank and even takes it further with a personalised account bringing mental health issues to the fore. For most part, he kept the packed, energetic audience in Dubai interested and involved in his life (we forgive the average sound system that took away some of the sheen from a few lines) as he never went overboard, striking just the right balance. Thought provoking yet entertaining! Now, that's rare!