From Consultant to Comedian: An Interview with Papa CJ

Retro microphone on stage in restaurant. Blurred background
By Charanya Kannan
By Charanya Kannan

Papa CJ is a renowned stand-up comedian who has performed over 2000 shows across five continents in prestigious venues like Broadway and SOHO and on TV channels like BBC, NBC, and Comedy Central. Forbes Magazine called him “the global face of Indian stand-up” and Toastmaster International called him one of the most influential comedians around the world. He is a former management consultant and holds an MBA degree from the University of Oxford. He was at Harvard for the India Conference where we took him aside for a Harbus interview.

Why “Papa”?

That is a question that is answered in my show ‘Naked’. So you’ll have to buy a ticket to find out!

What is it about consulting that drove you to become a comedian?

The fact that I couldn’t take the torture anymore!

How exactly is your life as a comedian different from that of a consultant?

  •      I have performed at gunpoint in South Africa.
  •      I have performed in the emergency room of a hospital while holding the head of a girl [getting 32 stitches].
  •      One woman spanked my ass so hard during a show that her contact lenses fell out.
  •      Another woman tried to slip a hundred dollar bill down my boxers.
  •      I once took lap dance lessons from a professional stripper to prepare for a show.
  •      I once had three people threaten to stab me after a show.

Did your Oxford MBA help or hinder your comedian career?

Every bit of education and experience helps shape the person you are and the choices you make. My Oxford MBA was no exception – it helped me make better choices that in turn furthered my career.

Since you were here last week, Harvard or Oxford?

It’s going to take more than a weekend at Harvard to buy my loyalty. Nice try though!

How do you create your jokes? How often do you a repeat a joke before you get bored of it?

My material comes from my point of view on my own life experiences and my observations of the world around me. Jokes come in and out of routines regularly; however, audiences tend to change more frequently than entire comedy routines. It’s like the pharmaceutical industry – we spend a lot of time and effort on R&D to create a product and then we try and milk it for as long as we can!

How do you save the situation when no one laughs? Has it happened?

I improvise and move on to other bits. Just like life.

Is it possible to be a comedian without being branded as “racist” or “insensitive” or “vulgar”?

Papa CJ
Papa CJ

It is entirely possible. However, keep in mind that most jokes are at the expense of somebody or the other and there will always be at least one person on the planet who might find the joke ”insensitive” towards that particular person or group of people. I would argue that it is not the comedian who is vulgar but the audience. The only reason comedians keep cracking certain jokes is because audiences keep laughing at them. If you don’t want comedians to crack dirty jokes, stop encouraging them by laughing at them you dirty, disgusting, insensitive, vulgar, and uncouth people.

You are “Asia’s best Stand-up Comedian.” Do you think you’d be able to compete with the Seinfeld’s of the West?

Don’t let the marketing fool you. Comedy is subjective and somebody giving you an award in no way makes you “the best.” Also, I don’t view comedy as a competition. Empirical evidence will show that I’ve done over 2000 shows in 19 countries and got people to laugh at each of them. Most recently I was invited to headline Carolines on Broadway in New York, one of the most famous comedy clubs in the world that has in the past been headlined by Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Louis CK, Jay Leno, Jon Stewart, and Robin Williams. My solo show Naked received two standing ovations on its Broadway debut at that venue.

What is your advice to other MBAs who want to become stand-up comedians?

Stick to the day job!

And finally, why did the chicken cross the road?

How the hell should I know? Ask the chicken!

You can get to know him more at


Charanya Kannan (HBS ’17) enjoys writing about anything that she wishes to remember,  grocery lists inclusive. She also loves talking to people about anything other than the weather, which is what she did in her first job as a TV anchor.  She dreams of reading and writing more, if her one-year-old and a potential consulting career permit her. She is involved in the WSA Conference, India Conference and Student Moms group, and has worked in the Automotive, Education, Hospitality, and Retail industries.