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In a special, comedian recalls when he was first labeled a terrorist in his country

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Six minutes and 54 seconds. That's how long it took for comedian Vir Das's life to turn upside down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VIR DAS: ...Had seven criminal complaints filed against me, being charged with sedition and defaming India on foreign soil. I was called a terrorist on three different news channels on the primetime news. That is an interesting conversation with your mother that evening.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTÍNEZ: His crime? He released a video titled "I Come From Two Indias." In it, he described the contradictions within his home countries.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "I COME FROM TWO INDIAS")

DAS: I come from an India that has the largest working population under 30 on the planet but still listens to 75-year-old leaders with 150-year-old ideas. I come...

(APPLAUSE)

MARTÍNEZ: Back in India, the backlash against him was swift. In addition to the criminal complaints and being branded a terrorist, he was accused of not being a pure Indian. But this wasn't Das's first time being labeled an outsider. He's carried that label ever since he was a young boy growing up in Lagos, Nigeria.

DAS: Just when I'm nearing happiness in any country in the world, my parents can smell it and send me to another country.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

DAS: So just as I was nearing happiness in India, public school in Lagos, where I got my [expletive] beaten every day because I was the guy from India. And just as soon as I made friends in Lagos, off to private school in India, where I was the kid from Africa. I went to drama school in Galesburg, Ill., which is the mecca of civilization, as we all know. It's just cornfield, college, cornfield. So I was the kid from India then. And then I came in to try and work in Bollywood, where I was the guy from drama school.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

DAS: And now I work in America, where I'm the guy from Bollywood. So still very much an outsider. Has not changed.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, no matter what 'cause I was thinking if you're in India and you're from all these other places, people are saying, that's the kid who thinks he's from India.

DAS: Yeah, pretty much. You know, and I think it takes you a while to figure out. You know, I definitely feel like I'm too Indian for the West, but I'm too Western for India.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAS: Like, OK, check it out. I'm not so Indian that I would study to be a doctor.

(LAUGHTER)

DAS: No. But, like, I'm Indian enough where I would never use a white doctor.

(LAUGHTER)

DAS: Sorry. Is this - I would let an Indian engineer treat me before a white doctor.

(LAUGHTER)

DAS: I don't need curative medicine. I need cheap, efficient solutions now.

(LAUGHTER)

DAS: Like, I perform in America, so I worry about being shot in America. I think you need gun control legislation immediately.

(APPLAUSE)

DAS: But I'm also Indian...

(LAUGHTER)

DAS: ...So I want to be friends with at least that one guy who has a gun.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

DAS: So, you know, it's just that country, basically.

MARTÍNEZ: In his new Netflix special, called "Landing," Das recalls the night he was first labeled a terrorist in his country.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LANDING")

DAS: I was in New York for the Emmys for a show called "Vir Das For India," for which I already had a legal case.

(LAUGHTER)

DAS: By the time I walked the red carpet, I had seven more.

(LAUGHTER)

DAS: So I just had to fake it, right? I was on the red carpet, and they were like, Vir, how does it feel to be in America right now? And I'm like, well, it's good to be outside of India. I'm not going to lie.

(LAUGHTER)

DAS: It's good to be traveling. Do you feel like people are excited for you back home? Well, they are not calm.

(LAUGHTER)

DAS: What are you going to say if you win? Help? I don't know.

MARTÍNEZ: Did it feel almost like people in India ghosted you? Like, a whole country ghosted a comedian?

DAS: No, I think that assigns blame to people, which I would never do. It felt like I let down my country. And I'll only ever assign blame to myself. So in that moment, you're not angry or ridden with guilt. And whether that's, you know, deserved guilt or undeserved guilt, you know, only retrospect will tell. But at that moment, you're just like, man, I feel sad. I think I let people down.

MARTÍNEZ: But in that situation, though, I mean - so you were seen then as someone in power because obviously, someone got so upset at your monologue and about what you said that it motivated them to lash out at you. So, I mean, you were the threat in that case, weren't you?

DAS: I don't think so. I think that's assigning too much - that's lionizing yourself, which I wouldn't do. You know, I think I touched a chord with people. And I don't think artists get to decide when you stumble into a conversation, when you create a conversation. It touched an undeniable chord with people, and it formed a basis for further interactions. But I do not think comedians are a threat to anybody or anything. I don't think laughter is a threat. I think it's a beautiful thing. You know, nobody's ever mad at laughter. It makes no sense to be mad at a comic. What you're mad at is the agreement if you're mad at anything, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LANDING")

DAS: And then what? You're supposed to go back to doing this again like nothing ever happened. But it did. And more in my whole career, I never thought I'd see you again. So now you and me back in the same room together - this is an unplanned blessing that I could not be more grateful for in my heart.

MARTÍNEZ: Has performing changed for you since?

DAS: I think I had to just kind of go within myself for a while and make sure that it was at least two months or three months before I wrote my first joke. The tough thing is to never paint yourself as a victim or a hero and also not be a comedian who - I think we all know, sometimes, comedians can get stuck in a feedback loop - right? - where they're reacting to their last special in this special, etc., etc. So to avoid that, as well - so I set a rule when I was doing this special, which is your content may have become controversy, but controversy will never become your content. So if you've seen the special, you know, I just kind of say, a video went up. Here's what happened immediately after. And here's why I was a moron at every level through dealing with it. And here's what's funny about that. And hopefully, you resonate with stumbling, and this makes you feel better about who you are. So it didn't change anything but looking for the funny. It really drove me to look for the funny in a bad situation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LANDING")

DAS: Tonight, New York City, I'd love to take you home. Do you want to go home with me, yeah?

(APPLAUSE)

DAS: Lovely. Your home. I might not be allowed back into mine.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTÍNEZ: Are you worried at all, Vir, that you'll always be the Indian comedian, not just comedian Vir Das? Does that matter to you?

DAS: I feel honored to be the Indian comedian. You know, at the end of the day, I feel like there's a vacancy for an authentic Indian perspective on the global circuit. There's 1.3-something billion people whose perspective isn't being talked about globally. And I want to be that perspective. So I'm happy to be the Indian comic Vir Das. And hopefully, I'll make you laugh using the Indian accent as a perspective instead of just being a local punchline.

MARTÍNEZ: That's comedian Vir Das. His Netflix special is called "Landing." Vir, thank you very much.

DAS: Thank you for having me, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M IN MUMBAI WAITING FOR A MIRACLE")

RAGHU DIXIT: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.