Updated: February 2, 2021 7:10:21 pm
Whether it is Anna in Khiladi or Hiralal in Judaai, the list of Johny Lever’s hilarious performances and even funnier dialogues is never-ending. But ask the king of comedy about his favourite performance, and he says it is Baazigar. Behind these memorable performances lies immense work — that of “hiding emotions and feelings”.
In an email interaction with indianexpress.com, Johny Lever — who recently launched his Unluclass — talks about the most challenging aspect of being a comedian, the comedy space today, and his inspiration, among other things.
You have entertained masses for years with your perfect comic timing. But how challenging is the role of a comedy artiste?
The biggest challenge for a comedy artiste is to be funny. We read scripts, rehearse and repeat for days, but to deliver with perfect expression, rhythm and at the perfect time is the most difficult part. It takes years to develop a style and tone which makes one different from the crowd. The other challenge is to always be fresh and come up with something different that surprises your audience. Sometimes, the expression and tone become repetitive so it is quite challenging.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
The most difficult part of being a comedian is to hide your emotions and feelings. You have got to make people laugh irrespective of what you are feeling. We have to present the required energy and mood and mask all other emotions to bring smiles to others’ faces. The great comedian Mehmood sahab has and will always remain an inspiration to me. He has played a major role in shaping my career, and there’s so much that all comedians can learn from him.
Did you always want to do comedy?
I guess I started developing an interest in comedy at a very young age. When I was two, I used to mimic my grandfather. So from there, my journey began by mimicking others and I started loving it. Then after a few years, I realised this is what I have to do and started my career as a comic stage performer in musical shows and here I am, still learning something every day.
What qualities make for a good comedian?
To be a good comedian, first, you need to know the art and the responsibilities that come with it. If you don’t know what you are doing, you are disrespecting the art and this will never make you a comedian, forget a ‘good’ one. The next thing you have to do is to enjoy and perform. If you are not enjoying your work, you can never give your best. The last thing is to observe, observe and observe. I took a break from the industry for 12 years; I just did a couple of shows a year. During this time, I would switch on any channel on television — be it Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi — and observe the soul that each character and individual holds. I believe the moment you connect with the soul of a character, you become one.
This helped me in my comeback in the 2009 film All The Best where my performance was applauded.
What all will your Unlu classes entail?
My Unluclass will consist of 23 lessons that will cover stand-up comedy, finding your ‘sur’, my whole journey from a stage performer to a comedy artiste, improvisation, overcoming camera shyness, how to develop a style, etc. These lessons are going to prove fruitful for all aspiring comedians. The courses condense my decades of industry experience in a few hours.
Everyone knows about your on-screen persona, but how would you describe yourself off-camera?
What I do on-screen is follow a script but the attitude that I carry is my own and that is original. So, I am no different from what I am on-screen. I do not put effort into doing a comic role, I just present myself – the original me, in front of the camera and that’s what my audience loves.
The comedy space today has widened with social media. What is your take on the comedy scene led by stand-up artistes?
Around 40 years ago, nobody knew what stand-up comedy actually was. Stand-up comedians were looked down but with the advent of social media and technology, now everyone glorifies this profession. I am happy comedy has now become a full-fledged career choice and people have their own share of respect for comedians as well.
Which on-screen performance do you consider your best and why?
My best on-screen performance was Baazigar (1992), directed by Abbas-Mustan. The reason why I called it my best performance is because there was no script. I improvised everything on the sets which means 80 per cent of the dialogues are mine.
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