To give up a successful career as a banker to enter the fledgling and highly competitive world of stand-up comedy is not a very easy decision. 34-year old Vikram Poddar made this bold move not long ago. Armed with an MBA, he did a variety of corporate jobs including that of an investment banker for close to half a decade. “An MBA was something I always knew I wanted to do. My father and sister are both MBA’s, and I grew up with discussions of CAT scores, PI’s, assignments etc. And I was always very hooked into that culture. I loved all aspects of it” he says. In fact there’s a thin strand of similarity he sees between his early days in MBA and comedy, “What I found most interesting in MBA is how it’s a mix of people who are brought together from different backgrounds, it’s very diverse and yet everyone becomes equal. And to a certain extent that’s true of comedy as well. From an 18 year old talking about politics to a 45 year old with mundane household observations, everyone brings their unique perspective and yet on stage they’re all equal.”
Though he was never the class clown, or the resident ‘funny guy’ of his friend circle in college, it was the magnetism and charm of public speaking that first appealed to Vikram. He reminisces, “It was the first presentation I had to make in B-school where people stood up and took notice of me. It wasn’t a humorous presentation per se, but I had infused certain elements like spontaneity, set up and pay off and asking audience questions which helped immensely to make an impact, I had little idea back then that these tricks would someday help me write my stand up.”
After completing his MBA in Delhi, Poddar came back home to Mumbai and had stints with a few consulting firms. In his free time, he would devour American sitcoms like ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘Scrubs’, and continue to write humour articles and stories as a hobby. “I always liked writing, and this was the mid 2000’s so avenues like blogs or social media were still relatively obscure in India, so I craved for an outlet where I could express myself.” That outlet came in the form of read- meets at the Prithvi theatre, and a public speaking forum called Toastmasters which immensely helped Vikram. “At Toastmasters I came across speakers who were way more proficient than I had been, so it served as a reality check and at the same time was a great learning experience” he remembers. It was here that most of Poddar’s speeches started getting infused with dollops of humour and the words “funny” started being associated with him.
The skeletal structure of what would later become his material for stand up came in 2011. “In 2011 for the Toastmasters humorous speech contest I wrote a speech on turning 30, and I instantly knew this time I’ve got something different. The speeches I’d done before were good, but they were on topics that were fairly generic, this was my first experience of comedy coming from my life, from going out and noticing things as opposed to sitting in a room and writing it. So far it had been more of an academic exercise, but for the first time it felt like the taste of something coming out of experience.“ Poddar went on to comfortably win the contest.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing after that point. Right around that year, internationally acclaimed comedy club ‘The Comedy Store’ had opened up a branch in Mumbai. After giving their open mic a shot, Vikram realized based on the lukewarm reception of the audience that there was a difference between developing and performing a comedy act and delivering a humorous speech. “I realized that stand-up comes from a very personal place, one has to be way more unhinged, it has to feel real, it’s an art form”.
After reworking his material and adding some new bits, two months later he was at the Foster’s LOL nights, a series of open mics organized by comedian Vir Das. “I had just made the switch to investment banking at this point, and I started writing jokes that made fun of my corporate background along with being a Marwadi, and I realized this was really making people laugh” says Poddar. He ended up as a runner up on that show and made quite an impression with Vir.
Up until this point comedy had just been a hobby and quitting a job still seemed a far out idea for Vikram. But once he started getting regular spots at comedy clubs and corporate shows he started feeling he could pursue comedy for the long run. It was in fact a show that went really bad that was the tipping point. “I had a really bad show at Comedy Store’s ‘Rising Stars’ one night and decided that was it, either I make a commitment to comedy or to a job, and I think when people consider having a corporate job as a “safe” option, they’re a little misplaced. I’ve worked in the corporate world for seven years and I’ve seen entire divisions being laid off in a day. That’s 200 people jobless in an instant. So that “safety” spiel is kind of a misnomer. I thought evolving and creating is a more rational, practical and risk free way of growing.”
Since quitting his full time job, Vikram has had an extremely successful run in stand up comedy and today he brands himself as India’s first ‘Corporate Comedian’. He has written for the Aditya Birla group awards, the ET start up awards and also established a new venture called ‘Bored Room Comedy’ specializing in corporate humour, which he describes as “India’s answer to Dilbert.”
When asked if he regrets quitting his job, Vikram had this to say: “Not really, I don’t even think of it as quitting something and doing something else. It was a natural progression. My humour is still very corporate centric, so I’m still very attached to that field. In fact, I’ve treated my comedy as a product and used my sales skill to sell it to the people.”
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