We’re on our way to stand-up comedian Aditi Mittal’s (30) Mumbai residence, when we get a call from her manager. We’re told something’s come up; we can’t do the interview at her residence anymore. We arrange to meet at My Regular Place, a resto-bar in Dadar, instead.
When Mittal arrives, she is all apologies. “Our cleaning lady has been away for a while. My mother refused to have guests over,” she says.
As we settle down to chat, Mittal puts forth a request. She doesn’t want to strike silly, funny poses for the camera just because she’s a comedian. Yet, a couple of minutes into the shoot, she’s doing exactly that. “It’s an impulse,” she says, adding, “I don’t know what else to do.”
She perfects a casual pose soon enough. In photographs, it seems like she’s gently smiling but between poses, she alternates between giggling and boisterous laughter. Chatty, animated and chirpy, she has the kind of personality that we imagine makes her the life of the party.
Throughout the interview, Mittal seems to be amused by her success as a professional comedian, as if she didn’t expect it to turn into a real career. “I feel I’m in a lucky space where I get to do exactly what I want to do. I get to process my life experiences, write them down, talk about them, and make people laugh. The fact that you are here to ask for my opinion is huge,” she says.
When we ask her what she does in her free time, her manager butts in: “Where does she have any free time?” and proceeds to tell us tasks on Mittal’s to-do list. Through it all, Mittal smiles at her indulgently. “I’ve trained her well,” she jokes.
In 2010, Mittal started out in the stand-up industry by going for open mics, which makes her one of the first women to do comedy in Mumbai. Currently, she is working on her new web series, Bad Girls, where she showcases unconventional women who have done unusual work.
The first episode (launched in February, this year), featured stand-up comedian and lawyer Nidhi Goyal, who happens to be visually impaired. In the first half, Goyal performs a stand-up routine, while in the latter half, she’s in conversation with Mittal.
The seed of Bad Girls was sown two years ago when Mittal attended a talk by Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy. “The opening question was: how does one who is in a position of power (or even perceived power) help someone who isn’t? One of the points that stood out for me was this: pass the mic. Don’t talk on people’s behalf, let them do it. I realised that I have a bunch of subscribers on my YouTube channel [@dyslexiasoftware], and I’d like to do just that,” says Mittal.
Theatre actor Anu Menon, known for her on-screen avatar as Lola Kutty, as well as Rajani Pandit, regarded as the first female private investigator in India, will also feature in Bad Girls.
In the past, Mittal has hosted editions of Sex and Sexability (a live comedy show where comedians with disabilities and mental illness joke about taboos and myth) and routinely takes a feminist stand on various issues on social media. Yet, when we ask her if she sees herself as an activist, she vehemently denies it: “That would be taking away credit from people who are doing actual activism.”
Carving her own path
At a time when most comedians are hyperactive on Snapchat, and often play characters on the app using filters, she refuses to sign up on it. This, despite the fact that she already has two alter egos she plays during live shows — Bollywood starlet Dolly Khurana, and psychologist and sexologist Dr Mrs Lutchuke. “I’m not going to take you into my bedroom. Snapchat would be invasive. I don’t want to constantly beam my face out there,” she says.
Mittal doesn’t upload too many clips of her gigs or sketches on YouTube either. She would much rather have people come for her performances. “I’m a creature of the live medium,” she says.
In her shows, Mittal covers topics ranging from menstruation to the experience of shopping for bras. Her humour is intelligent and often subtle. She never goes for the low-hanging fruit — for instance, you won’t find jokes on how Marwadis are miserly, or how Mayawati is fat. “The purpose of comedy is to establish a sense of intimacy. The fact that I can talk to all kinds of people is the most exciting part for me,” she says.