This past Friday Whitman Theater filled with the South Asians, the gays and lesbians, the prefrosh, and the otherwise unaffiliated for the stand-up performance of Vidur Kapur. Co-sponsored by the Asian students associations and the LGBT Center in honor of Pride Week, the event attracted a full house. Whitman Dean Mentha Hynes-Wilson informed the standing-room-only-audience that it was in gross violation of the fire code but to fear not—should a fire erupt, she would make a “woot-woot” catcall, at which point we would know to trample each other.
Packed close together (perhaps perilously so), we watched Kapur enter to some off-timed Indian folk music, speak into a turned-off microphone, and comment predictably about the diversity of the crowd (“Lots of Indians in the house!”). It wasn’t a smooth start, and the tired gags about Larry Craig didn’t help matters.
But when he launched into his autobiographical material, things started to pick up. Raised in New Delhi, Kapur attended a strict Catholic school of face-slapping nuns. He thrived academically and—in a pattern all too familiar to Princeton students—pursued economics to meet his parents’ demands. After attending the London School of Economics, earning a PhD at the University of Chicago, and miserably working as a corporate suit, Kapur finally found his calling – comedy. Along the way, he grappled with his sexuality, coming out in graduate school and going from “virgin to whore in five minutes.”
It was a pat story, full of the culture clashes and sexual triumphs true to most immigrant groups and proudly out gay people. But he also peppered his account with offbeat observations about Indian custom. According to Kapur, Indians are a stinky, scratchy, and stuffy people—stinky in that they release silent but deadly curry farts, scratchy in that they are obsessed with picking at their groins, and stuffy in that they are outwardly asexual and unable to talk dirty. Each of these bits got big laughs, but I didn’t really understand why.
It wasn’t the potential racism I found offensive. Clearly there are things you can say about your own race that are off-limits for others, and Dave Chappelle’s career is proof that if you’re funny enough, you can pretty much get away with anything. Thing is though, Kapur wasn’t funny enough—or even all that funny. I like a good poop joke as much as the next person (see Demetri Martin on how to cope with diarrhea), but to be funny, the poop joke needs to be fresh (no pun intended). “Curry is smelly,” just ain’t all that fresh. Unfortunately, this lazy humor wasn’t limited to Indian stereotypes. Airport security is crazy, New Yorker cab drivers drive fast, and Korean immigrants talk funny—who knew?!
But it’s tough to totally bash the guy. A few of his one-liners received worthy applause, and his remarks about our boring, online-obsessed generation were dead-on. (“When I was your age, I was in ass-less chaps eating ecstasy off the bathroom floor. Your idea of fun is sending each other beer on Facebook”).
Still, I think Kapur is ultimately guilty of leaning too much on shtick. Every successful stand-up has got a shtick: George Carlin is a foul-mouthed curmudgeon; Zach Galifanakis is a whimsical nerd; Dane Cook’s a douche bag. For Vidur Kapur, that shtick supersedes the punch line. He is Indian, and he is gay, and he assumes that this is funny in and of itself. But even delivered with an Indian accent and a flamboyant bravado, a lame joke is still a lame joke.