Mention stand-up comedy and the names of only male comedians flash through our mind – including All India Bakchod and Funny Leone. So when a colleague mentioned a female stand-up comedian, I was intrigued to say the least. Though I am no fan of stand-up comedy, I strongly believe there is nothing that men do which we can’t do better.
It helped that advertising was a familiar territory, so tracking down Neeti Palta was not too tough. Neeti Palta is among the few female stand-up comedians in India. Neeti had a cushy job in advertising, and she was among the top of her league as senior art director at JWT. But in her own words she was “tired of selling cola to the youth,” and decided to move out of advertising. What followed doesn’t quite sound like a plan and Neeti has no qualms in admitting that there was no strategy behind her choices.
From advertising, Neeti moved to writing episodes for ‘Galli Galli Sim Sim’, when the popular children’s TV show ‘Sesame Street’ reached India. Neeti did the show for four years, until she attended a Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood show, where she volunteered to do on the spot sound effects for the lines they were saying on stage. And rest as they say is history.
“What I did on the show turned out to be quite funny, and they admitted that normally they didn’t take women for the part, but I was an exception,” shares Neeti. This was about four years ago, and since then Neeti has tickled many a funny bone across the country and aboard through many shows that she has participated or organised.
How to be funny?
Being a comedian is as tough, if not tougher, as any other performance. Neeti says she is always on the lookout for something funny in life, if things are going wrong, even that would be new material for her as a comedian. “Everybody can be funny in a group or family, but it takes a lot more to be funny on stage. You typically start out in pubs; it’s a bunch of strangers who are there to drink and eat and you have to entertain them, make them laugh. One of the important things needed to be a comedian is to have a thick skin. I was rejected many times,” she says. Lot of material for her comedy comes from things that make her angry or upset her.
Another tough part, says Neeti, is the attitude that people listening to comedy shows have. As the setup is mostly an eatery, people are ordering loudly, talking to each other, half listening, half talking. She says, “That attitude is disrespectful, but they don’t even realize they are being disrespectful. In comedy if you miss the punch line or the joke, you will say, “comedian hi bekaar tha, hasaya toh nahi.”
Practice is another habit to be a successful comedian, says Neeti. So after identifying the topic and writing the lines, practicing the delivery part is an absolute must. Neeti admits it’s tough to come up with new stuff all the time. “The funny part is everybody can listen to the same song over and over again, but if you say the same joke, they will be less tolerant,” she says.
Learnings on the job
One man’s meat is other man’s poison, and who knows that better than Neeti. She admits to having faced tough situations when people in the audience have not taken kindly to her jokes. Neeti says her solution to the problem has been to smile and face it. “If you are smiling then people do not get offended,” she offers. Coming from Delhi, Neeti says she is quite used to being scrutinized for being a female comedian. “Some people may pass comments while seeing the show. In other cases, people come up to me and say, your voice is so strong we loved the fact that you have a great and loud voice,” says Neeti about the brickbats and bouquets she has received.
An appreciative audience, says Neeti, is the best reward for all the hard work, because the laughs and smiles that her jokes evoke give her the most satisfaction. She does admit there are tough times when she has been unwell and therefore not able to give her hundred percent. However, with practice, she has managed to work around such situations without much trouble.
One of her proudest moments as a comedian was when she brought her parents to see her performance, after completing a year as a comedian. Neeti admits her parents were not too happy with her decision to do comedy, and neither had they seen her on stage. “My dad is an Army man, so he was upset why I was doing all this? ‘You are a writer,’ he would say. It was difficult for him to wrap his head around this. My mom was worried from a safety point of view. Travelling late in the night, talking to a bunch of drunk strangers, God knows who will think what. In places like Delhi, people with money can sometimes be very brash,” admits Neeti.
So when she brought her parents to see her show, an old Sardarji walked up to her and patted her back for her performance. “His kids had brought him to the show and they were feeling very uncomfortable when the previous comedian was using foul language. He said he loved my show and that my parents would be very proud of me. He didn’t realize my parents were standing right there,” shares Neeti proudly.
The next frontier
Ask Neeti her long term plan and she admits there isn’t one. “I feel there is some guiding star that is keeping a watch over me,” smiles Neeti. The reason she feels that way is because of her journey so far. Neeti had co-written a movie script which was made into a movie by none other than Salman Khan. Titled ‘O Teri’, the film’s screenplay, story and dialogue have been written by Neeti. “People wait two to three years to meet Salman and here I was narrating the script of my first movie to him, and he told his brother-in-law Atul Agnihotri to produce it,” gushes Neeti.
Besides working on her own shows, Neeti is also working on a concept called, ‘Loony Goons’. Through ‘Loony Goons’, Neeti is bringing together comedians from across the country and the world to perform at different locations in the country. “What happened was one guy saw me on stage in Delhi and liked my show. In terms of comedy, a lot is happening in Mumbai, because they have a comedy store where people have a regular place to go to. They were also bringing in comedians from outside. While Delhi didn’t have much of a comedy circuit. So this guy wanted to start something like this in Delhi and that’s how Loony Goons was born. So I connected with comedians around India and now I co-perform with most of them. They were also keen because Delhi was a new city/market,” explains Neeti.
As the business of comedy is new to the country, Neeti thinks there is lot more that she can do in the space. Tie-ups with event management agencies and people who are looking for comedy is something Neeti is currently exploring. She is not too sure if she wants to scale up Loony Goons or get into the business side of comedy, as she “prefers performing to organizing.”
For other women who plan to take up comedy as a career option, Neeti is very encouraging. “Go ahead and do it. If you are a happy person, then you can make everyone else happy. All of us comedians have been scared for sure. I see so many people who are stressed and miserable. So if you can make a joke of all that and make others laugh, then comedy is a good choice,” she suggests.