I did comedy for myself most of my life. I don’t want you to feel bad and be like, “Naveen, don’t be so hard on yourself; people need to laugh also.” That’s what people keep saying: No, no, we don’t feel bad. People need to laugh, so your job is also important. Yes, people need to laugh, but they don’t need to laugh as much as they need brain surgery. So, it’s not that important. Let me tell you, as much as people need to laugh, there’s no comedian who’s taking up comedy as some kind of selfless sacrifice. No comedian has ever said, “My real dream is to do agriculture, but I knew that people needed to laugh, so I sacrificed my dreams of ending world hunger and I just started writing jokes. I didn’t want to do it, but that was my calling.” Sometimes journalists will ask us, “So what made you take up this profession?” and then we say, “You know, we just like to make people laugh, like some kind of comedy angels going around and doing this for the sake of humanity, so we like to hear other people laughing at our jokes.” So then, what am I still doing here if I was saved and if I met the Lord a couple of years ago and Jesus said, “You need to die to yourselves, and you need to put your desires aside and do the Father’s will?” Why am I still doing stand-up comedy? I’ll get to that.
To those of you who may be wondering if you do stand-up comedy, what did you study in college? Which year of college did you drop out of to do stand-up comedy? I’m sorry to disappoint you. I have many letters after my name, not just one degree. I have one and a half, and that’s a B.A. LLB (Honours). I have a picture of myself with my degree. It’s one of the few times I get to show off my degree; otherwise, it’s useless. I don’t know which cupboard I kept it in, but it’s there. I just want to tell you that when I was in college, I was a pretty motivated guy. If you ask my teachers, they would not have known; they would say, “He’s mostly trying not to sleep in class.” I was motivated; it’s just that my motivations were a little directionless. The reason I took up law is because I thought maybe I’d do environmental law and go and save sea turtles and stuff like that one day. When I found out how much there was to study and how bad I was at studying, I thought to myself, “You know these sea turtles can save themselves. I’ll go extinct before they do if I keep studying so much. It’s stressing me out.” I didn’t quit. If you’re wondering, “Oh, Naveen quit studying and then he’s doing stand-up comedy,” I did not quit. One of the reasons I didn’t quit is because my dad told me halfway through law college, “See if you quit now, and then one day when you want to get married to a girl and you have to face her parents and the parents ask you about your educational qualification, what will you say?” I’m like, “What kind of motivational talk is this? Some hypothetical woman I haven’t met, and I have to think of her hypothetical parents and what I’m going to say.” I didn’t quit, though.
People wonder, 'Naveen, why do you keep talking about God? Why do you keep talking about God all the time?' It’s because He's awesome! - @NaveenRichard Click To Tweet
I’ll tell you a small story about how motivated I was when I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I was in my third year of law college, and I was writing the law of contracts exam. I remember that I used to study pretty hard. I studied and wrote the exam on a one-page question paper, finished the exam, checked the time, and there were 45 minutes left. I thought this must be a pretty easy exam. Then I looked around and saw everyone else was still writing, and I thought, “Wait, if this is an easy exam, the good student should have finished before me, but the good students were still writing and the bad students were still writing.” I started freaking out, and I thought to myself if I missed something, so I started looking for more questions. Other people were asking for an extra answer sheet; I thought maybe I should ask for an extra question sheet. So I’m thinking to myself, “What did I miss? What did I miss?” I’m looking around, and I see my friend, whom I was teaching before the exam, and he was writing more than me. I’m like, “What are you still writing, dude?” I thought maybe I should expand my answer, but I’ve already written one answer, drawn a line, and then started the next answer, so I can’t even expand my answer. I started worrying, and I thought to myself, “I can’t even do anything. I don’t even know how to expand my answers. I can’t do anything.” So, I just gave up, put my head down, and looked out the window. I remember sitting near the window and looking out, and there was a lawn. It was a beautiful 10 A.M. morning, and there were these two robins, hopping around on the lawn. I remember looking at those birds and thinking, “Man, how free they are. They have no worries. They don’t have to study, go to tuition, and study a second language. There’s no peacock that says you should go for bulbul tuition.” There’s a lot of unnecessary stuff we humans have put on ourselves. I wish I could be like those birds. I suddenly felt so jealous. I was so jealous of these birds, and I wondered what made them so free. They follow their instincts, and they do what they’re good at. That’s what it is! Suddenly, I got hit with this burst of motivation. By the way, this is a true story. I got hit with this burst of motivation, and I thought, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to do what I’m good at!”
What am I good at? I started thinking, what is my natural instinct? What is my gift? This is what came to mind: sandwiches. It wasn’t stand-up comedy, because there was no stand-up comedy 12 years ago. I was a bachelor who didn’t know how to cook. All I knew was how to make sandwiches, and as a bachelor, you don’t even have the ingredients to make a good sandwich. Anything you find in the house, you put it between two slices of bread and call it a sandwich. For example, a chicken banana bread sandwich or a pineapple cheese sandwich that has no bread. People tried my sandwiches, and they said, “Wow, Naveen, your sandwiches are really something.” I thought this is how I am gifted. I honestly thought this was my calling, and I decided I was not going to waste any more time, so I decided to start writing sandwich recipes so I can open a sandwich shop after college.
Thank God for stand-up comedy; otherwise, I would have started a sandwich shop in Coimbatore. Anyway, I started writing these sandwich recipes on my question paper. You’re not supposed to write anything on your question paper, but I was fully motivated by now, and no one could stop me. So, I started writing about chicken plus banana, pineapple plus cheese, and other recipes. Sometimes I wasn’t sure, so I would mention brinjal. Right at that time, the external invigilators entered the exam hall. These external invigilators are people who can’t sleep at night without accusing innocent children of cheating. So they entered the exam hall, and I started looking at my question paper, wondering whether I should hide it. However, if I hide it, he’ll ask me about my question paper. I couldn’t do anything, and I was helpless, so then, as he came close to examining my question paper, he could see there was something written on it. It was the happiest day of his life. He thought he’d caught some kid, and he’s the biggest cheater in the world. I looked at him and thought to myself, “Aah, you have no idea what you’re in for.” He took my question paper, and he said, “Chicken plus banana? Are you a hotel management student? What are you doing over here?” Then he read the question, thinking this could be an answer to a question in the exam paper. He read the question, which said, Define a contract of guarantee: chicken plus banana. He looked at me with a puzzled face, and he couldn’t even ask me anything because the whole class would get distracted. So we’re just staring at each other, and I said, “I just want to be a bird, sir.”
If God is with me when I'm growing onions, that's much more fun than doing stand-up comedy without God. - @NaveenRichard Click To Tweet
It’s a true story, though. I didn’t make it up. I don’t make these things up. Fortunately though, stand-up comedy started becoming a thing in the last two years of my college and I started doing it. I would stand up in the evenings, and so I was able to expand my creative energy that way. I started doing stand-up, and after I finished law college I started doing these YouTube videos with my friends. Our entire goal was to make movies and TV shows, and I was doing stand-up along with all of those things. Back then, my intentions were pure. It wasn’t some great big success, but my intention was to just make comedy movies and TV shows with heart in them. I saw a lot of these commercial TV shows with these formulaic comedy scripts, and you could always see the joke coming, and I thought how everything felt so manufactured. I wanted to make a TV show, and I wanted to make a show with heart in it so that people could hear the voice of the creator in it. I had a noble intention, and I realised that with success, the intentions start getting skewed. Within a few years, even though we had less than 5,000 subscribers, somebody came along and gave us this huge budget for a show about an NGO. We made a show where I play the head of an NGO, and when this show came out, it had a lot of heart in it. I thought about how quickly that dream got realised. I got to make a show of my dreams with my heart in it, and I had the opportunity to act in the show and write the script.
Then I wondered about my next opportunity, as my dream to create my own show was achieved pretty quickly. Then we started getting more opportunities and doing more shows. We wrote more shows, and we started getting more recognition. It turned out that it wasn’t really enough. Once you get more shows and more recognition, you get the money as well. You get this thing called ‘fame’ which is not really what I was pursuing. I wasn’t really pursuing fame, and I wasn’t trying to be famous; I was just trying to get to the top of this ladder, whatever it was; I wanted to get to the top, and then I’d come down. I don’t know what I was trying to prove or to whom, but I was trying to prove something to someone. I didn’t know what it was, because as I got the recognition and all of that stuff, I thought, “What am I supposed to aim for? What am I aiming for?” Then I thought, “Well, maybe the top of this ladder probably looks like an Oscar.” So I started thinking, “Okay, I’m going to aim for an Oscar.” It’s not like I wasn’t praying; I was a just-in-case Christian. It’s when you’re a Christian because, just in case Jesus is the one true God, you go to church every Sunday. I was kind of a just-in-case Christian, so I was praying for whatever I wanted or whatever I thought that I needed. I was praying for one Oscar, and before I even got one Oscar, I decided one Oscar was not enough; I needed two Oscars, and then I would slow down. I was working so hard that it was taking a toll on my relationships and time with my family, and I became sort of a slave to my own ambition. In the corporate world, they call it being a ‘workaholic.’ I don’t know if that’s the same thing, but I was a slave to my own ambition. I just wouldn’t stop. People say, “Hey Naveen, when are you going to get married?” and I always say, “I gotta get some stuff done.” In my head, the stuff that had to be done was all about achieving two Oscars. I would always say I’ve got to get some stuff done, then I’ll think about getting married. I was just running towards this thing and seeking the validation of my heroes, not finding any peace, and then I got saved in April of 2020.
If you’re wondering, “You’re like saved? From what dude? Are you drowning or something? Did you get kidnapped? What did you get saved from?.” I got saved from my sins, to be honest. Now you’re probably thinking, “Sins? Were you drowning people or something? Did you go around kidnapping people? What kind of sin did you commit, dude?” I got saved from my sin the same way that everyone needs to get saved from their sin, whether it’s lying for your own selfish ambition or lusting after a woman and checking her out, saying, “Everybody checks out women,” but then if somebody looked at the woman you loved, you’d have a problem and say, “How could you look at my woman?” all the while saying it’s okay to check out women. It’s all this hypocrisy and lying, or it could even be stealing from someone, whether stealing right off something they had or just selling them something they didn’t need like a salesman who goes around selling things they don’t need just so that you can make more profit. Whatever it is, you know if you’re lying, and if there’s no honesty in you, then you’re sinning in some way or another. I needed to be saved from that, and I met Jesus in my house in Bombay. That’s a long testimony, but it flipped my motivations, and I suddenly knew that God was real. I was faced with this choice; I remember sitting there in my bed and thinking, “Man, am I going to choose God?” I thought I knew God, but I didn’t really know God till that moment when I thought to myself, “If I take this step and I have to do everything according to the Bible, that sounds scary. But if it’s true, then I have to do it.” If you’ve never given your life to God, I can tell you it might be scary, but it should be obvious that it’s scary because once you choose this path, you don’t know what’s on the other side. If you say no to God, then it’s not that scary because your life goes on the same way that it’s been going on all this time. It sounds scary because you don’t know what’s on the other side of saying yes to God, but one thing’s for sure: it’s going to be right. I was sitting there, and I thought to myself, “I don’t know what’s on the other side saying yes, but I’m not going to say no to God because that’s stupid. You can’t go wrong with God.” Will life get easier? I don’t know about that, but it’s still got to be the right decision. So I said yes to God, and then suddenly I had new motivations, and to be honest, my new motivations were not at all like my old motivations. In fact, I lost all motivation to do stand-up comedy. I lost all motivation to make movies or anything in the entertainment industry. I didn’t see any point in it because, up until that time, the only reason I was doing it was for myself, and I realised that none of that matters when you die, when you face God, or when you enter into eternity. None of that matters. So what am I working for? I lost all the motivation to do stand-up comedy. It’s not like I stopped being funny; I thought I wasn’t going to pursue this career because there are people who are dying and who need God, and that’s my only purpose.
Slowly, God nudged me back into doing stand-up. It took a lot of nudging because I did not want to go that way. It’s not easy writing jokes. People may say, “Naveen, you’re just justifying. Deep down, you just wanted to do stand-up comedy.” I’ll grow onions if I have to; I don’t care. If God is with me when I’m growing onions, that’s much more fun than doing stand-up comedy without God. I realise that it’s not like I really want to stand up, but when I was asking God, “God, if you really want me to stand up, you’ve got to give me a word.” One time when I was reading the Bible, I remember this one verse standing out to me: When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them. That same verse stood out to me later that night when Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them. I am no Jesus to stand on a stage and have compassion on others; I need compassion just as much as anyone else, but that suddenly made me feel this love for this audience. It’s not the same kind of love as when comedians say, “Love you, Bangalore!” It’s not like that. Usually artists would say, “Oh, I love you, Jaipur. See you next year.” It was not like that. I felt this love for this audience, and I thought, “I really love these people. I love the young people who come to my show. How am I going to stay in touch with them? How am I going to keep in contact with them? I got to continue doing stand-up. If I’m going to continue meeting them and my friends who are in this industry, who I seriously love, then I have to get back to writing jokes.” So that’s how I got back into doing stand-up, and then I had to write a new stand-up special in the last few months, and God helped me to do that sitting in the middle of nowhere in Kerala. Usually you have to do these things while sitting in a city, going to open mics, and trying out new jokes. I didn’t have this liberty when I was sitting in Kerala, but within a few weeks God helped me to write a whole one-hour special and go on tour with it, and the difference is that this time I didn’t have the need to impress anyone with my comedy. I wasn’t going to try to impress my peers or give the audience what they wanted. I was like, I want to give them their money’s worth and more, but I’m not trying to impress anybody up there. Suddenly, that gives you the freedom to write as a creative artist. It gives you the freedom to write when you’re not thinking about what other people are going to think.
When you meet with God, everything else looks small.
Lastly, I’ll just talk about validation. Earlier, I told you I was trying to aim for the Oscars and the people up there, the people in the movie industry, and I was aiming towards them. But suddenly, when you meet with God, everything else looks small. Once you meet the God who made the Universe, let me just break it down because sometimes you take that for granted: the God who designed black holes, dolphins, air, and photosynthesis; everything else looks insignificant. If you just met the person who designed air, it’s transparent, it can carry water vapour and sound, and you can also breathe it in since it’s not too dense and you can walk through it. It’s amazing engineering! If you met the person who makes air, you’d be showing it off all the time. You’d be like, “Yeah, I was just hanging out yesterday with a person who makes air. Actually, you should meet him. Yeah, it’s pretty cool.” People wonder, “Naveen, why do you keep talking about God? Why do you keep talking about God all the time?.” It’s because He’s awesome! What do you expect? So please meet with God!
Let me ask you, 'What is your motivation?' Is your motivation to serve God or to serve men? Let it be to serve God. - @NaveenRichard Click To Tweet
I eventually did go on to travel with my stand-up show, and I was worried about numbers. I was always thinking, “Man I need to sell out the show, I need to sell out the show.” This is the point I really want to make, which is that when I prayed, I asked God, “God, help me to sell out every show because we have to show the world what a great God of victory you are! Every battle is a victory, so let’s sell out every ticket and show.” I didn’t find any peace in that prayer because I realised if I’m trying to bring people to Jesus and if they think Jesus is all about selling out shows, then that’s not what Jesus came on Earth to do. Jesus came to save us from our sins, so if someone thinks, “Oh, if I follow Jesus, even I can sell out shows.” Nope! Or say, “Oh, I’ll fall asleep, then everything will go right.” Nope! Jesus may give you the career or He may remove the career from you if that’s what’s causing you to sin. That’s not the reason He came. He came to save us from our sins, and when I started praying, I said, “God, even if we don’t sell out any shows, that’s fine. If things go wrong and the stage falls down, that’s fine. But you give me the grace to handle it well when I’m onstage so that people see that You’re with me and that grace in the inner peace that you’ve spoken about.” Then I had peace, and we sold out almost all the shows as well. Let me ask you, “What is your motivation?” Is your motivation to serve God or to serve men? Let it be to serve God.