No Qualms of Being Unladylike
Radhika Vaz is a little bit of this and that. She is classy and blunt, she’s quirky and quizzical, she’s funny and intelligent, she’s raunchy and upfront, but more importantly, she’s a storyteller. Donning many hats and roles aplenty, Radhika is a comedian who takes you on a hysterical joyride through her pieces. A one-woman army, her performance pieces usually tend to muse on women and the many expectations society imposes on them.
Having performed in New York and LA for the past four to five years, Radhika defines herself an improv comedian rather than a stand-up, where she blends personal experiences with classic comedic forms of stand-up and sketch. Her show, Unladylike – The Pitfalls of Propriety is about a woman’s take on life, who comically examines the role of women in society and how they are expected to behave a certain way in the world. The show opened to in New York almost two years ago and since then has been staged in front of room-pact audiences. Now Radhika travels across continents to bring the show to India on a multi-city tour. Currently busy with the tour, we speak to her as she gears up to perform today evening at the Epicentre, Gurgaon.
What’s the difference between Improv and Stand-up? I’m not really a stand-up comic – I’m called a stand-up comedian in India because they don’t have words to describe my show yet, but it’s not really stand up, that’s not my experience. What I do more of is improvised comedy and what we call specifically, a comedic monologue. So in my shows also, like Unladylike, you’ll see that it’s not a traditional stand-up.
A woman of Indian origin, you live in the States. To what extent do you think your personal life influences your scripting process? In Unladylike, I think a 100 percent. In the previous shows that I’ve written (which have been sketch comedy), I think that being an Indian has not been as relevant, as living in New York has been. Being a woman has of course always been very relevant. Basically, I perform female stereotypical roles and it is through them that I make a point. So being a woman, I think is important to me, whether being Indian, non-Indian is something I’m not always very clear about, but being a woman is always the first thing that affects everything I do. And I think that that’s completely normal.
Being an Indian in New York is almost sort of irrelevant in a way, because I don’t focus on the cultural differences and especially in the show, Unladylike also, my opening piece is about losing my virginity and what a big deal it is for women in India. Whereas for men, many are expected to lose their virginity before they get married, and I feel like my friends and I – we always had that dilemma of well… we wanted to do it, but it was the ‘wrong’ thing to do, you know. So I explore that content in the opening piece of Unladylike, but I definitely know for a fact, that it’s something that women the world over experience. There are huge double standards for sexuality for women. And I’ve been performing the show exactly the same way in New York as in India, and everybody gets the joke. Yes, there is a little bit of the Indian context to it only because I grew up here, but I wouldn’t say that that colours the show entirely. It’s really about being a woman.
What is your writing process like? The funny thing is that I never know what my show is going to look like until all the writing is ready, because what I do is I write and write and write, and then I take out my best material and then think of ways it can become a show – rather than thinking of an idea and then writing a show around it.
What according to you is the butt of all jokes? Myself.
As a stand up comic, what is your worst nightmare? An empty hall.
Have you ever experienced stage fright while performing? If yes, how did you go about overcoming that? Yes, definitely. Mine is a scripted show, and so sometimes I break from the script to interact with an audience member, and in that moment I suddenly forget where the f**k I was, and it takes me like a second to get back on track. But the thing is that I know my show well, so it’s not like the audience knows that I’ve completely forgotten or lost track – although sometimes they do and that is when I go ahead say something like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve forgotten where I was!’ and then we’re all on the same page and so it’s not a big deal. And the audience is typically very forgiving.
Which stand-up comic do you admire and if you ever had a chance to meet him/her, what would you say? I think I have to go with Bill Cosby, because he was probably the first comedian I had ever heard on a record. My dad still has the record – in fact we listened to him last night again. If I actually did meet him, I’d be so tongue-tied and I’d probably just tell him, ‘Mr. Cosby, I’m a big fan!’ – that’s probably all I’d be able to get out.
Three things one should know but does not know about comedians? Extremely insecure off-stage –not all of us, but some of us are! They are also fairly reclusive. And many of them tend of be night owls, because the entire stand-up comedy world is at night – we don’t have any shows during the day, so our biological clock is completely different from most people.
What are you currently working on? I’m working on a new show. Just of give you an idea, I’m 40 and I don’t have children, and I think that was a big thing for me because in the last 4-5 years everyone has been asking, ‘Are you going to have kids, are you going to have kids?’ And obviously I have to deal with that, so you know, I gave it a lot of thought and in my piece therefore, there is something about women as mothers and my thoughts on that. In the Unladylike show, I do say that not all women can be ladies because there are certain things about our bodies that don’t permit it. I’m also very curious and interested in the process of aging, and that maybe because I’m almost 40 now and that’s obviously very relevant._
Have Radhika tickle your funny bone at Epicentre, Gurgaon on 29th July, at 7:30pm.