Vikram Sathaye is the first English stand-up comedian and has performed at over 1,200 corporate events over the last decade. After completing an MBA from Symbiosis institute of management, Sathaye worked for MTV and PMG. He was a part of the extra innings on Set Max in 2003 as a cricket humourist. His television stints include the Champions trophy 2004, India's tour of South Africa on ESPN Star Sports in 2006 and the ICC World cup 2011 on IBN Lokmat.
As an entrepreneur, Sathaye is the director of a sports and entertainment company, White Copper Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. He is also one of the founding members of ''Bawraas''-an initiative to support young Indians taking up unconventional careers. He is also involved in ''Think Cricket'',a platform started with Harsha and Anita Bhogle aimed at senior corporate executives, to discuss cricket matters. In this interview, with Swetha Amit, Sathaye talks about his new book How Sachin Destroyed My Life, his reasons for coming up with this eye-catching title, his journey as a stand-up comedian and lessons learnt from the world of cricket.
The name 'Sachin Tendulkar' is synonymous with inspiration. So what prompted you to come up with this quirky title?
This is actually a joke, which I have been doing for the last seven - eight years. I always used to joke about how I had to struggle my entire life with the fact that I could not be a Tendulkar. Sachin was the ideal boy for our benchmark who was known to respect his parents and be high on achievement orientation.
In a way we lived with a baggage of being a victim of Sachin Tendulkar's achievements. So in a light-hearted way, I wrote this book as to how the generation with Sachin turned into me being humorous and living the ultimate dream of any Indian fan in this country. I was a guy who was watching cricket matches for a living, and was making jokes about them and getting cricketers to tell me their stories.
This whole journey started this impact of Sachin on me and I though the best way to highlight it is through this book. And in a way Sachin and Tony Greig's imitation is what got me the recognition of being a stand-up comedian In fact, when I had gone to Sachin with this title, he gave me thumbs up as an instant reaction. I also assured him that I was not using this title as a marketing gimmick.
It's an irony as to how you ended up being pitted against a man whom the nation idolised. Yet he was the same person who changed your stars at a later stage. What were your feelings during that stage when your talent of being able to mimic cricketers was gaining popularity?
One interesting thing to note here is that if you go and observe any kid playing cricket in their building, they are all trying to be a Dhoni, Kohli, or a Sachin. In a way everybody tries to imitate their icons at some level. So I just took this art and made it presentable.
The key moment was when Sachin's imitation happened. This was around the late '90s when India was celebrating success on the shoulder of Sachin. It was a strange feeling because when I started doing this, people around me for a moment thought I was Sachin. I then realized that there was something about this man which was making every Indian proud.
The fact that I was imitating him was giving them some kind of a proximity to a person whom they would probably never meet in their lives. In fact people would come up to me and tell me how they felt about Sachin's innings thinking that I will be the best man to share it with. In this process I was developing an understanding of the phenomenon which was beyond the man and his achievement.
As long as my imitation act was amidst my friends, there was no pressure as I was considered the 'cool dude' in the group. It was only when I was brought in front of a real audience; I knew I would be judged with a critical eye. That was when I started watching interviews of Tony Greig and Sachin in order to build in nuances which would increase the impact.
I also started getting some appreciation. In fact all my life I was striving for the same thing back in school where I would yearn for a 90 per cent but ended up only with a 60 per cent. So, when the compliments started pouring in, it all seemed surreal in the beginning, but I began to enjoy it. I realized I was doing something which made people laugh and I thought I should work on it.
You have drawn an interesting analogy in your book with the superhero Spiderman where you have described your feelings about leading almost two lives. How did you manage to handle all the pressure of the sudden attention you were getting?
Handling pressure was the tough part. Initially I was not sure of what was happening. From a corporate guy who was doing marketing, I suddenly found myself going for shows and getting paid for them.
Only when I understood that what I was doing was termed 'stand-up comedy', did that realization set in. Like I quoted from Spiderman in my book "With great power comes great responsibility"; I knew that I had to be responsible and live up to the expectations of people and not disappoint them especially since I was getting paid for it.
I also discovered that one of the key things in stand-up comedy is the ability to connect. Connection comes by possessing information and knowledge, which in turn comes from reading a lot. So the more you read, the more you can relate to things and people. That pushed me to work harder. However since all this gave me a sense of acceptance and recognition, I was happy doing it.
Cricket is entertaining, yet you have mentioned that it has the ability to change one's life. How has it changed yours?
A sport in fact, is your biggest teacher. There are several conversations on television today about the inclusion of sports in schools. Aspects like leadership and ability to take loss in your stride should definitely be taught in school besides the conventional curriculum. The education system needs to impart the essence of moral science ie the right kind of values where you are taught how to deal with people and sports definitely teaches you that.
Over the last decade, I learnt what it takes to be in a team, what it takes to see the Indian team losing, what the man-management issues were that Greg Chapell could not address but Gary Kirsten could.
Cricket taught me aspects of leadership, concentration and the ability to accept that the other guy can make a mistake. An important thing I learnt was that there are people with different skill sets in a team. Some may possess high levels of skills while others may comparatively possess lesser. So one needs to work around the pluses and minuses and function as a team.
It also taught me the ability to pursue with excellence. In fact this trait of striving for excellence was what made Sachin's fitness increase with age. It worked the same with Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. In fact Tiger Woods works hard in the gym because he once told Sachin that ''the moment my age is growing, my abilities are being compared with the youngsters. And the only way I can play with the youngsters is to get that extra yard going more because of my physical fitness. And that's why I spend time in the gym.''
You have talked about the reservoir of energy in your book - a philosophy which is applied to sportspersons and marathoners. How does this philosophy work in the field of stand-up comedy? And how do you manage to hold the attention span of your audience during your stand-up comedy acts?
Actually it doesn't work when you are on stage. It works before that. For instance, if you are writing your material for an act, only when you write about 100 jokes, the probability of you using one of them will come when you are writing the 73rd or 74th joke. So here the reservoir of energy is tapped at the 70th joke. Unless you push yourself to write for three hours, you will never be able to find that 5 minutes of great work. On stage you know where you are operating and a stand-up comedian generally knows what he's going to say. So this reservoir of energy comes in handy while working on your act behind the stage,
Also today, in stand-up comedies, the attention span is low and people want to listen to jokes at a faster pace. In fact my premise building time before I give the punch line has considerably reduced in the last five years. Earlier comic shows would have a lot of time to build the atmosphere. Today you have to be 'on the go' all the time and very fast. So you need to work harder in creating the material off stage.
You have mentioned about how Rahul Dravid was known for his utmost concentration. With the advent of social media today, how challenging is it to develop that 100 per cent concentration on one's game?
Cricket is evolving and one does see the level of concentration especially for a test match coming down. That's the reason why you don't see India playing too many test matches. Also, the ability to switch off and switch on plays a vital role. For instance if you are on Twitter, you can give it your 100 per cent, but once you are back to your game, you need to switch off from social media and focus on the game alone.
That's what I have seen with Sachin. While he likes his phone and social media, he has a wonderful ability to completely shut off during a game, in which case he is not available for 8 hours at a stretch. This is an ability which the new generation has to develop.
Unfortunately we are all 24/7 hooked on to social media for the fear of missing out on some important news. Today, one rarely sees people maintaining an eye to eye contact as they are too busy with their phones. It's important to switch off otherwise it hampers your efficiency and you need that time to focus.
Your book mentions about how players like Sachin, Sehwag, Dravid and Yuvi each have a different approach to the game. How do their differences affect them while playing together as a team?
The team works not because there are 11 Dravids or 11 Sachins. A great team is created when there is a Dravid, Sachin, Lakshman and a Yuvi. .A good team is a combination of great skill sets and abilities. The key challenge is to align all these abilities for maximum output. In such a scenario, the coach and the captain play a vital role.
When Sourav Ganguly got a great team, he ensured that he pushed Sehwag and Yuvraj to such an extent that the insecurities in their system would disappear. He backed their aggression levels and channelised their energies in the right manner. This is one thing which Dhoni also specialises in. If you look at any of Sachin's or Sehwag's interviews, they always talk about being given a certain 'role' in the team. It means they have been told what their job is. So possessing complementary skill sets and aligning these skill sets is important for a team to function in an effective matter.
Harsha Bhogle stresses on the importance of remaining calm under pressure especially while appearing on live coverage. Knowing how Indians tend to wear their emotions on their sleeve, how do they manage to remain calm during a high pressure game especially with instances of sledging being so common?
General sledging tends to happen in all games and initially it was difficult for the small-town boys. But now with the IPL, all these young boys are trained to handle sledging as well. However there are 2 distinct philosophies to handle sledging.
One is to ignore it, which the Indian team has been very good for years. Senior players like Sachin and Dravid strongly believe in this philosophy. Sachin once said that he just switches off from the sounds of the 70,000 people shouting in the stadium and focuses on the ball alone. If he does not switch off then he is not able to play well.
Both Sachin and Dravid possess this ability to switch off. They also come from a school, which stresses that abusing others is not considered gentlemanly and that they would end up destroying themselves if they indulge in such acts. So they chose to ignore and focus on the game instead.
The second philosophy is to take on sledging in an aggressive manner. Australia thrives on this as they have been brought up in a culture, which taught them to abuse. Now Indians are slowing becoming more aggressive. From being completely passive, they are moving towards the aggressive end of the scale. One sees this in players like Virat Kohli and Gambhir. The fact that Indians have come to this point has also intimidated the Aussies who are slowly stepping back and toning down their aggression levels.
One needs to remember that performance is a result of your emotion, so a balance has to be there. An aggressive person should be kept in his own space in the spirit of the game and his energies need to be channelised to enhance his game instead. Cricket that way is a great leveller as it will always test your character.
How do the players deal with aspects of home sickness while playing on foreign soil?
Players were a lot more home sick earlier as compared to now. One of the reasons was that Indian food wasn't available that easily as it is today. In fact when I had gone to New Zealand during the first few tours, there were hardly any Indian restaurants there. But now there are many. So food is a big comfort factor for the Indian team.
It is however tough for young boys from small towns going on international tours. After about three weeks, they start to feel pangs of home sickness and they come to a stage where they seek a bit of comfort. This is why I don't understand why some people have a problem with wives and girlfriends tagging along with the players on a tour.
They are a good support system as that's their only connect to home. Personally, I think it's a great balance if wives accompany these players. After a long and a hard day, they need somebody to talk to and a comfort shoulder to lean on.
Mandira Bedi entered the male dominant world of Cricket as a commentator. Considering how women have managed to make their mark in other male dominant fields, why do you think this has not happened in a sport like Cricket?
In 2003, commentary was a hard-core male domain. Mandira Bedi in a way was very instrumental in making cricket a peoples sport. Now, one sees a lot more women like Anjum Chopra delivering a commentary today. So there is a sense of acceptability and things have definitely gotten better.
Women have a tendency to play some sports more than the others. For instance in a team sport, you will find women largely playing volleyball, basketball, hockey and even football. I don't see any reason why women should not play cricket. In fact, we have Mithali Raj, captain of Indian Women's Cricket team who is pretty good. But somehow support to women's cricket team in India has not been that great.
In cricket especially in a format like IPL, one sees a lot of lot of young players from small towns suddenly exposed to the limelight. How do they handle this sudden change in their lives?
In reality, they find it difficult to handle this sudden spurt of fame and it's easy to get carried away by success. However, if they are strong and good guys then they will have no problem in remaining grounded.
But most of them tend to be vulnerable. Such sudden changes in a short span of time are accompanied with its own set of psychological problems. It then becomes mandatory for these youngsters to have a counsellor. Talking to a shrink will help in giving them a sense of support to deal with their problems. It's vital to have someone to hold your hand and reassure you that everything will be fine. While Greg chapell couldn't do that, Gary Kirsten managed to do this beautifully. .
Not everyone is a Sachin or a Dravid who are literally monks and remain unaffected. In fact even for a great Sachin who was considering retiring earlier stating, it wasn't in him anymore, it required a Gary Kirsten to change his mind. The latter went up to him and said'' Sachin you are the best batsman and you have at least 5 years of cricket ahead of you''. So, one needs that mentor and father figure especially while playing on an international level.
What are your future plans? Any more books from Vikram Sathaye?
There are two or three things which are on the bucket list. Writing a book was one of them. Also I need to find another real inspiration to come up with a second book. I also want to pursue classical music someday since my mother is a classical musician. As an entrepreneur I also want to ensure that my company grows to a bigger scale. At some point I am thinking of writing a film script, since I was a film marketer at one point in time. But as Dravid says ''it's all one ball at a time.''
''You are too old, forget it, you need to go'', said a petulant Michael Clarke to Sachin.
The master had been out of the field with a minor injury and when he came in to bat, Michael Clarke went after him continuously.
This however irritated Sehwag, who walked up to him and asked, ''How old are you?''
Michael: ''Mate 23''.
Sehwag:''Do you know he has more hundreds than your age! If you want to abuse someone, see that he is at least of your age and experience.''
This however didn't stop Michael and it was only Viru's clincher that finally shut him up.
Viru asked, ''Your teammates call you pup, right?''
Clarke replied, ''Ya Mate.''
Viru retorted, ''Which breed?''
For the rest of the test, Michael Clarke was subdued and I'm sure every time he hears his nickname, he's reminded of this episode.
When I recently reminded Sehwag about this incident, he said: ''In the initial years, it was alright because my English accent was not so good and I never understood the opponent's accent, so it didn't matter. But then when I started understanding the language I started getting a little affected so when someone said anything I used to go and give it back to him. But sometimes I preferred to just walk up to the third umpire and chat with him while the bowler continued with his verbal barrage.''
Sometimes constant chatter by the Australian bowlers can get irritating even for the people watching. I once saw Mitchell Johnson continuously sledge Sehwag and try to disturb his momentum. It went on for a full over and while I was getting irritated with his behaviour, Viru seemed completely unperturbed. He was probably thinking about why his cook had put less butter on his parathas this morning. At one point I wanted to walk up to Mitchell Johnson and tell him, ''You should stop it for your own good. There is no point sledging Viru as the decision to hit 6 over third man had been taken a week before and it had nothing to do with your bowling skills or his mental state which you are trying to disturb.''