Radhika Vaz: ‘The Great Thing About Comedy is That It’s Not Age Sensitive’
The stand-up comedian talks about her debut book, Indian women in comedy and all things unladylike
Whether it’s going naked for an ad campaign on YouTube or casually discussing bodily fluids [and more recently, the unspeakable pussy farts] at her shows, Radhika Vaz has a knack for making people around her nervously uncomfortable. “Women are raised not to make a scene,” says the Mumbai stand-up comic. “We’re told we’re the ones who need to maintain order, hygiene and good behavior and I think stand-up comedy goes against this because it allows comedians to address so many taboos.”
Vaz has turned author with her debut book Unladylike, A Memoir which outlines her childhood as an ‘Air Force kid’ as well as her time spent in boarding schools apart from her pet subjects — puberty, virginity, marriage and ageing. “Both my one-woman shows Unladylike and Older. Angrier. Hairier have been autobiographical and are basically about issues that everyone deals with, but personalized and from a comedian’s point of view.” Just like her shows, her book addresses the societal pressure on women on how to look, how to behave, when to get married and bear children. “Why do we need to have kids? Why are people so obsessed with deciding for us and telling us what to do?” asks Vaz.
Vaz’s comedy has been able to cut through age barriers with ease. While forty-somethings relate to her current state of mind as a forty-something herself, the younger lot seem to dig her been-there-done-that narratives. “The great thing about comedy is that it’s not age sensitive. You could start at 50 or 60 and it will work because at the end of the day it’s all about life experiences,” says Vaz. However, the prospect of writing a memoir didn’t come without the initial hesitance. In fact, the idea wasn’t even hers to begin with. “My friend and manager in New York suggested it. I didn’t want to do it because I told her I’m not a writer. And then she told me something I’ll never forget. She said, ‘You know, it doesn’t have to be great or a work of art. Just write.’ Shortly after, I was approached by a publisher who is now my editor and it all fell into place. I am very grateful it happened.”
Vaz might be one of the handful women stand-up comics in the country but she feels there’s ample talent that is still walking over eggshells when it comes to talking about issues they actually want to address on stage. “There are a few who are gingerly dipping their toes into the field. I see them when I go for sketches, shoots or bigger shows with lots of comedians performing and they are bursting at the seams to talk about personal experiences but they don’t end up doing it because comedy is still such a testosterone-dominated field. People especially aren’t used to women talking about sex and their bodies,” she says. Of course, it doesn’t help that gender as a subject continues to be a tricky water to tread and that a majority of Indians still consider feminism a bad word. “The other day I was reading in the newspaper about licenses being granted to women auto rickshaw drivers in Mumbai,” she says, adding, “That’s amazing! The women driving rickshaws are our feminists.”
The Unladylike book tour will start on January 23rd in Mumbai and will travel to Delhi and Bengaluru later. For tickets and more details visit www.insider.in/go/radhika-vaz.
Rolling Stone Rapid Fire with Radhika Vaz
1. The most unladylike thing you’ve done in your life? And the most ladylike.
Most unladylike was probably not shave my arms. I took that stand a few years ago – totally freaked my husband out.
Most ladylike is saying excuse me after I fart in yoga class. Nah – jk – I don’t excuse myself and I don’t care!
2. Would you rather live without your phone for one whole year or perform no shows for a year?
Oh dear. Tough one but the phone goes. I am a performer in my soul, I need my fix.
3. Would rather be mute or lose both your hands?
God damn girl where you learn this game?! OK OK – take my hands already. No hang on! How am I supposed to masturbate?
4. If you could have a conversation with anyone in history, who would it be?
Amelia Earhart – she was badass. I could never be that cool.
5. Twitter or Instagram?
Instagram – I spend too much time with words as is.
6. Retract one lie you’ve told.
That would be like unraveling a ball of yarn. That’s why they call it a yarn I guess.
7. If you could ask God one question?
Why there had to be so many of you? Do you see the havoc it’s causing down here bro?!
8. An unconventional food that should be introduced in the bedroom?
Paan flavored ice-cream. Laced with THC.
9. Biggest pet peeve?
People who are late. It’s disrespectful and makes you and your mother look bad.
10. Favourite cuss word?
Rasclat. It’s Jamaican, it’s pretty bad and the beauty part is no one on an Indian street would know what it means. You can shout it at auto drivers when they refuse to take you where you want to go.
11. Most ‘offensive’ joke you’ve told?
I do a rape joke about Uber cabbies. It one of those jokes that either works like gangbusters or there is deathly silence. It’s one of my faves!
12. Lady Gaga or Lady Diana?
Lady Di. I am 43 – I had the Lady Diana haircut all through my youth. She was an icon for my generation. I have to live with that!
13. Hugh Hefner or Donald Trump?
Heff. He is closer to death for one thing so I wont have to tolerate him forever. The Donald is just annoying now.
14. Someone you would love to scandalize?
Anyone who takes themselves too seriously.
15. Your responses to people that diss you or what you do?
Ignoring them seems to upset them more than any clever comeback.