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Updated: December 12, 2013 19:50 IST

Girl uninterrupted

PREETI ZACHARIAH
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Stand-up comedian Radhika Vaz. Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash
The Hindu Stand-up comedian Radhika Vaz. Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

Radhika Vaz tells us that she overturns the notion of femininity in her act

Radhika Vaz must certainly subscribe to feminist Susan Brown Miller’s view that, “Femininity, in essence, is a romantic sentiment, a nostalgic tradition of imposed limitations.”

Her hilarious solo show, Older. Angrier. Hairier, premiered by the Comedy Store for the first time in India, explores and turns on its head the notion of femininity. “I skewer up whatever we are told is feminine. I think it is ridiculous in this day and age that we have different standards for boys and girls,” says Radhika. “I open the show with my opinion on cleanliness and how that is a big part of being feminine. From a moral perspective women have always been moral gatekeepers of society, keeping every one clean. I tie it to housework and explore how it is a natural instinct for us to take care of a home whether we need to or not. And though I understand where and how that happens, I have a problem with that being tied to our role as a woman,” she says, adding that her femininity, or the lack of it is a vital component of most of her acts.

“My previous show was called Unladylike, which comprised of seven to eight anecdotal stories that conveyed the same message. I did the whole thing through a character and she had a particular way of conducting herself. She looked very prim and proper but she would say things very opposite to that what a lady normally does.”

The daughter of an Indian Air Force pilot, Radhika who was born in Bombay, spent her childhood in different parts of the country. “I tell people I’m from Bangalore though. I did my first and second PU here. And besides, this is where I learnt how to drink vast quantities of rum and coke and then throw it all up without making a mess... Bangalore women are classy like that. Also my parents and many close friends live here,” she says.

Comedy was never part of the cards she says, “I never thought of it in college when everyone was deciding what they wanted to,” she says admitting however that, “I was good at theatre, debate, any performance than anything else. I really was rotten at sports and studies. I couldn’t learn anything in a text book but if I had to learn 500 lines for a play, I could. It was very odd.”

She went on to take up a regular corporate job in New York. It was then that comedy happened, albeit somewhat serendipitously. “I had just moved to New York and wanted to make some friends so I decided to get out there and start taking classes in improvised comedy. And that environment was very encouraging. Gave me a glimpse into the fact that I could something other than what I was doing. I had always been attracted to that sort of stuff and once I started doing it in New York, it sort of became a real option,” she says.

But wasn’t it hard to be part of the undoubtedly male-dominated realm of stand-up comedy? “Well its difficult being a woman anywhere, don’t you think?” she exclaims. “We live in a patriarchal culture that does not support women. People like me are lucky because we came from a household that was very supportive. I’m lucky I went to schools and colleges where I was attracted to people who supported me and who I supported back.”

Radhika say that stand-up is supposed to provoke, to instigate, and to challenge protocol. And as women, we are not supposed to be doing any of that. So yes, women comedians do have a hard time of it. I’ll give you an example. In comedy in America, they have midnight talk show and you have comedians like Jay Leno, David Letterman handling these shows. It is an all boys club. We now have one woman called Chelsea Handler but for her to even get that show was groundbreaking,” she says.

Radhika who has moved back to India after a 15-year hiatus in New York says that she finds little difference in the reactions of Indian and American women to her brand of comedy, “I’m very issue based and not really cross culture. While I do make cultural references my show is not dependent on it. The focus is on gender rather than origin though it may evolve into something else, now that I live here, I don’t know,” she says.

Besides comedy, Radhika is into yoga and power lifting, likes hanging out with her friends, enjoys reading fiction, is a film buff and loves watching performance art — dance, music and of course, comedy. “I need to watch comedy not really as an interest but also as homework. You learn a lot from other people — what to do and more importantly, what not to do.”

On future plans, “I have no idea. I have friends who plan life — when to get married, have kids, what sort of jobs they would get. I wish I was like that, but I’m not. I wanted to become an actress but didn’t and became a comedian instead.

I would still love to act — film, television, theatre. I love to write as well and am working on something for a publishing house in Delhi. There are so many things, I’d like to do.

I think there are enough people who can handle a show like this. I want to take this show everywhere and put new shows in place. There is a long, never-ending list of places I want to visit and hopefully inspire more girls to take to this too. I wish more women would participate. We need more women comics.”

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