Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Aditi Mittal: Urban India's Funny Girl

How stand-up comedienne Aditi Mittal makes sense of the ridiculous

Published: Feb 12, 2015 07:12:49 AM IST
Updated: Feb 9, 2015 05:20:03 PM IST
Aditi Mittal: Urban India's Funny Girl
Image: Joshua Navalkar

Aditi Mittal | 28
Stand-up comedian
Category: Entertainment

For over an hour, the vivacious Aditi Mittal has us in splits as she recounts her experiences of ‘doing sets’ as a stand-up comedian. Audiences are pretty judgemental and can sometimes be unmoved by the jokes, she tells us. “One of the easy ways to rescue a show is to throw in a [cuss word], deliver the punchline in Hindi,” she says. “It never fails and people start going crazy.” At least north of Goa, they do [laugh], she points out. In the south, though, they are far more polite; they sometimes clap more than they laugh, she says.

Gauging the audience mood and responding to it is the core of a stand-up act. In Mittal’s assessment, “this type of humour is a lot about power play”. She’s been on the circuit for just four years but her time has run parallel with the establishment of an organised, English stand-up scene in the country. “By the time you walk up and take your place at the microphone, you’ve already been judged,” she says.

In 2010, after returning to Mumbai following her graduation in Canada, Mittal began by hamming at open-mic nights. The audience reactions got her hooked. “I was extremely high on nautanki even as a kid,’’ she says.

Her contemporaries Tanmay Bhat, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya are now all part of a bunch of stand-up artistes that run solo acts. Back then, they, including her, tentatively made up the cast of the first all-Indian stand-up show ‘Local Heroes’ at the Comedy Store (now Canvas Laugh Factory) in Mumbai. However, for Mittal, things didn’t begin very well. She bombed at her first high-profile corporate event, where she had been offered a five-minute slot by British comedy entrepreneur and CEO of Comedy Store, Don Ward.

After that, she had no option but to go back to open-mic performances. She did this for a year—listening and learning all the time. When she got more confident, she tried reaching out to Ward again. But he didn’t take her calls. “Then I heard from the grapevine that he was in India. I shot a video and kept spamming his inbox with links till he called me,” she says gleefully. Ward gave her another chance and, after watching her perform, commissioned her for eight back-to-back spots at the Store. This was her break into big league as she began performing with senior stand-up artistes from around the world.

She soon created two hugely successful characters: Dolly Khurana (a Punjabi film reviewer) and Dr (Mrs) Lutchuke (a Marathi sexpert). She also began performing overseas.

“She is an important voice today,” says writer and corporate stand-up comedian Anuvab Pal. “Her comedy is from the perspective of a young, urban Indian woman. She speaks about a variety of things that range from Ms India contestants and their ridiculous view of the world, to her notion of underwear. I can’t do this. No one else can. It has to be her,” he says.

Aditi Mittal: Urban India's Funny Girl
Riding on outrageous ideas and breaking shibboleths is now everyday work for Mittal. She finds inspiration around her. “India is full of rich material,” she says. “Whenever there is a newsbreak, all of us [comics] fight for the best lines. One day it is a minister from Goa who plans to open centres to make homosexuals ‘normal’, on another day there are advertisements for vaginal tightening creams.” The attempt is usually to shock people with one-liners on familiar issues, but in unexpected ways. “You obviously cannot construct a set around expletives. We work a lot on the writing—discarding obvious repartees and working on the script till we have the one thing that will have everyone in splits,” she says.

Is anything sacred at all? History, religion? “Nooo…,” she says, eyes twinkling, “we make fun of everything.” Thankfully, the censors haven’t got to her and her tribe yet.

Here is the full list of 30 Under 30 for 2015 and its methodology

(This story appears in the 20 February, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)