Making a fool of ourselves is not something one does willingly.
But Radhika Vaz, known among friends as Rad, the talented writer and comedian from New York, knows the art of using it to her advantage.
“Almost the whole thing (her act) is a list of things that have gone awry.
Also, in my shows I always say something that my audience will be thinking, but will never say themselves as it is too embarrassing,” she points out.
An example? “I have done a piece on farting, based on my own experience.
I farted in a closed car with my husband and his friends and then stupidly owned up to it,” she laughs, adding that it was “unladylike” at the same time.
Incidentally, all the rants and witty observations are autobiographical.
“All my stories are true or based on real life events,” insists Vaz.
So now we know why her show Unladylike: The Pitfalls of Propriety-where she rants on taboo subjects like hair removal and fake orgasms-was completely sold out wherever (read Mumbai, Bangalore, D e l h i , N e w Y o r k a n d L o s Angeles) s h e p e r - formed.
Ask her what made her move to New York from India at 28, and pat comes her reply, “I was in love and followed my boyfriend to NY like a sheep.” She and her husband (then boyfriend) still laugh about it.
She continued working in NY for the same firm for a couple of years.
She even had a full scholarship in Media in Syracuse University.
The city certainly broke the monotony in her life and she could pursue her first love, comedy.
“Comedy takes up a lot of space and mind and I am trying to follow my passion through this,” says Vaz, whose only exposure to comedy was movies during her younger days.
“I didn’t even know that actors like Eddie Murphy or Steve Martin started out as comedians until I moved to NY and started watching and reading more about it.
Moreover, I never thought I would do it because I didn’t know if I had what it takes to pull it off without embarrassing myself and my family,” she confides.
Big on adventure
Five minutes into her ‘unladylike’ show and Vaz will crack you up with her irreverent take on topics that would make anyone blush.
“I think that boys and girls are raised under a very different sets of rules that eventually play into who we become as adults - I had to use my own experiences to tell that story,” says the talented writer adding that the message conveyed was not to let anyone define our role as a woman.
“Overall, the show is about a woman, trying to convince society in general to stop putting ridiculous rules in place for her to live by - such as waxing our legs, or saving our virginity for marriage, and so on.
What makes it pop is that the character onstage is a rather conservative woman (Victorian almost), and having her talk about these things seems to make people laugh,” Vaz explains, adding that the entire preparation took almost nine months.
Did she fret over the show going down well with Indian audiences, thanks to the content? “I wanted to bring the show to India and I was not at all concerned about the response,” says the performer who ended up with a very entertained audience.
Vaz didn’t have it easy in a city like New York.
“For me, the hardest thing was finding my voice or style as a writer and performer,” says the Manhattanbased lady who has a day job - representing a travel insurance company - to pay her bills.
“Sure there is way more competition, but there are also as many opportunities as well, so you have to suck up the good with the bad,” says the optimistic performer who started improv classes with a friend.
“It is so spontaneous and the audience just gets it,” smiles Vaz, who now teaches improv.
It was here that she met Brock Savage, the director of her current show and a stand-up comedian.
She started with off Broadway shows, acted in small comedy fillers (five to six minute video clips), and went on to produce shows like Miss Vaz’s Valentine Hour, CultureShock, and co-produced the Kat and Rad Show with her company, Happy Cavity.
But the comic writer feels that being an Indian woman worked in her favour.
“They (NY audience) must have thought, ‘she is Indian, let’s check her show out’,” laughs Vaz.
Almost 30 shows were sold out in NYC.
Make some noise
The performer denies having an awkward moment on stage, as the script of Unladylike was well paced.
“The beauty of live comedy is that you know whether it will work or not,” she smiles.
Which topic guarantees the most laughs, we ask.
“Anything that has to do with my husband,” she responds, adding that the audience comes to her after the show asking if he minds being referred to.
“Well, he complains about it a little.
But backstage, when women come and tell him how cool he is, he gets all happy,” jokes the writer, about her husband from Haryana.
Under the spunk and ribald humour, lies a disciplined lady.
“I dedicate an hour a day to writing,” says the performer, whose parents hail from Goa and Andhra Pradesh, and who uses her life at boarding school for inspiration.
“I write what I find funny.
You can only change comedy for yourself,” maintains Vaz, an ardent Bill Cosby fan, confiding that he was her inspiration to take up comedy.
“My dad had these LPs with Cosby’s shows on them.
It was the best thing I had ever heard, he just talked and we laughed.
It was magic,” reminisces Vaz, who looks up to Kiran Bedi, her “woman with balls of steel.” In their league Vaz wants to follow the conventional path to movies, like the veterans (think Steve Martin and Robin Williams).
“Stand-up comedians will always be involved with movies and television because only then do we actually have a chance of making a decent living - and that is a trend I’d be thrilled to follow,” she says.
Comedy is in
Though she is not very familiar with the comedy scene in India, Vaz is pretty confident about its future.
“It’s just started and there are already names like Vir Das or PapaCJ who attract big crowds - so we know we have an audience here.
The Comedy Store is now in Mumbai.
I think it will be huge,” she says.
As for why there are few women in the stand-up business, her theory runs thus: “Men can easily talk about personal stuff on stage, which is difficult for women.
But it’s not about being a man or woman.
The question is, is it funny?” But things are looking up, she adds before signing off