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Next Big Thing: Agrima Joshua On Doing Political Comedy, Having to Stand on Chairs for Attention, & Bonding with Sad Girls on Twitter

By Mihika Jindal 27 May 2019

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Next Big Thing is a series where we talk to comedians who haven’t quite broken out online or as live acts yet. These are the names you want to watch out for, if you want boasting rights later about having seen them start out.

Agrima Joshua is an Army kid, who gave engineering a shot before turning to comedy like so many others in the field. Originally from Lucknow, she moved to Pune with her parents. She hopped across to Mumbai soon after to pursue engineering, which she quit in 2013. A few more switches, and Joshua is now a producer for a digital marketing agency by day, and standup comic by night.  

Her foray into comedy began in early 2015, when a friend took her to an open mic for poetry at The Hive and told her, “Don’t do poetry, you’re not cut out for it. But go for the comedy open mic.” Joshua tanked that night, but that’s where her journey as a standup comic started. “The Hive, thankfully, was an intimate room back then. Everyone knew everyone and they were all very welcoming,” she recalls. “So, it was like goofing up in front of your own friends instead of total strangers. And that’s what kept me coming back every Monday for the open mics.”.

With her first video, UP is the Texas of India almost touching a million views, she’s now a regular name on open mic and showcase lineups in Mumbai.

1. What words have people used to describe your comedy?

Most people have tried to compartmentalise me in political comedy. A lot of them are really derogatory comments like ‘first time seeing a female comic not talk about vagina’.

2. What do you love about the scene right now?

That there are so many open mics every day! Professional comics are coming there. You see new faces, and you see them regularly. It used to be very monotonous three-four years ago. But now everyone has a different perspective. People are willing to try new things. There are so many new voices out there.

3. How many minutes do you have right now?

I’d say 20 minutes.

4. A recent bit you saw that blew your mind?

Varun Grover, the one about cows and momos. I thought I had already seen everything [Varun] Grover was capable of doing live. But that was really insane.

5. Your current favourite Indian comedian?

Sumit Anand.

6. Your current favourite international comedian?

This might sound like a run of the mill answer, but I really like Sarah Silverman. And also, Doug Stanhope.

7. An Indian comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?

<Thinks hard> I can’t think of any right now. I watch them once. Because I have usually already heard all those jokes at open mics and trial shows.

8. An international comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?

Bill Burr. Actually, I’ve hate-watched it. The thing is that he’s really funny. But at the same time he’s such a raging misogynist.

9. An Indian comedian you think is underrated?

I don’t know if he’s really underrated, but Ashish Dash. God! He’s the only one doing what he’s doing.

10. An international comic who is underrated?

Bo Burnham. He gets a lot of hatred, because my tribe feels like he has emerged from the internet. Who’s to say that him performing on the internet doesn’t make him a valid enough comic?

11. Do you have any rituals before you go up on stage?

I come out and listen to music. And I generally have a cup of coffee before going up on stage.

12. Who do you test your jokes on?

I try it on Twitter once in a while, but it’s mostly directly on the audience at open mics.

13. What songs do you have on loop right now?

I pick up all my songs from movies and television shows. Right now the opening track of True Detective is something I listen to every morning.

14. What’s the first joke you performed that got a laugh?

This one joke that I developed, and I was really proud of was: Hitler happened because his dad was so disapproving of him. His dad looked at him one day and said, “will you be successful at anything? Will you start something and finish it? Would you even finish a race?” And Hitler said, “Challenge accepted.”

15. What mode of transport do you use to get to a show?

Auto-rickshaws.

16. Have you ever performed a show while you were high?

I did. Once. For a show called, Sex, Drugs and Comedy. The point was to tell jokes on sex and drugs, not be on drugs. It went very badly.

17. What’s the weirdest place you’ve performed at so far?

The weirdest place was bar in Pune called Replay. They used to have mixed open mics where they would invite artists, songwriters, musicians and comedians to all perform. It often went badly for comics. Once, to get the audience’s attention, I had to stand up on a chair. Then they listened to me for a bit.

18. What social media platform are you most active on?

Twitter. For sure. I have bonded with other sad girls there. There will be something really sad I’ll tweet about, like being hopeless. And then 33 girls will agree with me. That’s so much more fun than Instagram, where everyone’s so happy. How is it so happy always…?

19. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far about being a comedian?

It was from [Kunal] Kamra. He said that comedy is democratic. You will have to put yourself out there to know if it’s working or not. You can’t judge yourself. Let the audience decide.

20. One thing Indian comedians should stop making jokes about?

Modi, now that he’s back in power. <laughs>

But one thing comedians really should stop making jokes about are airports. And maids.

21. In a recent video, you took a casual dig at the scene saying that you feel pressured to do “important comedy”, or something political, in order to be taken seriously by senior comics/men in the standup community. Tell us more about that?

In order to put my point across, I have to make somebody the enemy. And I can’t make the audience the enemy. So, you make an internal enemy. When you’re performing to a crowd, you have to make them feel that you’re on their side. So you and the audience together have a common enemy and that was this “senior comic”.

There was no one I had in mind. But [Kunal] Kamra was hosting. As a goodwill gesture I told him that I’ll be doing your voice, and he said <imitates Kamra>, “Ya, ya! Do it, do it.”  

He’s not actually the one to say that girls are not doing important comedy.

22. Is political comedy a space you’d like to explore going forward regardless?

It is absolutely impossible to do comedy without touching politics. Even if you’re doing jokes about sex and vulgarity, you’re still making a statement, against certain laws of this country. So, it’s not something I want to explore, it’s something that will happen eventually.

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