“I feel like I’ve had the world fall into my lap this year,” says Aditi Mittal, as she adds her name to the likes of Aziz Ansari, Louis CK, Vir Das and Amy Schumer by getting her own Netflix comedy special, “I am literally stopping everyone on the road and telling them my news,” she gushes excitedly.
Comedian Aditi Mittal isn’t a stranger to accolades and huge success. Her stand-up routines go viral on social media faster than you can say ‘Women can’t do comedy’ and she is easily one of the most brilliant comics on the scene right now.
While being a woman and being funny is still considered mutually exclusive, how did Aditi wind up making a living out of making people laugh? “I come from, I believe, a long line of people who enjoy making asses of themselves for other’s entertainment,” she explains, “One of my strongest memories is all of us sitting around my grandmother while she made fun of us one by one. She was cruel, but since I was the youngest, she was the kindest to me. But that meant that everyone else used to have a good go at me. I’ve had a lifetime of being bullied.”
Aditi adds, “I believed that friends would not play with me if I wasn’t funny. They would keep me around because I used to say the most ridiculous things. So it was my way of trying to fit in and getting people to like me.”
While there’s no topic off limits, she stresses the importance of handling ‘sensitive’ topics. “Let’s talk about rape, for instance. A joke attacking rape victims makes you a fucking idiot. It’ll still be a joke, but you’re an idiot. But if you talk about what these Godmen do every time it happens, they will still be jokes about rape but you’re attacking the powers that are above us,” explains Aditi. “That’s the thing about humour. It’s a survival mechanism. It helps you get through situations that you may not have control over.”
Aditi Mittal on taking back control
During a recent roundtable discussion on comedy in India, Aditi was the only woman among the 6 comedians present. The whole thing became even more cringeworthy when Aditi had to sit quietly and wait for her turn to speak while the men around her debated the dearth of female comics in the business.
Is there sexism in the comedy industry as well? The country’s top comedians @awryaditi, @HumorouslyVipul, @thetanmay, @kalyanrath opine – pic.twitter.com/dof0ad3ydf
— Film Companion (@FilmCompanion) May 23, 2017
Aditi, then, pointed out the lack of investment in female comics, as opposed to their male counterparts, calling the Indian comedy scene a ‘boy gang’. “You know, I hate answering this,” she says, “Everyone has seen the differences as they’ve played out and I really want to be the person who says ‘Oh, there’s no fucking difference. The only difference is that we have vaginas and they have penises,’ but that’s not true. It’s important that we acknowledge where the differences lie.”
Then there’s the audience perception. Amy Schumer credited the lack of support given to women in comedy to the simple fact that we, as a species, hate women. According to her, when a woman stands on stage and speaks for more than five seconds, we project our mothers nagging us endlessly onto her.
Aditi bursts into delighted laughter when I share this. “I am certainly not one to discount what Amy Schumer has to say,” she says, adding that for her, it started with what she wore on stage, “For the longest time I was told not to project myself as ‘too feminine’. You have to desexualise yourself as much as possible because you don’t want to be viewed as a sexual creature, you want to be viewed as funny.”
Aditi decided to channel Ellen Degeneres on stage, but “the conversation about my tits wouldn’t go away. I was still introduced onstage as the ‘best tits in the business’ even though I showed up in a fucking pantsuit.”
She was told that people only laughed because she had nice legs. “My legs and my tits are amazing, but despite the fact that I’ve done nothing to highlight them, they would still be a big part of my presence on stage. So I decided to wear whatever I want. When men show up looking like scum on stage, it’s considered so charming, like ‘Oh, looks like he hasn’t bathed in a month. Must have some exciting stories to tell’, but if a woman shows up without make-up, it’s all ‘Holy shit!’ or ‘Why did we pay so much for this ticket?’”
And if you thought the proponents of this vitriol were limited to nameless, faceless trolls on social media, you would be wrong.
“One guy came upto me and said, ‘we weren’t looking at you, we were only looking at your tits.’ This is when they’ve come up to me after the show to take a selfie. They, of course, got the selfie.” I’m horrified, but she sounds nonchalant, “People find women in comedy very inconvenient because they don’t know what to do with us. Most men approach me with a ‘I will out-funny you’. Or they think that if they say something really nasty, they’ll have your attention.”
Still, Aditi insists the most frustrating aspect of being a female comedian is incidentally the most rewarding — the endless struggle. She says, “You’re never perfect. You could walk out of a show after receiving a standing ovation and still have six things that you think went wrong. Even if you have 30 people in the audience who know you, you still have to make them laugh and impress them,” she says, adding, “On some level, it’s so romantic that (sings) ‘You’re a student for the rest of your life!’ and then it’s also like ‘Fuck. You’re a student for the rest of your life.’”
Aditi Mittal’s Netflix special ‘Things They Won’t Let Me Say’ is going to debut worldwide on July 18th.