A force to be reckoned with

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A force to be reckoned with

According to the principles of physics, the power into a lever must equal the power out. On that note we take a look at what makes India’s most popular funny-man Johnny Lever tick ahead of his trip to Dubai

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Published: Tue 24 Apr 2012, 2:57 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 12:30 PM

The cardinal rule for any form of public speaking, an orator will effuse, is ‘begin with a joke.’ So here goes: “What do you call a cow with no legs? Ground beef.” Now, while you enjoy the moment of complete silence that punch line evoked and dodge the rolling bushels of tumbleweed being blown forlornly across whichever landscape you happen to find yourself, imagine how much funnier even that lame excuse for wordplay would have been if rubber-faced veteran comic Johnny Lever were at the helm. For the natural charisma and welcoming persona the jester possesses is enough to make even the ‘deadest’ of dead parrots take flight.

A man who has embodied the art of physical stand-up comedy since his first foray into show business - entertaining his fellow workers on the shop floor of Mumbai’s Hindustan Levers factory in the late 70s (an establishment from which the then John Janumala took his stage name) - Johnny has left people rolling in the aisles ever since. With his trademark facial expressions and spot on impersonations, the comedian’s stage and screen performances have entertained generations of comedy fans.

Fresh from a starring role in the successful Akshay Kumar film Housefull 2, Johnny comes to Dubai for his annual Indian High School concert this Friday. With Shakil Siddiqui and a host of stage stars in tow, as usual the show will look to make some serious fractures along the crowd’s collective funny bone.

It was more about the man behind the thousand different faces we wished to enquire about however, when the Filmfare Award winner answered our call at his home in India’s entertainment capital. What does it take to retain a high level of popularity for this many decades and what is ‘India’s answer to Jim Carrey’ like when the curtain comes down?

“The short answer is I don’t know,” Johnny began in response to the reason behind his enduring success. “Every year for 30 years I have been surprised at the response I continue to receive. I’m very blessed to be in the position where I have been able to do something I love for so long. It has come through hard work and a love of what I do. I am thankful to God, my family and my audiences. I hope it continues for many years to come, but I can’t say for certain why people still like to see my comedy.”

The character that permeated the sometimes static-ridden line was unexpected. As with any celebrity interview a degree of humility from the star’s side is always appreciated, but having witnessed this performer’s bombastic manner of conveying his material on stage, the low-key yet methodical answers to the questions made for a surprising treat.

“Comedy is the most difficult job,” Johnny continued. “Comedy should make you think about what you’re laughing at whilst entertaining you and that is a difficult balance to achieve. Serious acting is tough too, but to make people laugh is far harder than to make them cry because humour differs from person to person more than any other emotion.

“I’m not so funny when I come off stage. I’m also not miserable. I’m a content person. Sometimes I’ll make a joke out of things, but often I like to be quiet at home. I make sure I enjoy life by observing many things. I could say being on stage is when I’m happiest, but then life is good, so I can’t say that for sure.”

It was put to Johnny that perhaps the secret to lasting in this industry was his ability to adapt to ever-changing social sensibilities and the ability to wrap up social commentary in a series of easy to digest gags? A notion the comedian agreed with to a certain extent.

“I like to think I know what the audience wants. Of course there will always be new items in my shows. These are good for first-timers to illustrate I am still current and for my fans to enjoy as well. But people also demand classic routines, so in this performance, for example, there will be a mix of the two. That may be an aspect that keeps people coming back – a mix of old and new.”

Looking to the future, Johnny’s carefree and evidently spiritual outlook on life is inescapable. His prognosis for film roles: “Que sera, sera.”

“I have become very choosy about my projects. If I see a good role then I’ll do it, but I don’t need to do everything that comes my way. If it excites me then I am happy to do it.”

One thing you can be sure about though, is that come Friday this effervescent presence is sure to bring the house down.

Event details

  • What: Johnny Lever & Shakil Siddiqi in concert
  • Where: Indian High School, Dubai
  • When: Friday, April 27, 9pm
  • Cost: Dhs75 to Dhs500 (free for children under six)
  • Tickets: 04 337 3724 or www.timeouttickets.com

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