Pavitra Shetty, Standup Comedian

I'd like to start off by talking a little about what happened before stand up. As a child when I was asked what I wanted to become when i grow up, my answers varied from housewife to astronaut to detective to rickshaw driver. When i grew up i was still as confused as I was as a kid. At the time, I thought this was a disadvantage but now I believe confusion is a boon ,if used wisely. We all are multi talented. We all may be great at one thing but passionate about another thing. Confusion gives rise to introspection and it's always great to have options. It gives you an opportunity to research and find out what's best for you. Sometimes you don't even need to choose, why not do them both till you figure which one you are cut out for.

So I always thought that I wanted to be a dentist because my father and my brother were both dentists but then I realised that that was literally the only reason and it wasn't good enough.  I gave my entrance exams and got through a dentistry school too but I decided to become a Biotech engineer because 1- it was interesting, 2- my best friend was doing it too. On admission day, I got a seat in Biomedical engineering instead of Biotechnology and I was like Bio-Bio how different could it be but jokes apart I did my research on Biomedical and that seemed more interesting to me. After 4 years of Biomedical engineering, I landed an IT job because the scope wasn't that great in our country back then and I wasn't ready for a MS overseas. I thought I'd work in IT for a year, save up and prepare for my MS. Little did I know I would fall in love with IT so I decided to continue working in IT. Also, I didn't manage to save up. I worked hard to learn a new skill and master it and couldn't be more proud of myself. From being afraid of coding to becoming a pro at it, I had come a long way. My work gave me a chance to live in Chennai and Sydney and that has significantly contributed towards how I have evolved as a person.

About 3 years ago, a friend of mine tagged me in a tweet posted by Aditi Mittal encouraging me to take part in the first Ladies Open Mic in the city. At the time, I was busy dancing at my cousins sangeet and was feeling gutsy so I clicked on the register button. Next morning, I remember waking up and feeling nervous because I had no idea what I was going to talk about. I quickly sat down and wrote a 4 mins long set. I called up one of my friends who I knew was difficult to please so if she enjoyed the set then I knew I’d done a good job. She told me my set was horrible so I rewrote another set 2 days before the show. As an artist it is important to know that not everything you create will be good. Some things will need some work and some things will just not work for you and feedback is essential but always take feedback from someone you trust and/or from someone who’s choice you respect. Also, you don’t have to blindly follow feedback given to you. It is always okay to respectfully disagree on some points. Some of my new jokes work sometimes and tank sometimes but if I believe there is potential in it, I rework it and try it multiple times before I give it up. Lucky for me I have great friends who gave me a patient listening and helped me workshop my material. My first show went off really well and I thoroughly enjoyed myself on stage. A lot of people from the industry and the audience reached out to me and praised my performance. This validation encouraged me to keep trying. I would hit the ladies open mic every month which basically gave me a month to write new jokes and try it out. Lucky for me the right people watched me perform at the right time and I was thus offered longer spots at different venues. My frequency of performing went from once a month to once a week and from once a week to twice to thrice a week. It slowly took over my life and became an integral part of me. I now perform on an average of almost 4-5 times a week. I would hit shows regularly along with my day job because I loved the craft and I loved the high I’d get after performing on stage. I had no intention or expectation of making money out of this craft at the start. It is only later when I started getting opportunities that I realised that this career was financially viable as well. You never know when a hobby can convert into a career so pursue your passions and don't shy away from experimenting.

I quit my IT job of 7 years a few months ago to concentrate solely on stand up comedy. I juggled my IT job along with Stand up comedy for 3 years before making this decision. It was one of the toughest decisions of my life but I am glad I made it. The only reason why I was juggling both my career choices was because I loved them both and wanted to have the best of both worlds but at one point I realised my love for comedy surpassed my love for IT and missing out on comedy related opportunities because I was stuck in office left me powerless which is why I took the plunge and put in my papers. Also, I ensured that I waited to make as much money from comedy as I was making in IT because I still wanted to be financially independent. So yes, follow your heart but my advice would be that you make sure you are financially secured. You don’t want financial issues coming in the way of your passion in the future.

I often get asked what inspired me to take up comedy and where my sets draw inspiration from.

Stand up comedy started in India about 7-8 years ago. There were very few comics back then and I remember saving up money to go watch them because for that one hour I would forget all my worries and truly connect with the performer on stage. I was almost always the joker in the group. I enjoyed making people laugh but the idea of making strangers laugh who had no context to me as a person seemed challenging and exciting. As for my content, I draw inspiration from my personal experiences. I feel that every person has a unique personal experience so it won’t sound repetitive but at the same time it will still be relatable. I speak about my 1friends, my family particularly my mum. There are moments when my mom is yelling at me and she ends up saying the funniest of things and I’m just like : could you please repeat that again, I am yet to note it down. So many times, I sit down to write jokes and I am blank. I end up drawing hearts or scribbling my name across the sheet but when you least expect it like in between a conversation or while having a bath a joke occurs to you and all the creative juices are flowing and a joke is born. Then you nourish that joke baby and help it grow by performing it at multiple shows. You refine it, you add tags, you relate it to more experiences and what started as a thought/premise goes on to become a full fledged joke.

Unfortunately like other industries, there is sexism in the comedy industry as well. Sometimes it is in the form of a joke and sometimes it can cost you an opportunity. There is a misconception- a famous one that women aren’t funny which is why it sometimes takes us double the effort to get the crowd to like us. There have been instances where male and female audience members have walked up to me and told me that at first when they heard that a female comic is coming up on stage they decided to go outside to grab a drink assuming I wouldn’t be funny but when they stood outside they heard the crowd erupt in laughter and thought that I was probably done with my performance only to realise that I was still on stage. They then went on to share how I was their favorite act of the night. I jokingly replied ‘imagine if you would heard my entire set’. That day I realised that simply iterating ‘women are funny’ isn’t going to change people’s opinions. Me along with more women need to go out there and perform and show them how funny we are. Conceptions will change one show at a time. Lucky for me I’ve met more nice people than bad and my experience has been fairly smooth so far.

A lot of people believe that you need guts to be a stand up comic but I believe every profession needs that and irrespective of the profession, if you are sincere and dedicated, you will eventually ace it. In comedy we have a term for when one’s joke doesn’t work on stage. It's called bombing or tanking and it is as essential as doing well. You get in touch with your vulnerable side and feel like walking off the stage but you keep going because the show must go on and it's always a learning experience and you walk off the stage a stronger person. Also, it prepares you for the next time things go wrong then you just learn how to handle it like a boss and go on. I remember a phase where I enjoyed bombing because what is bombing after all, it’s just feedback and that’s all it is.

Humour is also a beautiful tool to cope with tragedy. I have been able to move on from so many issues in my life simply by making a joke out of it. It removes the significance associated with whatever is at the source of the pain. I was watching this special by a comic called Daniel Sloss and he said something really wise. He said that the opposite of sadness is not laughter, it is happiness so when someone laughs or makes a joke in a moment of sadness they may not necessarily be trying to be insensitive. They are simply using laughter to help those grieving to forget their pain momentarily. So stand up comic or not, fill your lives with humour after all laughter is the best medicine unless you plan on becoming a doctor in which case please be responsible and prescribe the right medication along with 2 tickets to my show.

1 thought on “Pavitra Shetty, Standup Comedian”

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience. This encourages and helps a lot to new comedians.. Please keep posting such articles..
    Also thanks a lot Pavitra for entertaining all my queries in tonight’s Instagram live chat via that comedy club..
    All the best..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *