In 2021, comedian Vir Das received a lot of flak for his poem ‘Two Indias’ that he performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. A certain section believed that he was defaming India on foreign soil. A few days later, the comedian received an Emmy nomination for his stand-up Vir Das: For India.
This irony and the impact those moments had on the comedian are part of his latest Netflix special, Vir Das: Landing. It’s fitting that the special is named that because it seems like the comedian has landed after a period of turbulence. In that sense, Landing is earnest.
Through his special, he uses the hate he received online to paint an accurate picture of comedy in India.
Talking about why Indian comedians don’t ‘push the envelope’, the comedian jokes, “we looked inside the envelope”.
Like his previous works, Das continues to comment on the idea of India and Indian identity. He also continues to walk the line between punching up and punching down, reminiscent of Daniel Sloss and his schtick of discussing what is ‘offensive’ and to whom. Ironically, some of Das’ jokes exhibit a lack of nuance about the topics he’s discussing.
Das, who was called out for transphobic jokes in a separate set, seems like he has learned from his errors. He might not be a Mae Martin or a Hannah Gadsby — both comedians who possess a unique and sensitive understanding of topics like gender and sexuality — but Das has at least positioned himself as an artiste who is willing to unlearn and evolve.
Martin and Gadsby aren’t speaking from the same position or experience that Das is, and, in that aspect, Landing does falter a bit because that lack of understanding is evident in the punchlines' strength and success.
Some jokes are rather…confusing.
Sometimes, he critiques himself (whether that is intentional or not is not something I can decide) — it seems like there is a privilege he enjoys that he isn’t aware of, even as he makes jokes about privilege and its nuances.
And even if this awareness exists, it doesn’t come off in the set, and that is, at the end of the day, what is presented to us.
The most basic tenet of a stand-up special is the ability to elicit laughter, and Landing is full of moments that’ll make you laugh. Das has his finger on the pulse of his audience, and that’s not just referring to those at the venue. Some of his jokes are rather immature, and while that is not my preferred genre of comedy, I guess I can appreciate their value.
Das wants this special to reflect his gratitude for his fans, the microphone, and the stage. To his credit, he seems genuinely delighted to be there, performing in front of his fans. He is a natural on stage, and that ease draws the viewer in. The bit about spiritual leaders being critiqued as comedians is top-notch.
Every joke and every punch line has clearly been carefully planned and curated — every callback is a moment where Das and the viewer are pointing at each other and saying, "Ah!" almost like it’s a cheeky inside joke moment.
Some bits might seem more like a slam poetry contest than a stand-up. It might not be the most exciting comedy set, and it has nothing new to say about the Indian experience as such. Yet, when Vir Das talks about Vir Das, he is the funniest.
A lot of jokes scream, ‘Yes, this is a man with a mic on stage’ and that might be someone’s cup of tea (it definitely isn’t mine), but he does keep you hooked.
With Landing, Vir Das proved that he will remain committed to his mission as a comedian, his act, his jokes, and, above all, to the bit.
The special is currently streaming on Netflix.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)