Stand-up comedianactor, acha aadmi,” reads Rahul Dua’s Instagram bio. From being a runner-up in a comedy reality show to hosting one of India’s most successful shows — Shark Tank India — Dua has come a long way in his not-so-long career. Now, he is enjoying a new phase as a father. We caught up with him to talk about his knack for comedy, his first big break, and the comedy scene in India and abroad. Read the edited excerpts below:

Rahul Dua: Engineering to investment banking was pretty straightforward. I pursued an MBA to secure a good package. During my 15-month stint at Citibank Corporate Investment Banking, I realized desk jobs weren’t for me. I was good but did not enjoy the job. To figure out what I could do long-term enjoyably, I took a three-month break, during which I considered opening or joining a creative agency.

The turning point was when a friend took me to a comedy club. I had a great time there, and I went back every weekend for the next two to three weeks. But I never thought “I can do this”. Once, I saw someone’s opening act of five-seven minutes, and that’s when I realized I could do it. I can’t be funny for an hour but can be for five minutes. This artist told me about open mics, which I explored.

Comedy isn’t a very well-paying profession until you make it big. So, I worked as an ad sales manager for about 22 months and moonlighted as an up-and-coming stand-up comic.

When and how did you identify your knack for comedy?

Rahul Dua: I love to have fun; have always been the jester of the group, with a knack for comedy and an eye for detail. It came naturally to me, something I did not realize earlier. During college, in Patiala, I did not have enough exposure to pursue comedy professionally. All I did was group sketches. But then, I think things were meant to be. I have been able to find opportunities and channelize my talent to be able to sustain and put food on my table.

How much did Comicstaan ​​help you rise to fame? How would you describe life before and after the show?

Rahul Dua: Comicstaan, in 2018, was my big break. I came second, and it gave my career a kickstart. I did it without much thought. I participated thinking there are TV shows, reality shows and movies being made on/about comedians. I am very grateful for that opportunity.

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Being an insider, how would you say the stand up comedy scene in India has evolved?

Rahul Dua: In our country, stand-up comedy is in its early stages, having started only in 2011-12, unlike the West where it has been around for over 40-50 years. We are learning from the West and adopting best practices. Unlike the diverse cultural mix in the West, India’s sensibilities are more uniform. Middle-class jokes, for example, resonate universally across India. In the West, there’s Caucasian culture, there’s Mandarin culture, and more; Comedians must cater to various ethnicities in a single room. Here, we have it a bit easier.

The industry is in its nascent stages even in terms of delivery styles, quality of jokes, opportunities, players etc. but it’s dynamic and ever-evolving. It’s a very exciting time to be a comedian.

You perform in Hindi. How has the response to your shows been among the global audience, and in southern parts of India?

Rahul Dua: Yes, I perform in Hindi, and my Punjabi accent adds a unique touch. Performing in Hindi allows me to reach a wider audience, creating a sense of belonging and relatability in the audience. I talk in a way everyone does at home, or at work, that adds to the relatability factor.

Surprisingly, despite being seen as a Hindi-speaking, North Indian comedian, Chennai has been a significant market for me. That is why I started my tour from there. Bangalore has also been great, and I’m one of the few comedians from the North Indian belt to have done a show in Kochi. The South Indian market has been very loving and receptive. Very grateful for all of that.

But, I would like to share that my overseas shows are received better than my domestic shows because I provide an insight into India for $50. Else they would have to buy an expensive ticket and come to India. So, they really like it.

A lot of comics are moving to the podcast format. Would you consider it too? But how challenging can it be to sustain a comic act in the format considering there’s no audience interaction — something most comics rely on?

Rahul Dua: I will address your second question first. I want to bust the myth that most comics rely on audience interaction to kickstart or get going with their act. No. At least, I don’t. I don’t rely on audience interaction to ensure the success of my show. I am very confident and have full faith in my material. We rehearse a lot. Audience interaction is a way for them to feel more connected to us. My endeavor has never been to do audience interaction, make a joke about them, make people laugh at their expense, and put them down. No, I always talk to the people on the balcony, like I talk to the first row, but my show is not dependent on them.

I can also speak with certainty for at least 80 percent of the comedians in the country that their shows are not reliant on audience interaction either. We do it as a part of the act to make audiences more comfortable and connect with us more. Again, just my personal opinion.

Now moving to the first part, about moving to podcast format. We, as a country, are very visual. We want to watch movies, not read books. I used to think that podcasts would not do well here. But, over the last year and a half, I’ve seen a lot of audiences develop interest in podcasts. I think, after a point while driving, you don’t want to listen to songs, and podcasts are a great source of infotainment.

Now, tell us about your association with the P&G Shiksha film that uses humor to address a pertinent issue.

Rahul Dua: Huge applause to them for conceptualising this unique campaign using humor to address the sensitive issue of the learning gap. As a comedian, I feel humor is often underutilized in addressing such issues. If used effectively, humor can bring home a point like no other.

Education is more than just padhai likhai, a holistic approach to absorbing information from various sources, not just textbooks. It comes from talking to people, observing situations, perceiving and understanding them. In school, there are two fundamental aspects: understanding concepts and rote learning. The Indian education system relies heavily on rote learning, causing students to forget concepts after exams. I experienced this myself; I don’t remember the 11th-grade physics concepts I learned.

Focusing on conceptual understanding instead of rote learning it’s going to go a long way in shaping the personality of kids. When foundations are clear, they will automatically do well. P&G Shiksha’s initiative aligns with this approach, aiming to provide quality education and empower marginalized communities. I’m happy to be part of this campaign.