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The lady with the funny bone

 

“When I started off there weren’t too many women who did what I was doing”

“The female comedians that I knew of — in television, films and drama — were mostly happy playing second fiddle to male comedians.

“They did not have a voice of their own…

“In most popular shows, there were men who dressed up like women which was both funny and depressing — I thought we (women) could do those roles better.”
Neeti Palta was in her mid 30s when she decided to quit her advertising job as senior creative director at JWT and make people laugh.

She had no professional training and was testing new waters.

After her first impromptu performance was well received, she asked her critics to go take a hike and since then, never looked back.

In the last five years since she quit her job, she wrote the script for the television show Galli Galli Sim Sim, travelled to Goa, Delhi, Bangalore, Coimbatore to do stand up acts and won audiences over!

She was even invited invited by former Under Secretary General of the UN, Dr Shashi Tharoor to perform in front of an international audience where guests from 30 plus countries were visiting.

In the following interview, Neeti Palta talks about the instances that shaped her life decisions and made her a strong-willed professional. Read on.

Inspiration

About six years ago, I volunteered for Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood’s show Whose Line Is It Anyway and I happened to mimic parts of it with random sound effects which left the people in the room asking for more.

That’s when they realised that I had a funny bone and I should do something about it.

Being a comedian wasn’t part of my plan. It just happened.

I used to attend shows where the men would crack lame jokes on women and say “Oh these women are so dumb, so reticent…all they do is sit back and laugh at our jokes.”

I thought why not step on the stage and tell them what we women actually feel — about men, so-called society, every day issues we face etc.

After the Colin show, the duo mentioned that they usually called women on stage because women are ‘reticent’.

After my first performance, I realised that a lot of people in the audience actually wanted to hear the “women’s side of the story”. That’s how I got new followers.

Most of my jokes are from my own personal experiences; I do not watch other comedians because I don’t want to be influenced.

Sarcasm is my style; I don’t do sleazy jokes. I don’t do shows just for the money, I do it only if I enjoy being part of it.

Also, when I started off there weren’t too many women who did what I was doing, so I got a lot of respect.

The female comedians that I knew of — in television, films and drama — were mostly happy playing second fiddle to male comedians.

They did not have a voice of their own, maybe because no one wrote a script for them or gave them a meaty role.

In most popular shows, there were men who dressed up like women which was both funny and depressing — I thought we could do those roles better.

I wish I could dress up like a man and crack jokes too, but I am not sure if the audience would find that funny!

On the brighter side, I thought these were signs that there is ample scope for women in this profession.

The challenges

Most comedy shows or events take place late in the evening or at night.

I belong to a middle class family and my parents weren’t too happy about me working late nights and performing in front of absolute strangers.

Most of the times, I have to travel alone to new places for shows.

My family was worried about my safety.

They were also worried about the repercussions — what if somebody did not like my joke? What if they hurled rotten tomatoes and stones, among other things?

It took them a few years to understand that being a comedian wasn’t all that bad and risky after all, if you knew who your audience was.

I have taken some awful decisions too!

For instance, I was once invited to perform at someone’s 40th birthday party and the host expected me to crack some ‘vulgar’ jokes which was clearly not my thing.

I felt like running back home, but I cracked the jokes I was comfortable about and after that day, I made it a point to stress my priorities and limitations well in advance.

As if these struggles aren’t enough for you, there are times when you face gender discrimination.

I remember an event co-ordinator once told me that she was specifically looking for a female comedian because they “charge less”.

Although I was glad she was blunt about her expectations, I decided not to do the show because I was offended.

Then there is this ‘Delhi girl mindset’ wherein if a girl cracks a certain vulgar joke on stage, men feel that the girl who cracks it has ‘loose character’.

Sometimes I have to deal with such men too! But I guess it is all part of the profession.

I have learned to draw the line and deal with people more strictly.

The perks

I get paid to make people laugh — something I do quite naturally.

There is a lot of creative satisfaction in doing stand up comedy — something that was missing in my previous career as an advertising professional.

I have become confident and am prepared to deal with impromptu situations and people, often thinking and acting on my feet.

Lessons learned

We women are born with ‘self doubt’. We always underestimate our strengths and abilities.

Unless you actually try doing something new how would you know for sure what you are capable of?

I never thought I could do comedy until I actually tried.

I remember this advice from a senior colleague. I don’t remember his exact words but the gist of it was: “When you go up on stage don’t think that you’re a woman. You are just a funny person who is trying to make people laugh.”

I think it’s the best motivation someone could give me.

Advice

Believe in yourself.

There is nothing that women can’t do, if they really wanted to and tried to. So be brave and confident about your choices.

Be open to learn and make mistakes.

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