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Q&A with Papa CJ

Hailed by Forbes Magazine as ‘the global face of Indian stand-up’, Papa CJ is an award-winning, world-renowned international stand-up comedian. He has performed over 2000 shows in over 25 countries across the world, and as per the Harvard Business Review is ‘one of the most influential comedians around the world’. He holds an MBA degree from the University of Oxford and is an experienced motivational speaker. He has been invited to speak at Harvard University and the University of Oxford.

Some of his lesser known achievements include being a corporate coach, having trained employees at over 50 blue-chip companies globally; he also consults with brands on concepts and content strategy; and his pet project is his initiative called The Happiness Project, whereby he performs in support of charitable causes across the world. His maiden book, an autobiography titled ‘Naked’, was launched at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2020 and has met with excellent reviews all around. We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about how he came to find his calling in the world of comedy.

  • Growing up in India, do you recall how you first became familiar with the art of stand-up comedy?

I was exposed to stand-up comedy in the UK. After completing my MBA degree from the University of Oxford I took a job as a management consultant in London. After 3 years in that job I had paid back my loans and so I took a one-year sabbatical. During that year off I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and saw stand-up comedy for the first time. I loved what I saw and three months later I took to the stage for the first time. I did 700 shows across the UK in my first 3 years and have never looked back since.

  • When did you start to think of it as a career option?

Stand-up comedy in the UK was great for learning the craft but I had to take up jobs on the side to be able to support myself. I moved back to India in early 2008 and did my first multi-city India tour that year. In early 2009, I started the English language comedy circuit in Delhi and slowly English language comedy began to enter the popular conscience. However, I’d say it took till 2011 for me to earn enough to be able to legitimately call stand-up a career option.

  • How did your family react to your decision to shift from a dependable consulting job to stand-up comedy?

My family has always been incredibly supportive of my endeavors and it was the same with stand-up comedy. It also helped that at no point was I not sustaining myself financially. It was only 10 years into my comedy career that my parents told me that they thought I’d do stand-up as a hobby for 6 months and then stop, but to their surprise I kept going on. 

  • What is the most appealing aspect of your work?

That would be the fact that I don’t consider it ‘work’. It’s play. And for me there is no high greater than performing in front of a live audience and seeing them laugh.

  • What has been your most memorable performance so far?

I have performed to a sold out Sydney Opera House and prestigious stages in New York, Las Vegas, Johannesburg, London, Singapore and many other cities across the world. However these aren’t the shows that give me the most joy. Under my pro-bono initiative called The Papa CJ Happiness Project, I visit the homes and hospital rooms of people who have been unwell for a long time. Those are the performances that mean the most for me because I am not only able to lift the spirits of someone who has been in an unhappy space for a while but also bring tears of joy to their loved ones by making their family member laugh.

  • How have you seen yourself evolve over the years?

The first line in my autobiography titled ‘Naked’ is ‘stand-up comedy is an outward expression of an inward journey’. The answer to this question is pretty much the whole book and you’ll have to read it to find out.

  • If it were magically possible to do so, (knowing what you now know) would you change anything about your education and the path you chose?

As cliché as it sounds, I don’t think that way. You do what you feel is right at the time and my life choices are what have brought me to where I am today. So I wouldn’t change anything.


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