Comedian Anuvab Pal seeks out the funny side of Indian history

Indian stand-up comedian Anuvab Pal brings The Empire act, a history lesson in the neglected comical facet of India during the British rule, to Ductac this weekend.
Indian comedian Anuvab Pal. Courtesy DUCTAC
Indian comedian Anuvab Pal. Courtesy DUCTAC

Funnily enough, my ­telephone conversation with Anuvab Pal ­quickly goes from interview ­to ­impromptu stand-up routine. The Indian comic – credited as a writer on American sitcom Frasier, and the BBC’s Goodness Gracious Me!, as well as stage hits The President Is Coming and Chaos Theory ­– can’t seem to help it. When the interview begins well past the appointed time because of trouble with the phoneline, he says: “It’s one thing for a bad signal to disrupt an interview, but it’s another if you don’t have all the digits in the number to make the call.” Pal will be in Dubai today and tomorrow with his Anuvab vs The Empire act, billed as a hilarious history lesson on India during British rule.

Is there a question you’re bored of answering?

When journalists are on tight deadlines they don’t have time to look up what it is you have been doing. It gets very hard to summarise all that. As I get older, I forget to mention that I’ve done a bunch of things, like shows in Harvard and New York Comedy Club and end up saying stupid stuff like “I’m a comedian” making it sound like I started in this profession only last week.

Since your last visit to Dubai a few years ago, what has been the best thing that has happened to you?

The Indian comedy scene was just taking off at that time and I wanted to write about what was happening to me in stand-up shows because documenting is as funny as anything you could come up with. In India, reality is usually funnier than anything you can make up, so I thought why not do a stand-up about what happened to me around that situation? That show went on the road, to England and New York. Also, stand-up in India soon found a huge avenue on the internet, so I started doing more web work and podcasts.

What can we expect from the Anuvab Pal vs The Empire routine?

I am very interested in the British Empire in India. How did 4,000 British people run a country of 500 million Indians? But everything in history is so ­serious and I wanted to look at the fun bits and the role of the British in modern India. I also talk about how the media uses the language in a way that makes no sense. For example, there was a real-estate ad in the paper about a new high-rise, with five floating restaurants mid-air. What does that even mean?

What are your thoughts on censorship and the recent government clampdown on the popular comedy troupe All India Bakchod (AIB)?

The tricky thing in India is that you don’t know what’ll offend someone. If you have the ability to stop a show, that just becomes a crazy opportunity there. It’s not just about bad language but in another town it could be a comment on their dhotis [loincloths] that could get the comedian arrested. This has got a conversation going about the rules – it’s complex because anyone can get offended by anything, so what are the mechanics that govern it?

Which historic personality provides the most fodder for comedy?

I think [Mahatma] Gandhi does, and if you see my show you’ll understand why. Gandhi came up with super stuff like “I’m not going to hit you” and “I’m not going to eat”. So we won our independence by confusing the British and not by fighting them.

What is the last video you saw on YouTube?

I saw a tortoise playing the piano. And it’s funny because I was having a serious ­conversation with someone about his mother having glaucoma and in the middle of it, he asked me if I had seen that video. So we watched it and then went back to talking about his mother. That’s just the kind of world we live in now.

Anuvab Pal is at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, today and tomorrow from 8pm. Tickets are priced from Dh75 and are available on

Published: May 6, 2015 04:00 AM


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