Vasu Primlani is a formidable name in India’s comedy industry. One of the first openly queer Indian standup comedians, she’s also the first comic to receive the President’s highest civilian honour for women—the Nari Shakti Puraskar. Her identity is as layered as her jokes, and there’s so much more to Primlani than meets the eye. A somatic therapist, environmental activist, triathlete, college professor and motivational speaker, Primlani is also a skilled satirist whose comedy sets are entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure. In an interview with Scroll, the comedian who also uses her craft to destigmatise the country’s LGBTQ+ community, says: “I use comedy as commentary […] to talk about what we don’t talk about in the society. And nobody feels judged.”
If you’re familiar with her work, these five videos are worth revisiting; if not, they’re a good jumping off point to understand how Primlani uses her deadpan humour to push for social change.
1. Anything Female Will Do
Vasu Primlani focuses on one aspect of the Delhi Vs. Mumbai debate that not too many comedians have scrutinised previously—the cities’ men. The comedian, who has lived in both cities, points out the not-so-subtle differences between these two completely different sets of men, employing her skills as an actor to hilarious results.
2. B For Brahmastra
A response to the ongoing campaign to rename Indian cities, Primlani’s satirical A For Allahabad video is one of her most popular YouTube uploads. In it, she makes a compelling case for changing the names of Mumbai, re-imagining our preferred modes of travel and communication, and altering our grooming habits to #MakeIndiaGreatAgain.
3. Thoda Adjust Karlo!
But where do you draw the line? In this short clip, Primlani effectively communicates the discomfort of using public transport during rush hour in India. It’s so vivid that you can all but feel the sweaty bodies pressed up against you while you figure out what to do with your hands.
4. Punny Business
In Ubola, Primlani offers a novel perspective on aggregator cab services and the refrain of ‘location pe aa jao’, and sensitises the audience about the ways in which Uber and Ola can be harmful to one’s health.
5. No Laughing Matter
Women’s safety is a commonly recurring theme in her comedy sets, but it’s also something that Primlani devotes her time and energy to off the stage. In this video, Primlani drops the mic and takes to her YouTube channel to introduce her audience to the more nuanced aspects of India’s rape problem. And offers some effective potential solutions.