We don’t fail as an individual, we fail as a gender! –Neeti Palta on her journey as a female stand-up comedian.
She may be ballsy and blunt, but one thing you forget is that, Neeti Palta is every bit funny. HANDS DOWN! Yes, yes, we know her jokes can sometimes punch you in the guts and sometimes they make you grin, but this comedian is not for the faint-hearted.
In this growing age of female Indian comedians, she is one of the earliest and only comedians to stand out especially in Delhi. She began her stand-up journey back in 2010, when it wasn’t even “the thing” that it is today in India.
We lucked out with the fact that we first got to see her perform on stage before we could interview her in Mumbai, at the Black Dog Sparkling Water Easy Evenings a couple of weeks ago. And trust us, Neeti is easy (no pun intended) to get in conversation with as much as she is on stage.
She even let us in on an inside joke, where someone outside the venue asked her for a photograph thinking she was Geeta from Dangal. LOL!
From her prep to the lessons she learnt, and her tips, take a peek into her life as a stand-up comedian.
1. Tell us about your first brush with comedy? When did you think you were ready to take the stage?
It was more an accidental brush. I had gone for this Collin Mochrie-Brad Sherwood show ‘Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” In the show, they get volunteers for different rounds from the audience. They have to enact different situations, it is all improv-comedy, while I was busy volunteering. They got me in for one round, where I had to make different sound effects with my mouth.
So, later Collin Mochrie caught up with me and told me that, I should try stand up and that day I happened to be lucky, because some people were running open mics in Delhi. They approached saying, “Hey, why don’t you come and check it out?” and well that’s how it started.
2. How has your transition been from a full-time advertising professional to a stand-up comedian?
I wrote for Sesame Street right after advertising. So, I basically moved from advertising cola to telling kids that cola is bad for them. (laughs) Then, after that, comedy happened.
Image Credits: Instagram
3. Tell us about your journey as a female stand-up comedian?
Honestly, initially I didn’t think I was doing anything different or spectacular. But, back then also, in Delhi I was the only woman. Each time, I would notice the different reaction, or even how I was introduced on stage. I would find this amusing, for me I was doing comedy, not stripping or something. But people, came up to me and told me it was unusual for a woman to do comedy. But I couldn’t understand why, until I noticed there really weren’t any women on the comedy front. Even now, there are fewer women.
Initially, it would bother me a lot, because the audience reacted to it differently toward a male comic versus me and I could feel it. If a guy goes up on stage, the audience would be receptive towards it, because obviously he’s going to be funny whereas I went up and they would be, “Dekhte hai!”
I genuinely feel, for a woman, things start from ground zero, maybe even minus. I had to make them receptive and then they would listen. I remember talking to other female comics out there now (since there are more of them, Thank God!), we all feel the same way, it’s like it is a part of a mixed line up, some will do well, while some won’t, obviously you’re always not going to ace it. But, if a male comic fails, the audience will be like, “Arre yaar, yeh itna funny nahi tha” and if a female comic fails, they will be like, “Women are not funny.” We don’t fail as an individual, we fail as a gender!
You don’t want to be the only woman on the line up who failed because they’ll go like, “ladkiyaan funny nahi hoti” it’s like strengthening a stereotype.
4. How do you react to being introduced on stage as “the woman with balls of steel?”
I was not offended, in fact, I found it amusing. If you think of the patriarchal society we’ve grown up in, that’s supposed to be a compliment. So, if you view the intent of the guy introducing you, and you know the intent is right, you don’t take offence.
What I found funny was when they would introduce me as, “And now we have a female act,” I would be like, why do you have to say, ‘female act?’ When I go on stage, hopefully, they will notice that themselves.
5. While on stage, do you feel the same amount of appreciation you get as much as a male comedian?
Now I do, because I’m sure of myself. I’m better at my craft. But I still feel that difference.
6. Could you tell us about the prep that goes into the piece before you take the stage?
Sometimes I feel like, I wish I was a singer, because people still groove to Summer of ’69 but people who come watch a show will be like, “Arre yaar, same joke kar rahi hai yaar!” But it’s the same effort.
First, you come up with a topic, some ideas, then some jokes, then you take them to different platforms. You have to make sure to get your timing right, your jokes right and finally it is bulletproof material.
Image Credits: Instagram
7. What are some of the challenges you face as a female comedian?
The challenge is to constantly reinvent yourself. Personally, I would say I’m still struggling to find my voice. I’m waiting for the day when some comic will be tripping over my joke or maybe when they say, ‘That’s a very Neeti thing’.
I would simply love to have my own brand of comedy.
8. Have you ever felt you failed to leave the audience in splits? If yes, how did you improvise?
Yes, of course. There are times your jokes don’t connect, or the setup won’t be right. Sometimes, it maybe that the audience is not invested, it’s so subjective. Comedy is very attention-demanding. So, I break off from the original plan and start talking to the people. They don’t feel like I’m talking ‘at’ them but rather ‘to’ them. You have to make sure you get the audience on your side.
9. Do you think the Indian audience is ready for female comedians like you?
Do you feel like they are more receptive to your perspective?
Maybe in metro cities. I don’t think I’m meant for Nagpur, or Benaras. (I know it’s probably unfair to club them as metros versus B-towns.) I’m addressing a mindset, so you have b-town mindset in metro cities too. I did well in Indore.
10. One piece of advice you wish YOU were given when you were starting out?
While I truly enjoy myself on stage and wouldn’t worry about performing well. The more lightly you take yourself the more lightly you will take the entire performance. This is what I’d tell myself. And from my younger self to my current self, I would tell myself to lighten up.
I think I notice insults now than I did before. (laughs)
11. What is the craziest comment you have received post-performing backstage?
Ah, that’s one of my favourite questions! There’s this guy who walked up to me at one of my shows, with a cut on the bridge of his nose. He said, “You caused that”. I was flabbergasted. He goes on to tell me, “I wear specs and I was sipping on my drink and I laughed so hard, that I hit my nose on my glass and broke both my specs and my nose. I started laughing, that was the best thing a guy has ever said to me.
Image Credits: Instagram
12. What’s next for Neeti?
Comicstaan 2 is coming out and I’m one of the judges on it.
Well, if you love Neeti Palta and she gets your rib-tickled, watch out for more of her upcoming shows in your city.