When pondering about a woman's place in comedy, there is one instance from Tina Fey's "Bossy Pants" that come to mind wherein she quotes her friend Amy Poehler as saying "I am not here to look cute for you" when someone said her dirty joke isn't cute. It is this quote that comes to mind when one watches Radhika Vaz's material; cute or not, her jokes are unapologetically original and hilarious.
IB Times India got a chance to peck the brains of Vaz, a protégée of New York improvisation scene, and we spoke about everything ranging from her brand of comedy to India's recent obsession with bans.
Vaz got her initiation into comedy, probably a little later than her peers, but that has not slowed her down one bit; quite the contrary in fact. She is of the opinion that like her, anyone can reach anywhere they want to be, but it is the sticking on that is hard.
So why did she stick to comedy, it is after all, not the most profitable career. "For the first time in my life, I felt like I was appreciated," says Vaz. "You do things you love, but not get the appreciation you deserve, or you get appreciation but you hate what you do. Comedy, for me, is a perfect balance of both," the "Unladylike" comedian explains.
Although Vaz has teased that she will soon be seen getting back to her collaborative roots, comedy "jugalbandis", if you will, so far we have only seen her perform monologues on the Indian stage, "if you want to call them stand-up acts, so be it". Her rants – for lack of a better word – touch upon various aspects of feminism, but there used to be a time when she wasn't even sure if she is eligible to call herself a feminist.
Has she ever worried about being typecast as the "angry feminist?" we wonder. Vaz clarifies this thought has not crossed her mind, even though the title of her latest show is "Older . Angrier . Hairier". "I also find this very biased.. Men never have to be stereotyped as an angry sexist or an angry misogynist. But any woman who speaks about equality has to worry about being called out as an angry feminist."
On a lighter note, she reminisces about a joke that a friend cracked: "Radhika's first show is 'Unladylike', and the second is 'Older. Angrier. Hairier'.. In all probability the third one will be 'I am Man'".
There is a fear in all of us that is stopping us from moving forward as a society; and not just in the case of gender equality. The condition in India, especially after the Dadri incident, she says has stopped being funny.
Reflecting on this recent trend of ban and violence, Vaz says, "People have to start focusing on things that affect them. For example, I don't eat dog meat. And, regardless of the fact that I am a dog-lover, I do not have the right to ban people that do eat dog meat from doing the same." Quoting the example of Ellen Degeneres Vaz elaborates, "She is a staunch vegan and expresses her love for animals all the time. She also donates a lot of money to benefit animals, but she never forces her beliefs down anyone else's throat".
She identifies that it is easy for her to sit within the safety of her home and lecture the country on being brave enough to stand up for what is right. But it is important to start the trend of saying "no" where necessary. When raising a social issue, be it feminism or secularism or freedom and equality, you are bound to offend a few people, but that is alright, she reminds us.
Vaz's latest venture is an autobiographical book "Unladylike", which will be released later this year. In a chronological order, it depicts her life as a child travelling all over India, with no real sense of belonging , to her marriage and current status as one of the most prominent stand-up comedians in India.
You will also get to see more of "Shugs and Fats", the YouTube series she co-created with Nadia Manzoor in the coming couple of months. Ten more episodes centred on the hilarious hijabi duo will be uploaded before the end of 2015, promises Vaz, who was most recently seen performing at the Bengaluru Comedy Festival, in the October 10-11 weekend.