Stand-up comedy is pretty much your life’s experiences
In December 2019, Vidura Bandara Rajapaksa, a Sri Lankan comedian based in Berlin, held a comedy show in Colombo during his brief holiday back home. We were able to have a chat with Vidura, who at the time was a software engineer by day and stand-up comedian by night, who also happened to have a degree in medicine; he shared with us that he was working towards gathering enough material to shoot a comedy special.
Since then, Vidura has pretty much achieved his goal and a step up, as not only did he curate a one-hour set, but also filmed a special and got himself a distribution deal with Amazon for his comedy special. As he produced it independently, he also owns the rights to the material.
We caught up with the man once again to see how life has been treating him since we last met and also since his special was released into the world.
Now on Amazon
First of all, we had to congratulate him on his fortunate timing with the details surrounding the comedy special; while the situation is unfortunate of course with the pandemic at large, there is a large audience tuned in and ready to be entertained and in need of new content, and luckily he just happened to have an already completed set ready to be streamed.
On the timing and how the comedy special came about, Vidura shared that while at this stage in his career it was a stressful experience, considering how people are able to do it much further into their career and how often skill, circumstance, and resources come into play, he decided to go for it primarily because for a stand up comic, the only thing you have to show for the work you have put in is your special; very much like in the case of musicians where you get your mixtape – this is the mixtape of a comedy rookie.
About the timing of it all, he said that while he was meant to shoot it in March, because he felt rather impatient he shot it in February and it turned out to be a good thing considering the state of the world right now.
He said that after the special was released, more people have started to follow his work and that it has been a huge relief because to tape a special yourself and release it to the public, it takes a certain amount of belief in yourself to do it. He added that people considered it to be a somewhat of a cocky move, but he is glad that he went through with it.
About the mechanics of shooting a comedy special, Vidura stated that people often tour with their one hours’ worth of material for a few years, to perfect it, because the more you perform the more you are able to sharpen your content.
While he hasn’t done this for nearly as long, since his gig in Sri Lanka last year, he went on a mini self-booked tour around Europe while maintaining his day job. “I would take the bus to each city, stay the night, work remotely, and fly back on Monday,” he said, and he did this for months, traveling by bus and staying at hostels.
About the actual taping of the material, he said that traditionally what you would see on any Netflix comedy special is a one-hour set that looks to be one full show, often taken from about 10 different shows performed over time, picking the best version of each joke. In Vidura’s case, working with limited resources, he said that he did two shows in one night, a 7 p.m. one and a 9 p.m. one, and on most traditional shows they would do it with a bigger audience – around 50,000 trained audience members, but of course he did not have the resources to do that so he worked with what he had and did an open show with about 50 people.
Since we did check out the special ourselves and were able to attend his gig last year in Sri Lanka, we had to ask him about his material for the show, because often when we see Asian comedians talking about their immigrant experience and how being brown makes you different, we were curious if it gets old at all and why it is that this is often the case with most comedians with Asian roots.
To this, Vidura said that stand-up comedy is pretty much your life’s experiences; you can’t help but talk about the observations you have made and there are some people who do characters and weird acentric versions, but even then those are closely linked to their own personalities.
In his case, he said that he did not want to limit himself to material that would only work in a certain area of the world; since Berlin is an international city, it has a diverse collection of cultures but this doesn’t apply to the whole of Germany. Therefore, he did not want to have content that would only work with a multicultural crowd.
About using one’s culture for entertainment however, Vidura said that it really depends on how you do it; you have certain comedians who do it effectively in a non-aggressive way and those work great, but often he does feel that when you overdo it, it feels as though you are cheapening your culture for entertainment.
He said that even in his set, there is a piece about the Easter Sunday bombings towards the end of the special which receives well with audiences, and it is one of those fine lines you can walk on.
Moving to London and the future
Vidura is currently based in Berlin. However, he shared that he hopes to move to London soon, hopefully at the end of the year, if all goes well.
He shared the reason for the move which is primarily because while Berlin is a creative hub and is not the best for business, the tour circuit is better in London. He added that you get on stage more often and there is a big tour industry there.
He also wishes not to be pigeonholed as a German act, and he hopes that in moving to London he would be able to get a professional team around him to handle the more bureaucratic sides of being an entertainer, which he currently very chaotically handles himself.
For Vidura, as a somewhat up-and-comer in the comedy circuit, he believes that undoubtedly he has a long way to go before he could possibly say he has “made it”. His end-goal so far is ideally to tour comfortably in slightly better conditions than he did earlier this year, and eventually be able to quit his day job as a software engineer and tour full-time as a comedian. If he is able to one day comfortably fill a 100 seats in any major city, then he can finally say he has made it.