By Richa Wadhera

A crazy good sense of humor, incredible presence of mind,  and just comfortably hilarious in her own skin, meet the Delhiwaala – Neeti Palta.

When did you realize you were funny enough to want to get up on stage and make jokes in front of complete strangers? 

I had just finished my last season on Gulli Gulli Sim Sim {India’s version of Sesame Street}, about 4 and a half years ago. Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood {of Whose Line is it Anyway fame} had come to India and I went to watch them perform. I got picked as a volunteer {eager as I was} to do sound effects for a part in their show. I started enjoying the process, and ended up giving Colin the need to improv continuously. When we were done, Colin called out to me in front of the 600 odd people and asked me my name. I remember him saying that they usually didn’t pick women for this kind of thing cause we tend to be shy, but he thought I was awesome! 3 days later, with 5 minutes worth of material, I got on stage at the Cheese Monkey Mafia open mic nght!

You know you’re funny when you offend someone. I grew up with a painful older brother, whom I called ‘the blister.’ The first words I ever wrote was a limerick to insult him. I’d stand outside the loo when he was in there and read them out to him. That’s how it all started. Till today, he nurtures my humour and gives me plenty of material. Observational humour is the best; people relate to it the most. You yourself are really good, rich material.

Tell us about the Stand up comedy scene in Delhi back then. Were you the only woman?

I didn’t even know there were open mic nights at the time. People walked up to me at Colin and Brad’s show and told me I was funny, and that I should give an open mic night a try. I asked around, found Cheese Monkey Mafia, and that was it. I’ve been a tomboy all my life, so I actually didn’t even notice I was the only woman in there, till Raghav {Mandava} introduced me as the woman with the balls of steel. I pretended it was a great effort to walk up to the stage, and proceeded to ask men how they did it… walked around with their balls of steel that is.

Tell us of a time things didn’t really go as planned.

I was opening for Papa CJ in Bombay at Blue Frog. This was my 2nd time in Bombay. I had had half a glass of beer before I went up. Someone had warned me that Bombay wasn’t receptive of Delhi people, and I had to warm up the crowd for Papa CJ, so I thought a little bit of beer would help.  So things start off well, and then someone addresses me directly. I respond, and people laugh. At this point, I have the audience, and they’re still laughing, and I need to keep them laughing with my next move, and… I blank. I pace the stage for a bit, and then look at the guy and say “you made me forget what I was saying.” I was lucky the audience was nice and still laughed.

It was bad for me though, cause in my head, that moment had lasted an eternity. In real time {which wasn’t long at all}, only Papa CJ had caught on that I had blanked. I will NEVER {well, never say never, but…} drink before I get on stage again.

What are the best and worst parts about being a female stand up in Delhi?

Gender doesn’t get in my way. Women’s day is great though, cause female comics get tons of work! {evil laugh}. Some male comedian even tweeted about this, and I responded saying “I can’t talk, I’m rushing to a gig!”

The thing about being a female comic here is – love me or hate me, you cant ignore me. I do get judged with respect to swearing – people have told me it isn’t appropriate for a female to use bad language, even though I’ve only ever done so if I’m playing someone else, or in context to something, if at all.

Some male comics have implied that they had to work harder on their jokes, but people listened to me because I’m a girl. I must give credit where it’s due though – I’ve never had any trouble from men; never been heckled by men when I’ve done jokes on clichés about Delhi men.

On that note, tell us the most sexist remark you’ve heard in this city.

Let me point out that the most sexist one was one I received in Bombay. I don’t think he even realised he was being sexist. He said “You’re pretty funny… for a girl.” I said to him, “did you realise that you just told me your knuckles scrape the ground when you walk.”

From open mic night 4 and half years ago, to winning RAW Comedy in 2013… Tell us how that happened!

I wasn’t even planning on participating! I was heading out to dinner that night, when Papa CJ called me and insisted that I show up. I figured out my material on the 15 minute drive there, and every comedian’s worst nightmare came true for me – I was the first person called onto stage. I finished and left for dinner, and got a call later telling me I’d made it to the final! After the final, when they announced my name, I realized the ‘Miss India moment’ is not fake! I later saw a picture of myself – hands on my mouth, eyes wide, my mouth in an o, and I thought, “Oh my god, I’m a cliché.” I’d never won anything in my life!

Do you think you hit more home with women centric jokes?

Currently yes. After Nirbhaya, we still have mysoginists, but now in the closet. Society is now hypersensitised. Now if a man is callous about his jokes with women, people don’t laugh. I’m actually working on a set right now – about how feminism is becoming like jihad, where the innocent bystander is getting killed.

Best advice you’ve ever got?

The best advice I got, and will pass on, was from a Canadian comic. He looked at me and said 3 words – “Neeti, no vagina.” Essentially, never think you are a woman. Just think like a funny person. Gender shouldn’t get in the way.

You can follow Neeti on twitter @Neetipalta, or check out her website here

She has also written her first film, which released on the 28th of March, 2014. Check out ‘O Teri’ at a theatre near you.

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