‘The only way to test a joke is to try it before a live audience’

‘The only way to test a joke is to try it before a live audience’

By Priya Singh | | 15 July, 2017
Aditi Mittal, standup career, Comedian, Netflix, Things They Won’t Let Me Say, Edinburgh French Festival, Dolly Khurana
Aditi Mittal.
Comedian Aditi Mittal, who has performed at prominent venues internationally and has recently landed a Netflix show of her own, speaks to Priya Singh about her standup career. 
Aditi Mittal is a comedian who is now well-known in the standup circuit for her scathing and sarcastic sense of humour. She is also a star performer on comedy specials aired at various channels across the world and is counted among the top ten standup comedians in India. She spoke to Guardian 20 about the business of being funny. 

Q. Tell us about how you established yourself in the world of comedy. What are the projects that you are now looking forward to?

A. I started doing open mic in Bombay in 2010 and I feel like the basic requirement of the job is the practice you do. Just like any other job, the longer you do it the better you get at it. It’s been seven years since I started. I started doing professional paid gigs in 2011 and then I thought to venture permanently into standup comedy in 2014. In 2013 I received one of my first international shows with BBC. I started performing abroad. Last year I had my own show with BBC called Beginners Guide to India with Aditi Mittal. This year my new standup comedy show is releasing on Netflix, on 18 July, called Things They Won’t Let Me Say. Now I am headed to the Edinburgh French Festival which is like the Mecca of comedy. I am going there for a month. Thanks to the wonderful producers who have shown a lot of faith in the kind of work I am doing.

Q. What made you realise that this was the field meant for you?

A. I realised that I really like doing this. I could wonder for days and do other things but I’ve realised that my mind seeks adventure. I put myself into uncomfortable, terrible situations thinking I can extract material from it. I feel like I love doing this so much that I come back to this all the time.

Q. You enact characters like Dr. Mrs. Lutchke and Dolly Khurana. Why did you decide to play other characters on stage, instead of being your own self?

A. Actually there were certain things I wanted to say but it looks strange to the people that a woman is going on about subjects that make people feel uncomfortable. As you know when it comes to cracking jokes about sex I also used to get weird. I was like, I am a comedian; I want to say funny things but I am also an Indian woman who is terrified about what people would say. So I then I thought of a character, Dr. Mrs. Lutchuke. I realised wearing the saree, making different poses, doing a different accent will make me a totally different person and I used it as a sort of foil to be able to speak more freely about the topics I would otherwise feel hesitant to take up. 

Q. How do you write your jokes and prepare your set?

A. Standup is one of those jobs where you have to practice so much that it looks like you are doing it for the first time. Whenever I have ideas I write them down somewhere and always keep jotting them down. Standup is something you cannot do in front of the mirror. No one is going to tell you if the joke is working or not. The only way to find out is being in front of the audience, possibly failing or possibly succeeding. Doing standup comedy is something where you get the feedback immediately. And the only goal is to evoke laughter and that’s why it is also more challenging.  

Q. Today, standup comedy has become a popular pursuit in India. What would your advice be for people who want to build a career as comedians?

A. My advice to them is, start doing it. I’ve met people who said they wanted to do it but could not because...”I have boil in my leg”, or “My hair has started to fall”, and so many other lame excuses. I think even the falling of hair can be used on the stage to make people laugh. You can actually use that as a fantastic element on stage. And that’s the thing, just get on stage and do it. Feel the fear, feel the desperate need of validation from a bunch of strangers, feel the humiliation, and feel the appreciation. That’s the only way to do it. I would say to these people that if you want to do it and you are not on stage right now, then you are already too late.

“I realised that I really like doing this. I could wonder for days and do other things but I’ve realised that my mind seeks adventure. I put myself into uncomfortable, terrible situations thinking I can extract material from it. I feel like I love doing this so much that I come back to this all the time.”
Q. You have performed in India as well as abroad. How would you describe the differences or similarities between the two sets of audiences?

A. In India, I feel like I have grown with the audience. To a very large extent I feel like even today when people come for a show they don’t know what to expect. It’s still growing. Internationally, I have performed for two types of audiences. The Indian audiences abroad: I was shocked that even in India I was talking about things like sanitary napkins, sex and all, and here people felt weird, like, how is she even talking about this stuff so openly! But as for the local audiences in the West, I would say that the culture of standup has been there for decades, and so they are almost sort of trained. They know what to expect and when. And when the audience is with you, I find it very cool. And that often happens abroad. But discovering things step by step with the audiences, as happens in India, is something I find more exciting. 

 

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