by Nida Fatima 28 August 2020

A Chartered Accountant who quit his job to become a full stand-up comedian

Vikash Paul, from Kolkata I am Chartered Accountant by profession and a stand-up comedian by passion. I quit my job to follow my passion of being a stand-up comedian. It’s being around 4 years and done more than 300 shows in major cities across India. I have over a million views on my YouTube stand-up videos now and have also been on the 'Best in Stand Up' line-up at the prestigious Canvas Laugh Club, Mumbai. I have been part of South India's biggest comedy collective 'Evam Stand-up Tamasha' for the last four years.

  If I want people to have one takeaway from my story it has to be that "it's okay to not make right choices at first".  You can make wrong decisions that may be due to parental pressure or peer pressure because that's what society expects from you and not necessarily what you wanted to do. After high school, I took the science stream only to realize that my interest lies in commerce and then confronted my school principal and went to the commerce section. Later I got went to the best college for commerce in the country SRCC (Delhi) out of parental and societal pressure and moved to a new city out of my comfort zone. Being in societal pressure I pursued the Chartered Accountancy course. Then got a job in an equity research profile CRISIL (Chennai) because that was the only company providing such a role at that time. So, if you look at all the choices I made, it was never a conscious decision from my end but it was more of external factors.

It took me almost 12 years after school, more than a decade to know that my passion is to be a stand-up comedian and that is what I wanted! You have to find what you enjoy and for some people, it might be one year or 10 years or even more. But until you find it, take everything that comes your way with a positive spirit. I gave my best at every stage without judging too much of it. Today when I look back, I don't regret any of it. In fact, if I change any of those choices, I would not be where I am right now. It's the sum effect of all those choices that I am doing stand-up comedy - the thing which makes me feel alive every day. 

My school life made me realize my areas of improvement which were communication and presentation skills - which is very critical in the profession of stand-up comedy. My college life is totally different in a different city, I had acquired life skills like staying independently, cooking, managing home, etc - which all comes in handy now when we tour for our shows in different cities. CA articleship gave me the spirit to tackle pressure and get work done - which is very much required when we write jokes/ sketches in short deadlines. My first platform to perform comedy was the annual event in the first job. All the corporate training I took in my office for my juniors gave me an opportunity to speak and address a bunch of people, stand in front of them. All these things, all these life skills acquired at different stages came back to me today when I am doing stand-up comedy - so, it's not necessarily the choices we make but what we make out of those choices that define us.

I have always been an introverted kid but always had that knack of cracking jokes and being very witty in my family and close friends circle. Even during articleship or later when I joined the office, I was always the guy who cracked jokes in get-togethers, coffee, or other hangout sessions. It's like the joy out of cracking those jokes and getting immediate gratification for it is so high that you are willing to break your introverted shell for that moment. Lol...I think that's exactly what pushed me into stand-up and get on stage and tell jokes, even though when I was not a very social person.

Why I choose CA
I was very studious and a typical nerd so mostly stood first or second in my class during the school days! I topped my school in Class 12th board exams. And because of the high marks, I got admission into Shri Ram College of Commerce (Delhi University), which is Asia's number one college for Commerce. During those days, there were only two popular options for commerce students - CA or MBA. I chose CA not because I loved it or had a vision - that decision was mainly based on the fact that I was an introvert with poor communication skills and people told me that to crack MBA you need to go through GD and interviews and so I got scared..lol. On the other hand, they said CA needs a lot of hard work and hours of studies to clear it. I was like yeah that's my forte - hard work, I can do that! So, I moved to be a CA rather than an MBA. My mom always wanted me to do an MBA, so she was very disappointed. She still wants me to get an MBA degree from a top institute.

My CA Journey
So, after clearing CA Finals and completing three years of articleship, I got more clarity as to what my interest areas were within the CA universe. Though I liked audit and assurance work, I was more inclined and interested in financial statement analysis, equity research, and valuations, etc. I didn't want the traditional CA role of audit or taxation and that's why I didn't go through the CA campus. I wanted a job which would be close to my interest areas and I guess during the time I cleared my CA finals in 2009, CRISIL (Chennai) was one of the very few companies which were offering such a role. So I applied and got a call for an interview which got converted successfully. Everything was very quick and happened within a week or so, after which I moved to Chennai. I joined CRISIL as Research Analyst into the role which involved a thorough analysis of published financials of global companies to build and maintain a comprehensive financial model for valuations.

The world of stand-up comedy
So, I was always pretty much interested in comedy TV shows, mainly the ones which were close to stand-up format. I still remember two TV shows which heavily influenced me in my school days were Movers & Shakers (hosted by Shekhar Suman) and the Great Indian Laughter Challenge. I used to religiously watch those TV shows, record them and convert them into CDs and watch it again and again and intact them alone at home. Obviously that time I had no idea that this can be a full-fledged career for me. It was just pure love and interest for stand-up comedy which got me hooked onto it. But then years passed, I went to college and then CA and then joined my first job in Chennai. All this while I kept following those TV shows and by now, I had also started consuming a lot of stand-up content available on the internet of international comics as well.   I remember it was my third year of the job (2013) and we used to have this annual event in our company. My manager came up to me and said why don't I try doing stand-up as part of the show. Most of my team members knew I was very funny and witty and had the knack of cracking jokes on the spot, so they all insisted I should go for it. Honestly speaking I was very scared but then again that adrenaline rush and that gratification you get after telling those jokes on stage drove me to tell a yes! I did jokes on my bosses, on the appraisal system, about our canteen, all inside jokes and everyone just loved it. That was my first time on stage telling jokes in front of 500 people and I still remember that day very well. After that, I got very motivated and knew I could do something out of this skill and that I should try to pursue it in some way.   I started searching on the internet about the ways to get into professional stand-up and found out that every comic big or small has to start through 'open mics' which is a platform for every new comic to try out the jokes and if everything goes well over a period of time you would get opportunities for professional shows. But unfortunately, that time Chennai didn't have any stand-up comedy open mics. Mumbai and Bangalore were the only cities in India that had such open mics. And obviously I didn't have the guts to go try it out in a totally different city, so I just let it pass.   Eventually, after almost two years in Feb 2015, I remember I got to know about an open mic happening in Chennai. I knew I couldn't let go of the opportunity this time. If I have to do something about it, this is it. I immediately enrolled for it. I wrote a 5 min set, prepared it, and performed in that open mic and it went really well. And from there on my journey of professional stand-up comedy began.

Finally Quit the job  
Yes, this part of my story would be a little different from other artists. I actually loved my day job. It was the work that I was always interested in and wanted to do. But then came stand-up comedy which I started loving a little bit more than my work. And that was because stand-up comedy as an art form gives you a lot of liberties to explore your ideas and thoughts. In stand-up comedy, you are the scriptwriter, you are the director, you do the screenplay and you are the performer. And obviously, if the audience doesn't laugh at your jokes, you are the one to be blamed, which means you are the villain. So, stand-up comedy gave me space where I had full creative liberty and total control, unlike my day job.   Eventually, there came a stage when I realized I was not doing justice to either of my jobs and my performance at both the fronts were getting affected. There were days when office heavy workload days used to clash with an important open mic or show days and obviously one of the things used to get compromised and it was never a nice feeling to go to sleep with!   So, after a lot of thoughts and pondering, I took that leap of faith and quit my day job in 2017 the end, after being in the corporate world for 8 years. Obviously, it was scary but I guess I was deeply in love with stand-up comedy art form by then and it was too late for me to give up on my dreams of pursuing it. There was a high amount of risk but it was not a very reckless decision. After three years of doing stand-up comedy along with my job, I had built a network and I had started getting regular paid shows which included corporate shows as well, which pays you well. Although, it was not even close to 25% of what I used to make in my CA job that along with the full & final settlement from my 8 years of job, gave me the courage to pursue stand-up comedy full time without worrying for the next two years. It was a risk but more of a calculative risk.