After my interview with Vasu Primlani which materialised on WhatsApp over voice messages, the standup comedian messaged me from London saying that she was just offered a teaching job at IIT Hyderabad – ” Me, a professor at IIT, teaching a course in comedy!!”
Primlani, who started her standup career in San Francisco – and has performed in Dubai, London and all over India – is not a stranger to teaching as she has been a Business school professor. She is also an environmentalist who loves participating in triathlons, a corporate trainer and also a somatic therapist who specialises in trauma counselling and offers free counselling to survivors of rape and parents of children with special needs. How is she able to juggle it all?
Primlani is an environmentalist who loves participating in triathlons, a corporate trainer and also a somatic therapist who specialises in trauma counseling.
“I feel strongly about all these things whether they are intellectual, performance-based or emotional as all of them are actually the same thing which is about healing the world and people,” she says.
Primlani has always been interested in comedy and adds that her first inspiration were her parents who have a great sense of humour. She was first introduced to comedy by her friend Vidur Kapur, who is a popular comedian in the US.
“It is important to understand the engineering of a joke first. The mistake amateur comedians make is that they head straight out to the stage and speak their mind which can be equivalent to ranting. At the onset, one needs to figure out the theory and physics behind a joke - before you go out there and try it out.
You need to speak your mind and in a way stand naked in front of the audience. Talk about your observations and the issues you care about but your joke has to transcend – it has to be funny to a stranger,” she informs.
Primlani’s material usually takes off from the things which bug her – what she doesn’t understand or considers stupid. She discusses women’s rights and the environment – issues she wishes the society would talk about but they don’t.
“In standup comedy, there is definitely a glass ceiling. A lot of men feel that women are not funny, they feel comfortable around other men.”
“Even in standup comedy, there is definitely a glass ceiling. A lot of men feel that women are not funny, they feel comfortable around other men. I find this interesting because I once took a guy friend with me to an all women show because he didn’t think that women could make him laugh. Now this is a person who feels that he can’t comprehend his own wife and after the show he messaged me saying, ’It is 4 am and I am still laughing.’”
To top it up, comedy audience in India still don’t quite know what’s expected of them. Primlani has observed in countries like the US and UK that there is a lot of respect for comedians, the audiences understand it is a performance art and don’t disturb or heckle the comedian.
But where does this deep, abiding misogyny in India stem from?
“The way men have been taught to interact with women since their childhood has been fundamentally wrong and disrespectful.”
The recipient of the Nari Shakti Puraskar says, “I feel it comes from a sense of deep self-hatred, people don’t have their own self-esteem in place, they are inherently damaged. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of healing, in terms of how people view themselves. An unhappy person can only give unhappiness.
The way men have been taught to interact with women since their childhood has been fundamentally wrong and disrespectful. But that’s all they know. They do want to love and respect so that it is reciprocated but the whole concept is like sand through their fingers. Inadvertently, they end up doing themselves a disservice.”
As for young women, the comedian’s only advice is for them to chase whatever goals they have set for themselves.
She adds, “Young Indian women should do whatever they want to do, whether or not it makes sense to someone else is inconsequential. Set a goal for yourself, do what drives you to become better, efficient and more competent. Achieve your dreams no matter what they are.”