One IIT degree and 5 jobs later, stand-up comedian Vaibhav Sethia finds his calling
I remember my hands used to shiver, and my parents wanted me to come back. But thankfully, I had the perseverance to stay and work harder. I’m just glad that in the end, it all paid off
says 28-year-old, stand-up comedian and writer Vaibhav Sethia.
Preparing for IIT is gruelling but little did he know that it entailed 15 hours of slogging bleary-eyed over books. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in architecture from IIT Roorkee, this comedian has an interesting tale to tell, because neither IIT nor architecture was in the larger scheme of things.
The roller-coaster ride
With the business of optics running in his family, he attended Birla High School in Kolkata till the tenth grade. He then moved to Kota for two years right after, a decision which proved to be life-changing.
Having bagged a high-paying job in an oil company, Vaibhav disliked the secluded life on the rigs and quit after a couple of months. He then moved to work with a friend at an education-based startup, which was doing great, but that too dissolved. After this, he went back to doing architecture, and juggling three different jobs. Quitting them all for different reasons, he started working as a writer for a Kolkata-based production house. When that didn’t suffice, he moved to assisting a director in a Bengali movie and happened to play a side role in the film. Having tried his luck at several walks of life, Vaibhav had exhausted all his savings and was forced to move back in with his parents. After the dust settled, he found his passion in stand-up comedy, ultimately leading him to success.
When things get tough, the tough get going
Some of the toughest moments that Vaibhav had to face was during his first two years in Kolkata. He did not have a single show for days or even weeks, at times. Having decided not to take up a job, he was left unoccupied for long periods and wasn’t making money either. He says,
I was angry at the lack of opportunities in Kolkata. I knew that I wasn’t good enough to earn a living from stand up. The guilt of depending on my family was increasing day by day, and I secluded myself. After a few months, I realised that I was losing my battle. The comfort of my house had helped my insecurities to engulf me. My next step was to make things harder for myself
Approaching venues every day, Vaibhav made sure he performed two shows every weekend. At the same time he met Anirban Dasgupta, with whom he co-founded ‘Comedified’ in late 2014, and with the help of Sourav Ghosh he took the initiative to begin five open mics every week. With that much stage time in hand, not only did he start making money but also had his skills tailored substantially. He moved to Mumbai in February 2016, and there has been no looking back since.
Comedy through the comic’s eyes
Kolkata had no comedy scene when I started. There was just one show, every two months. So I started flying to Mumbai to see, learn and get some more stage time. Later in 2012, I did Kolkata’s first ever open mic and I got a good response. After getting laughs consistently for a few more times, I started enjoying it. Soon I happen to win an open mic at the Canvas Laugh Club, which acted as a big boost to my confidence. The first Pajama Fest happened in January 2014 and I participated in the open mic and won it, again
Even though his first paid gig did not happen for almost a year, his depression and loneliness got overshadowed as soon as he set foot on stage. Luckily for him, his parents were patient and understanding. They accepted his choices, even though they did not understand it completely.
Corporate shows being his major source of earnings, he feels that comedy is Darwinian - the survival of the fittest and that originality trumps everything.
“I feel that the Internet has been a huge driving force in making stand-up as significant as it is, today. As far as the target audience is concerned, a comedian always tries to make a joke which has no limitations of age or any other type. I am not a very theoretical person. I like to talk about everything, except politics and Bollywood because I don’t follow them,” he quips.
Vaibhav says stand-up comedy is a very individualistic art form.
Even if you learn from others all the time, nothing eventually helps you more than your audience’s reaction. I try to do more open mics and get as much stage time as possible. It is the only way to improve, I believe. Write more, perform more. Period.