Netflix | 28 min | Released: January 2019
Aditi Mittal’s new half hour on Netflix, Girl Meets Mic, dropped on 1 January, as part of Netflix’s Comedians Of The World release, and is one of three new specials from India—the others being Atul Khatri’s and Amit Tandon’s. While the other two specials showcase the performers in more or less familiar form, Mittal’s half hour is blazing, powerful work.
Mittal has long been an outspoken feminist, and has often used her anger at her and other women’s struggles for her comedy. It hasn’t always hit the mark. Her 2017 Netflix special, Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say, had some high points, but overall the show was uneven. In our review, we noted that Mittal’s delivery occasionally feels pinched and unnatural. A long segment given over to a character called Mrs Lutchuke didn’t work particularly well. It felt as though, while Mittal had carved out a space for herself on the scene, her comedic talents did not particularly mark her out from her colleagues.
It doesn’t feel so much that Mittal performs the special as that it pours out of her. What you sense here, however, is that years of prejudice, both overt and insidious, trolling, abuse and harassment have pushed the comic into a space of great courage and artistic freedom.
We’re thrilled to be proven wrong. From the moment Mittal strides onto stage in her new half hour, she owns it totally. The difference is startling. Earlier, Mittal’s exaggerations of voice and performance felt mildly grating. They are still there, but she’s so much in control of them, and deploys them so effectively, that they’re hilarious.
Mittal has always spoken out about discrimination and misogyny, and done so unapologetically. But there was always a nervous energy about her earlier. Now, Mittal is transformed. She is comfortable in a way that we haven’t yet seen her be on stage. She is enraged and does not give a fuck which trolls have a problem with that. And what is most powerful is that she owns her anger so completely that she is able to regularly undercut it with her humour, directed as much at herself as those she is angry with. It doesn’t feel so much that Mittal performs the special as that it pours out of her. What you sense here, however, is that years of prejudice, both overt and insidious, trolling, abuse and harassment have pushed the comic into a space of great courage and artistic freedom.
The jokes aren’t perfect. Some are confusingly constructed, and some land too softly. But there’s something far greater in the whole than in the sum of its parts—a persona, an energy and a sharp, articulate voice. Mittal is approaching something more powerful than good individual jokes here—rather, she seems to be entering an artistic space in which pain and anger are catalysed into art.
We saw this in Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, but unlike Gadsby, Mittal doesn’t reject her chosen form. Gadsby argued that the structure of jokes provided a false sense of closure and relief to audiences, releasing them from their guilt at being complicit in structural violence. Mittal, on the other hand, remains firmly rooted in the space of comedy and attempts to subvert it from within.
Ridiculous as it sounds, poop becomes a kind of motif through which Mittal examines some of society’s deepest structural violences.
For instance, Mittal introduces herself as someone who’s been criticised for doing too many boob/bra/pad jokes, but not for poop jokes, and then launches into an extended bit on poop, effectively throwing a middle finger at her critics. What seems like a casually chosen subject proves to be a theme through the special. It continues into a bit where Mittal eviscerates Indian society for relying on manual scavengers, and returns right at the end of the special when she advises women to use diarrhoea as an excuse to get away from uncomfortable sexual situations. What began as a simple exercise in claiming space through scatological humour suddenly acquires much greater resonances. Ridiculous as it sounds, poop becomes a kind of motif through which Mittal examines some of society’s deepest structural violences.
It’s the sort of brilliant, deft structuring that is rare in the Indian standup specials, most of which used forced callbacks to give the shows some sense of structure, without actually offering any greater thematic resonances.
There are funnier individual bits in other specials online, and there are comics who are more in control of their craft. But most other specials fizzle out past their tightest bits, whereas Mittal’s remains compelling throughout. More importantly, it is artistically more ambitious and brave than any of the others. This isn’t to say that all comedy has to be bold and brave; we’d be as happy with a half hour of assorted mundane observational work that’s well crafted. But the specials so far have generally been overstretched and dull, whereas Mittal’s half hour shines from beginning to end. So we have no hesitation declaring that as of publishing this, there’s no better 30 minutes of Indian standup comedy online.
Dead Ant review policy: 1) We pay for shows that we review. 2) When we review live shows of any kind, we might mention subjects that are dealt with, but will avoid more detailed discussion of premises or jokes. 3) When we review or discuss YouTube videos and OTT specials, since they are already accessible across locations, we may get into more details discussions of the material. These reviews aim to foster closer conversations about comedy, and hence are for people who have already watched the videos, or don’t mind knowing details of it beforehand.