‘Outside In’: Comedian Vir Das’ Interactive Netflix Special Puts a Focus on the Lockdown

Vir Das
Robert Sebree

When the world shut down, the comedy continued for Vir Das. The comedian and Bollywood star — who appeared on the short-lived Whiskey Cavalier — performed some 30 interactive shows before audiences representing more than 20 countries, all via Zoom.

Das then took video from those shows to create the special Outside In — The Lockdown Special, which drops on Netflix December 16. Here, the 41-year-old checks in from India to talk about producing the program, and how one question connected people in unexpected ways.

At what point did the shows turn into a Netflix special?

Vir Das I’d ask the audience one question: What do you think you’re going to do when the lockdown is over? I was taken aback by the rawness and vulnerability of the answers I got. At some point, I realized it’s never going to happen again where everyone in the entire world is going through the same thing at the exact same time. I had to capture it. So I had this tiny camera and started recording. I didn’t think it would be a Netflix special. I thought it would be a fundraising special, which it was initially. [Das says he raised $47,426.40 for 17 different COVID relief charities.]

It feels more like watching a documentary than a stand-up special because you see how doing the shows impacted you.

I definitely wanted it to feel like a documentary. To be honest, God had been good. I had a Netflix special in January. It did well. I was legit out of things to say. I didn’t have plans to put out another special so soon. Then I thought, I had to make this about my audience. Let me put them front and center.

Vir Das

Out of all the audience responses about post-lockdown plans, was there one that struck you most?

There was a kid who wanted ice cream. I’ve been in his shoes — you get an admission letter to an American university and [then aren’t sure you can] afford it. I was able to go, and it changed my life. He was waiting to go. I recognize that feeling where you’re excited at the prospect of America. That kid did not complain, and all he wanted was some ice cream in the meantime. Sharing all that I think was really brave.

What do you hope people get out of the show?

I look at it as full disclosure, eye contact and acknowledgement about what we’ve all been through. I think people are going to walk away saying, “F— 2020! I’m going to pretend this year never happened.” Or they may wallow in what 2020 was personally for themselves. I think this special is a good opportunity to say, “You were here too. I was here too. And it sucked. There were moments of light and we got through it.” I hope it’s a little cathartic for people.

Have you returned to the more traditional stage?

I’m in Goa, a beach town an eight hour drive from Mumbai. There are the woods next to my house. An Israeli dance company had set up a stage in the middle of the woods. I kind of took that over. Now I do two to four shows a week. It’s 50 people and in the sunlight. You sit on a hillside socially distanced. It’s a good time. I really started out in 2008, and it feels like 2008 again because there are no cell phones. I lock them up. Even if [attendees] hide their cell phones, there is no network service. Nobody is making any money on these shows. But people who are showing up really love comedy and want to see it prosper. I never felt so free or courageous as an artist.

Outside In, December 16, Netflix