JFL42 Review: Vir Das Impresses With a Thematically Compelling Hour Royal Theatre, Toronto ON, September 23
Published Sep 25, 2019"Those are all the generic opening jokes I have. Can I go to my material now?" Vir Das asked the crowd abruptly, just a couple of minutes into his performance at the Royal Theatre on Monday night. Incidentally, this sense that Das was perpetually requesting permission from the audience to perform "material" through the use of "generic jokes" was the sole tension that lay at the heart of an otherwise entertaining and thematically compelling hour of comedy.
Indebted more to the theatrical shows performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe than the types of acts one typically sees in North America — save for exceptions like Mike Birbiglia and Colin Quinn — Das's set was buoyed by a narrative through-line about love, across which he peppered in witty non-sequiturs and joke-filled tangents to retain the audience's attention. The proverbial "sugar to make the medicine go down," these jokes varied drastically in quality, with the best of them mining Das's unique perspective and personal anecdotes to great effect, and the worst of them feeling extraneous, as if included obligatorily for the sake of meeting some sort of abstract joke quota.
In regards to the former, Das got impressive mileage out of performing bits that he and he alone could, leveraging his singular outlook to comment on issues, like "woke culture" and colonialism, from a worldly perspective that many North American comics sorely lack. Similarly, any jokes he told that directly referenced his Indian heritage played well to a room, consisting primarily of folks of Indian descent (like myself), who relished the opportunity to laugh at nuanced jokes about our shared reference points that weren't based in stereotypes.
In terms of the latter, however, Das would occasionally stray from this blueprint in ways that felt unnecessarily pandering, awkwardly shoehorning in Trump impressions, topical references and a mixed bag of Seinfeld-ian observations, many of which felt strained and, worse, periodically obfuscated the narrative of the show. To be sure, some of these jokes, like one about how "there's no such thing as a 'gentle reminder'" would be great in a vacuum, they just felt out of place in the context of this particular show.
Of course, one-man shows require a precarious balancing act, one which, to his credit, Das mostly comes down on the right side of. Going forward, he may need to cut a few jokes and learn to be comfortable with silence if he ever wants his work to resonate emotionally, but for the moment, he's well on his way.