These are very stressful times indeed! Stress is all around us, from rising inflation and falling Sensex, from rising corruption to a slowing economy and a Prime Minister who doesn’t speak up! There are endless sources of stress! Stress related diseases are on the rise. If only life was little less stressful! It would have been so much better, wouldn’t it be? But fighting stress is no rocket science, all you need are simple things, maybe, all you need is just a bit of laughter! And that is what this lady and her colleagues are trying to propagate. This wonderful crop of people called stand-up comedians, are trying their best to make us laugh out loud and have some relief from the stressful lives we live. Discovering Mumbai presents ‘Aditi Mittal’, a rising star on the stand-up comedy circuit. We had a great time at her show @The Comedy Store and that was followed by an equally amazing interview. We can vouch that she is as good off stage, as she is on stage!
Aditi was born in Mumbai, her family moved to the town of Jalandhar, Punjab, when she was two. She grew up around an extended family and a boisterous Punjabi culture. Aditi went to boarding schools in Pune and Panchgani. This is when her love for comedy began to blossom. After 8th std. she transferred to St. Joseph’s, a convent boarding school in Panchgani. Having spent a lot of time in Pune and having made scores of friends there, the thought of making new friends all over again was a bit dreadful for her. The super hit movie ‘Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai’ had just released at that time and Aditi ended up memorizing the entire movie! On her first day in new school she tried paying all the characters of the movie in an attempt to win over new friends. “Needless to say, I made very few friends!” says Aditi.
“I’ve always had a THING for comedy. It’s amazing, that what started off as a defence mechanism is today what I do for a living”, says Aditi. Laughter to her means the sound of togetherness. It signifies good times and better memories. She says that the movie ‘Karan Arjun’ did it for her. Till today she is in awe of Johnny Lever’s role in the movie. Since she was very restless and loud her teachers thought that it was best to put her in a place where her yapping talent would be best utilized. This is how she ended up in numerous plays, debates and elocution completion in her school time. During college in US, she was a prominent part of musicals and played lead roles in Cabarets and Carousels at the Dreyfuss theatre in Madison, New Jersey. She would spend her weekends in New York watching stand-up comedy and she even did some improv courses at Upright Citizen’s Brigade in NYC.
Comedy was a passion for her (it still is!). She was seriously into it; after all that’s what passion makes you do. “It is the thing you stand for, something you chose to define yourself with”, says Aditi. After working on the open mic circuit for a year or so, she struck gold when she got the chance to do an open spot at the Comedy Store. “Suddenly I was performing with international acts, on a stage that was one of the most respected names in comedy worldwide” says Aditi. She was elated when stalwarts like Don Ward, who has defined the stand-up comedy circuit in UK, started giving her feedback.
Being the orthodox country that we are, making careers in streams so niche as comedy, is a tough thing for anyone. Parents would rather you become engineers or doctors than a comedian. However Aditi’s parents were very supportive and encouraged her to pursue her passion earnestly. Her mom, though, initially a bit confused, innocently asked her, “So you tell jokes and they give you money?” But she was always around whenever Aditi needed a little motivation and egging on. Her dad was excited to know that she wanted to make a career in comedy. He even offered to help her with writing jokes! “He’s definitely the funniest guy I know”, says Aditi. People close to her were relieved that they won’t be the only ones who would have to bear her jokes! It was the support showered by her parents and friends that helped Aditi make it big on the comedy circuit.
The going, however, was not so easy for her. She recalls how she almost had a nervous breakdown the first time she went on stage at The Comedy Store. Stand-up after all is only about the person and a mike. There are no fancy props, music or dancers to hide behind. Standing up there on the stage, with a spot light on you, trying to make people laugh, is definitely a scary proposition for any first time comedian. “I was nervous as hell, but I went in confidently and then delivered my first joke like there was a sea gull in my throat. I squawked out two more jokes, and then mercifully my mind blotted out the rest of that experience”, that’s how Aditi explains her first time on stage. After a traumatic first experience she decided to take her mom along for the second performance at Comedy Store, just in case she needed a shoulder to cry on at the end of it! That night, however, turned out to be a lot better, better than what she was expecting. “Even today sometimes I get nervous before gigs. I try not to eat and drink at least an hour before I go on lest my nervousness get the best of me”, says Aditi.
Her style is clean and simple comedy, she doesn’t stray into the world of vulgarisms. Aditi’s performances are peppered with jokes on Television. They were not allowed television in boarding school, so when at home during vacations she would sit before the TV endlessly, gobbling all that it had to throw at her. “My stand-up is mostly me trying to make sense of the various messages being bombarded at us. Television is supposed to define how we think, but are we thinking the right things? Half the things we see on TV are just a palliative nipple for us to suckle, to assuage fears that we did not know we had”, that’s Aditi’s take on Television. She says that it takes years and even decades for comedians to develop their voice and style. By that yardstick, she still has a long way to go to find her style; right now she is learning and growing. She believes that comedy is best when it is personal and speaks the truth.
English stand-up comedy has been gaining popularity in the country. Stand-up comedy, itself, was present since ages, remember hasya kavi sammelans? Now-a-days more and more venues want to try it. In fact, Aditi has also performed in smaller cities like Kochi and Udaipur. “It’s amazing to see when a joke that gets applause in one city will get a cold response in another”, says Aditi. Today the bigger comics like Vir Das and Sorabh Pant have floated their own comedy consultancies and are doing new things in improv, sketch and experimental comedy. Sorabh Pant happens to be her personal favourite. With so many comedians performing all across the country, these are definitely very exciting times in the industry.
Being a successful comedian and women is a tough thing. These, traditionally, are no entry professions for women of our country. “There’s always this drama about, oh female…oh comedian! Like it’s a kangaroo with an iPad! There are fewer women doing it because conventionally we are told to shut up and not make bold assertive statements” says Aditi. But all that is changing and hopefully people like Aditi will inspire other women to take up careers in such niche professions.
She still feels that her journey has only begun. “Comedians all over the world take years, decades even to find their voice. This is just the start. I am so excited about the possibility of growing and changing as I do more shows”, says Aditi. We are very excited at the prospect of watching this star grow and shine even brighter in the coming days. As for you, you can catch her perform at a Comedy Store near you, oops, there’s only one in the city; so now you know where you should be headed. A word of advice though, “Stay away from the front row!”
You can follow Aditi on her Twitter ID -@awryaditi
You can check out the shows at The Comedy Store on their website here.