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Vasu Primlani: “A Woman Threatened To Slap Me. I Said, Don’t! It Turns Me On!”

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Comedy probably seems like the easiest, most fun career to be in. But this is far from the truth. 

The gift of the gab, the ability to make people laugh, and to make a living out of it, is a lot harder than it looks. And being a woman in this space — even harder. Which is why these hilarious women we’ve featured in our Women In Comedy series this month deserve your applause. They’re smart, they’re sassy, and they’ll leave you in splits. Read on about how comedy happened to them. 

Undoubtedly one of the pioneers in the Indian comedy scene, not only is Vasu Primlani one of the funniest women our country has seen, but she wears many hats with as much élan as she does her stunning shock of salt-and-pepper hair.

Stand-up comic, corporate trainer, professor, public speaker, environmentalist, and so much more, Vasu is the only comedian in India to have received the Nari Shakti Award by the Presidenti of India in 2015.

Here, she chats with Hauterfly (en route to the Everest base camp!) about how she started making others laugh and some of her favourite moments on stage.


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The First Time

The first time I ever did stand-up comedy was in San Francisco, in 2009. I thought I was going to die because I had three minutes. THREE MINUTES! That was a LONG time to stand in front of an audience! But over the years, once I started making people laugh across continents, and had a good 30-minute set, I knew this was it.

It’s been an interesting journey, with some great and a few embarrassing moments. The most embarrassing one was when a woman threatened to slap me onstage in Mumbai, and I said, “Don’t! It turns me on!” It was a total #facepalm moment for me, but the audience fell over laughing.

I’ve had various standing ovations from everyone in the crowd, but the best show was undoubtedly when an audience member in Dubai said he went home after my show and cried for an hour.

The worst shows are when people are moving around, getting drinks, and not paying attention to you. But when I do get a crowd like this, or generally a tough one that refuses to laugh, I call them out on it. We stake our lives as professional comedians to make our audiences — no matter how diverse — laugh. Even when we’re having a bad day personally, we have to make others laugh. It’s the mark of a professional comedian. So it matters.


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Diversity Be Damned

But that’s hardly the biggest problem I face in this industry. It’s much harder being a woman in the Indian comedy scene. Men, especially in India, feel they can relate to other men better than women, so women aren’t hired as much.

Amazon Prime’s recent collaboration with 14 Indian stand-up comics is an example. I was surprised that there wasn’t even an ATTEMPT on Amazon’s part to hire the top female comedians in India, considering it claims to promote diversity. I was saddened.

I’ve even experienced sexual come-ons from other comedians — the kind that would get them arrested for harassment. Comedians know comedy has nothing to do with gender. Indian society still has to learn that.

Despite all this, though, comedy is doing really well in India. I adore when comedians slow down time and manage to make a 10-minute set from something that happened in just a few moments.

It’s always heartwarming when the person behind the comedy makes incredible observations around human behaviour, or challenges national or international authority. Kind of like the emperor’s got no clothes!

Me in three words: Sassy. Respectful. Iconoclastic.

Favourite one-liner joke: Obama said this about my comedy: “Vasu Primlani? Never heard of her.”

Current project: It’s a secret.


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