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Arts | Profile
ou don’t become India’s first openly gay comic if you are
afraid to ruffle a few feathers. So it’s no surprise that Vasu
Ritu Primlani isn’t afraid to skewer, deconstruct and
find the funny in any topic, whether it be gender politics,
climate change or even rape—all of which could easily fall
flat in the hands of a less clever comic. When Primlani isn’t blazing punch line
trails on stage she’s pursuing her other passion: the environment. Or more
specifically, working to make restaurants and hotels more green. And now
Primlani is taking her special brand of courageous comedy on tour in the U.S.
early next year.
Can you tell us how you ended up doing live performance over an airplane PA
I was travelling somewhere on the West Coast, I think. I just walked up to
them, and offered to do a 15-minute set. They said, OK, introduced me over
the PA system, handed [a mic] to me. I took it, stretched it out to the aisle so
passengers could see me, and did the show.
At first I could see question marks coming out of people’s heads; they
had never had that experience before. I remember during the show I said,
“ Talk about a captive audience! If you don’t like my jokes, you can always
walk out!” When the plane landed, the passengers erupted in spontaneous
applause! What a miraculous experience that was!
How do you find the humour in serious topics?
It’s hard, I admit. It is, at the same time, the kind of challenge I want to give
myself. We need to be able to talk pleasantly about issues to bridge gaps in
communication and mindsets. For environmentalism, particularly, it’s a topic
so complex, it really needs to be broken down into comprehensible, small
How have people responded to you being openly gay?
I have been disbelieved. “She can’t really mean that!” or “What is that?” Openly
ridiculed, no. I am ver y kind through it, and carr y my dignity with me. I don’t
draw swords unless absolutely necessar y. Men have been drunk in the shows,
yes. I have put them in their place, yes. They have never heard anyone say that to
them in their lives “I’m gay,” and I get them to laugh with me about it.
In fact, the most memorable experience was an elderly audience member
who was upset with what the comic before me said, and told another audience
member: “I will not listen to that comic, but I will listen to Vasu; she has a point
to make.” I was amazed that a conser vative elderly Indian man would prefer to
hear about my homosexuality than a male comic.
What motivates you to keep going?
Oh, it is such a blessing to make people laugh. I have had people come up to me
and say, “I haven’t smiled in three days until I saw your show.” Another woman
said, “ Whenever my husband and I fight, he uses one of your lines, and then
we both laugh, and then the fight gets diffused.”
How do you challenge patriarchy?
First, by being a female comic. For a countr y of 1.2 billion, I am one of perhaps
five female comics in the land. I openly insult guys in the audience and they
laugh because they know it’s in good fun—in fact, they adore it! The lines of
patriarchy are drawn so hard in Delhi, it does my heart good to come closer
as friends, men and women—and be able to take a little good-hearted ribbing
from each other.
What advice would you give to other members of the LGBT community in
I think more of us need to come out—there are thousands of us who get out
and make our identities known in the work place, at home, where conditions
are not safe and men and women are not respected for their choices.
We as humans wish to honour each other. We all have differences in our
eating habits, praying habits, exercise habits. This is just another difference, and
is absolutely no cause for contention, as long as I respect, love and honour who
I am with.
Come out and speak your truth. It’ll be all right.
MEET INDIA’S FIRST OUT
BY HASSINA OBAIDY
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