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Next Big Thing: Pavitra Shetty on Sleeping, Writing Jokes on her Hand & That Crazy Cartwheel

By Jaanvi Advani 5 July 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

Somewhere between the adrenaline rush from dancing at her cousin’s Sangeet at 4 am and “feeling too brave in that moment” when her friends tagged her in the first Ladies’ Open Mic post tweeted by Aditi Mittal, Pavitra Shetty’s had her first brush with standup. The first shot went well, and Pavi (who usually throws in her nickname within 30 seconds of meeting you, on stage or off it) found herself returning to it every month. Comics hosting showcase lineups liked her material, and she started getting spots. Slowly comedy took over Shetty’s life and… well, here we are.

Chancing upon comedy, and then making it her thing made sure we played 23 Questions with Shetty (“What? Why not 20 or 25?? Why 23? ” she demanded to know, her OCD no doubt getting triggered).

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

Uh, “funny” <laughs> and I’d say, personal. Because I mostly talk about personal stories and things that have happened to me in my life. It’s not very news-driven or politics-driven or what happened to someone else.

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

I think I like comics a lot. They’re a lot of fun to hang out with. It’s like the job doesn’t feel like a job because you’re working with your friends and they’re just there, they’re supportive and you know you’re learning from your friends. I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better workplace, if I can call it that.

Every minute on stage increases my self-awareness. Even while you’re bombing or killing, how you take appreciation and applause tells you so much about yourself.

3. How many minutes do you have right now?

I have about an hour and 15 minutes.

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

I haven’t watched this (but it’s blown my mind). Comics who went to the Melbourne Comedy festival were coming and showing off about who they watched and heard and told me about this bit. I don’t even remember which comic it was—this is one thing I’m very bad at—but I remember what the joke is.

The joke was about LGBTQ prides where people are going on the streets and are like, “We want women’s rights”. But there are asexual people that go out on the streets with placards too that say “We want NOTHING”. They aggressively say, “Just stay out of our lives, we just don’t want any of you.” I just found that thought really brilliant and so simple.

5. Your current favourite Indian comedian?

I currently enjoy watching Kanan [Gill] because even if it’s an interview, he’s just so naturally funny. A lot of us, even me, when we go for a podcast or an interview or a show, I know that I have to kick in my funny side. I know there’s an effort, and then I’ll be funny. But with him, it seems so natural. Forget comedy, I even enjoy watching his interviews.

6. Your current favourite international comedian?

Sarah Silverman.

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

I haven’t actually watched any of them five times. I’ve watched all of them live so many times. When any of my friends put up their videos, even before watching them I’ve promoted them, retweeted them and gone crazy saying, “These guys are hilarious! Watch! Watch! Watch!” Because I know what bit they’re talking about.

I enjoy watching standup live. Which is why I don’t even watch specials. Every other comic will be like, “Iska special dekha? Uska dekha?” and I’ll be like “Nahi, mujhe live dekhna hai”.

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

Same thing. Maximum, I would’ve watched [some] specials twice. And that’s like Sarah Silverman or Dave Chappelle. Five times is too much! How does anyone have the time? Like, sleep guys! I left my day job so I can sleep. I’m gonna make the most of my time and rest and relax.

9. An Indian comedian you think is underrated?

Me! Can I say me? Because I’m too good! Why isn’t everyone already crazy about me? Really unfair. I have to resort to doing competitions so that people know who I am! They’re making me work really hard.

If I am not bring narcissistic, there’s Jeeya [Sethi], Sonali [Thakker]—everyone should see more of them. The rest on my list are already on Comicstaan so they’re getting their attention and I’m glad about that.

10. An international comic who is underrated?

For me, only when someone has pimped someone so much, I’m like “Okay main dekh lungi iska special.” Like I said, I don’t really like watching standup online so I only know the overrated ones. I wouldn’t know the underrated ones to be honest. I’m missing out on the Pavis of international comedy.

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

Yeah, I also have OCD. So, I have my own set of rituals with respect to that. I write on my hand. I think maybe one out of 50-60 times, I even end up looking at it. But I just need to know that it’s on my hand so I don’t have this fear of “What if I forget?”. Then, I need to revise my set at least once before I go up on stage. If I don’t, I just feel super under-confident.

12. Who do you test your jokes on?

Earlier, I used to call up someone friends, you know, whose opinions I would value. Also, I was okay with them criticising me. Now I’m in that phase where I’m confident enough to just get it on stage.

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

<Laughs> A very embarrassing one… there’s this Punjabi song called Laal Bindi. I would like to blame Unnati Marfatia, another comic, for introducing me to it. I had judged her at the time, but now it’s my shower-time song. Never take song suggestions from her, but everyone must listen to Laal Bindi, it’s so much fun.

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

The first set that I did was basically “What if Sex and the City (SATC) was made in India?” It got laughs throughout. So, I was like yeah, I’m pretty good at this. I made some good parallels between the Indian sitcoms and SATC and there were Ram Kapoor and Shobha De references. It was the first and last time I did that set and it wasn’t personal. I hadn’t found my comedy voice. I still haven’t really found it, but I’m somewhere closer to it.

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

Rickshaw, Uber or a comics’ car. Whoever would [agree to] pick me up, I’d be like, “Okay! I’m your bitch” and we’d go together. Luckily, I live in Santacruz, which is in the middle of all gigs so there’s always someone who’s like, “Haan chal, pick kar lunga”; it’s the best.

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

No, I don’t smoke up and I hardly drink. I feel like there’s too much energy inside me so I don’t know what would happen if I smoked up and went on stage. Sometimes I tire myself out before going on stage so that it’s not too much energy—which means I just take it all out on the comics in the green room. They’re always like “Why? Why?” but I need to reduce it to the right amount so I don’t take it out on stage. That’s what friends are for.

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

A 65-year-old’s [birthday] party. The concept of the party wasn’t what was weird, but I was made to perform from a DJ’s console and I was so short that they couldn’t see me. So I had to stand on a stool and there was a meter-long mic. I was like, “Okay, this is fun. Weird. I’m glad you guys are paying me or I would’ve walked off.”

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

Currently, it’s just Instagram, it’s just a photo. Twitter pe you have to read and all, mehnat lagti hai.

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

I think this is something Aditi Mittal had told me very early on. She’d hosted my show and liked my bit so she gave me a spot at Canvas [Laugh Club]. It was the first time I was doing eight minutes. She told me to complete my set, no matter what, and stay on stage for those eight minutes. Because I’d never know which joke turns the performance around. I’ve learnt so much in the process of just following this one piece of advice.

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

I feel there should be no restrictions. I know there’ll be some new comics that come and use hack-y tricks and address premises that have been overly addressed. But every comic needs to have their own journey and make their own set of mistakes. One can learn something from someone else’s mistakes too, but when it comes to an art form like standup, I think you need to experience it to learn it better.

21. You seem to be friends with everyone from the circuit? How on earth do you manage that?

<Laughs uncontrollably> That’s been my thing since childhood. I used to say no to spots because it’s my friend’s birthday or wedding and they [comics] just thought I’m making this up because I don’t know how to say no. Kunal [Rao] used to tell me, “We hope you’re on the line-up because then we know at least you’ll get 2-3 friends to the show”. Open mics used to sell zero tickets- especially during rains and they [venues] were like “Oh, Pavi hai line-up pe toh iske do dost toh aayenge”. I meet them every day, and they’re just so much fun, I hate going back home.

22. In Azeem Banatwalla and Sana Khan’s podcast, Senti-Mental, you talked about your OCD. Does anything trigger you while you’re on stage looking at the audience?

Not really, luckily it hasn’t happened. I’ve had shows though where I’ve been in my state of anxiety or OCD and then I haven’t been able to sort myself out completely. Spots would still be okay because I’d just be on stage for 10 minutes. But there were times when I was in a horrible state of mind and I’d have to host an entire show. I’d just have to deal with it and keep pushing away the thought while I’m talking to people. I did end up fucking up a lot because I tried to say something, but the way I’d frame the sentence would just make it seem like I was taking a dig at someone, [when] I wasn’t. My family and friends know not to trigger my OCD before a show. If it’s an important day, they don’t move any of my things and give me my space and time. Luckily, people have been cooperative.

23. We saw the dance! You know what dance! Where’d you learn how to cartwheel FFS?

That, I’d learnt as a child. With my current weight and body shape, it wouldn’t have been possible. Thanks to the concept of muscle memory, my body can still do it. I wouldn’t have dared to take a flip if I was this size. I’d be like, “Paanch gadde toh lagao, fir I’ll try”. Since I knew I could do it in the past, I had the courage to let go. And I think Punjabi music brings out that side in me. You can expect another video on Laal Bindi.

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