In the city of Mumbai, thousands of people try to achieve that cliched, big city dream. Getting famous through the entertainment business is one of those things that is most closely associated with this city. It’s one of the toughest businesses to “make it” in, though. Mumbaikars are hugely difficult folk to impress when it comes to the performing arts; you get no points for trying in this town, and your enthusiasm counts for little unless you actually manage to back it up with talent. Some people are not cut out for show business and it doesn’t take, say, a casting director, to see that these people ought to pack up and go home. On the other hand, there are some people who just have a natural inclination towards performance.
Comedian Aditi Mittal is someone who wants to be on-stage and performing every week. She has been a regularly performing stand-up comic for well over two years, but she’s been performing for as long as she can remember. It wasn’t just school plays, or any of the other outlets for kids to show their acting prowess. For Mittal, it was just a way to connect with people. “I went to boarding school from a really young age and by the time I hit eighth standard, I moved to a new school and it’s so tough to make friends at this point. Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai had just released and I went to watch it the weekend before and I obviously fell madly in love and made up elaborate lies about how I met Hrithik Roshan. In my first day at my new school, I began to act out Kaho Na Pyaar Hai,” says Mittal. The stand-up comedy community in India is still pretty small but some personalities do stick out more than others. Aditi Mittal is one of those comedians who gets a little more recognition than the others, but it was my understanding that it wasn’t solely because of her comedic talents.
So many articles about her seem entirely focused on her breaking some sort of gender stereotype. “I get really pissed off that people want to make it (being a female comedian) such a big deal, because it’s not. Put a few hundred monkeys in front of a typewriter and they’d be able to come up with the works of Shakespeare. What’s the big deal with being a female comedian? There is a certain level of vulnerability or boldness that is not acceptable among women on stage and that’s probably why I imagine there aren’t more. The point of view that comes across is completely different and the more we harp on about female comedians, the more we push the feeling that females conventionally cannot be funny. We need to stop talking about it like it’s a big thing,” explains Mittal.
Not wanting the interview to turn into a gender debate, we swiftly turned our attention to Mittal’s new solo show, Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say. Not many comedians get their own solo shows, but after putting in the time, Mittal got her chance. “The stuff I’ve been doing over the past two years, I feel like I’ve really grown with it. I’ve done this stuff all over the country, I even did this in the US. I wanted this show to be a summation of all the work I did over the past two years. This is my best stuff and I put it together and I wanted to put it out there. This is like my final exam and it’s something that’s going to keep coming up, so, I want to put something like this together every two years and say I haven’t wasted my time,” explains Mittal. The show’s first outing was well-received with plenty of audience members commending the comedian on Twitter. One of Mittal’s friends arranged for a special attendee to come watch the show, and that person was Mumbai Mirror’s ‘The Sexpert’, Dr. Mahinder Watsa. “I admire the guy, I really respect him. Watsa seems to put down people with the right amount of humour or tact. It was damn exciting and I told him, ‘Sir, I’m such a big fan, sir.’ But then he said, ‘I have a lot to learn from you, young woman.’ My friend said she was trying to get him to come, but I didn’t know for sure. I think he came with a date and I was so impressed!” gushes Mittal.
Going up to do a 90-minute stand-up special would definitely make me nervous and so I had to ask Mittal if she felt any nerves. She immediately stated that getting out there on stage was “her job” and bringing her own emotions and nerves would simply not do. Her recent trip to the United States seems to have taught her a lot, especially her meeting with legendary comedian Bill Cosby. “I was invited to perform in the US by Stand Up Planet and it was amazing because I got to meet a lot of comedians and learn a lot too. I got to meet Bill Cosby and we asked him if he ever had a bad show. He said, ‘Yeah, once. I went on, it was really quiet and people didn’t have a good time.’ And then we asked him if he had a bad show again, but he said that he didn’t! Here was Bill Cosby telling me that he’s had one bad show. He said, ‘It’s my job,’ and so, I feel we should just suck it up and do it. People are paying us money and looking for a good time and knowing this adds a layer of discipline to it. It’s about them having a good time, they paid the money and they might have brought someone they really liked to it. You better bring your A-game,” says Mittal.
We speak briefly about comedians Louis C.K (which contemporary comedian doesn’t love him?) and Marc Maron. It becomes increasingly evident that Mittal probably won’t lose her fascination with performing in front of an audience, and she says that she always considers it to be “a real privilege”. Indian stand-up comedians are trying all kinds of new things with their performances and it’s clear that the community, as a whole, has understood that constant evolution is required. Mittal feels the same way and while her solo show was a great achievement, she’s got plenty of other plans. “There are so many things I want to do. I want to do a lot of character work and try out other kinds of comedy. There’s stuff like the awards format, the interview format and so many others. The possibilities are endless as to what can be done. Solo shows are great, but now we’re beyond that. Think thematically. East India (Comedy) has their show Comedy News Network and I did something like that in Digging The News. We can’t keep doing stand-up comedy because it’s generic and the audience then knows what it’s all about anyway. You have to add something new to it.”
While we sat and chatted about comedy and Mittal’s latest explots, the rumblings of a rain-filled July afternoon continued on outside the cafe we were in. Through our conversation, Mittal’s passion for performing in front of audiences stood out. With her new show gaining ground, a theatrical performance in the works (Divya Palat’s The Verdict, which opens this August) and plenty of other surprises in store, we recommend you catch her in your city whenever she’s visiting.
More comedians walk into a bar.