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Next Big Thing: Shashi Dhiman on the Chandigarh Comedy Scene, Udta Punjab & Mumbai Locals

By Jaanvi Advani 18 February 2020

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A pharma-scientist by day and comedian by well, all the time, 28-year-old Shashi Dhiman came to Mumbai two years ago to chase her standup dream. From falling flat on her face at a crowded local train station to having her arm examined by complete strangers because she’s from…Punjab, Shashi’s journey has been eventful, to say the least.

A long way from home, you can now catch her on most line-ups at venues across the city.

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

People usually say that there’s a different flavour to my comedy. I have a particular type of accent which is very different and main aise hi hun actually. Main jab normally bhi baat karti hun toh main aise hi baat karti hun, friends se bhi, ya kisise bhi; voh meri personality ka hi ek flavour hai. Basically, it’s quite refreshing and different—I get that a lot. And I have a very different way of performing. Vohi bolte hai, ab pata nahin baaki.<laughs>

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

I work in a very monotonous kind of profession where I have to use my brain all day. I work from 9 to 7 and so I really look forward to this (standup). Everyday, I try to get up on stage and perform new jokes, write new material and tell people my most basic observations. It makes me feel alive ki haan kuch ho raha hai life mein, sahi hai matlab.

3. How many minutes do you have right now?

I have around 35-40 minutes right now; I have done 30-minute shows earlier.

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

YEAH! I saw Prasad Bhat’s latest video, Kabir Singh which I found very funny.

5. Your current favourite Indian comedian?

There are a lot of favourites actually. I really like Aakash Gupta; he can make anything funny and has strong writing skills, which I really admire.

Abhishek Upmanyu seems to be a very funny person in general; he’s a funny guy.


Apart from that, I really like Andy Reghu, Jeeya Sethi and Pavitra [Shetty]. I really like Prashasti [Singh] too; she has an extremely unique way of telling stories.

6. Your current favourite international comedian?

Whitney Cummings and Bill Burr.

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

I have watched both Aakash Gupta’s Dogs video and Gaurav Kapoor’s Smartphones and Passwords video more than 5 times.

8. Is there any Indian comedian who you think is underrated?

Underrated? I’m not sure. Everyone has been appreciated. I like Srijan Kaushik’s videos, he’s damn funny. He’s not exactly underrated but I think he deserves a lot more appreciation.

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

There’s no ritual as such, I just go with a prepared bit and perform that, irrespective of anything else. Sometimes, if I haven’t written anything new on that particular day, I try to change my material based on the audience (if they are young or there’s a generational thing I can do).
I usually go straight after work so I just try to rinse my brain and listen to some Punjabi music to pep myself up.

10. Who do you test your jokes on?

Usually, I test them on stage only. If I get the time to tell a comic who is at the venue, I do, but 95% of the time, I go straight on stage. In the end, you have to appeal to the audience – if people are enjoying it, the joke is funny. Then, I record the bit, listen to it on my way home and work on it.

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

<laughs> You must not know any of them, they’re all Punjabi. I mostly listen to Punjabi songs because I miss my home. I also really like that song from The Sky is Pink, Umraa mein saari raat…It’s a very peppy song and refreshes me.

Apart from that, Jihne Mera Dil Luteya is my all-time favourite. I’ve been listening to it since I was a child. It’s my workout song too.

Also Badshah‘s new song, Yeh ladki paagal hai, paagal hai, paagal hai! <laughs>.

12. What’s the first joke you did that got you a laugh?

It’s just about my name—why my name is Shashi—and it’s a real story. When I asked my parents why they named me Shashi, I had no clue that I would use it in a joke. My mom gave me a bizarre reason and, when I started (writing jokes), I thought let’s start with my name only. When I tried it, the joke killed.

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

It depends on the location. If it’s very far, I go by train. Now I’m a pro at it. Though I fell yesterday only on the staircase at the station. The first time I was catching a train, I took the wrong train and realised I was going out of Mumbai. Then I used my brain and thought “Okay, this doesn’t work like the metro. You have to be a little more proactive.”

If it’s in Andheri, Juhu or Bandra, I go by auto or by cab.

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

No, no no no. Though I am from Punjab and people think I’m always high because of Udta Punjab. <laughs> I’m even writing a bit on it currently. People think “Oh, tum Punjab se ho“. They keep looking at my hands as if main saara din…

I’m not into these things at all. I have never performed while being drunk or high or anything. I perform sober because itna confidence abhi banana hain ki jo bhi hoga dehkha jaayega.

15. What’s the weirdest place you’ve performed at?

Once someone called me and another fellow comic to Jalandhar, to a venue that’s a three-hour-drive from Chandigarh.

When we reached there, it was in a basement and there was no stage. Instead they’d kept those old tables that people used to keep at weddings, uske upar chadaya unhone.

I performed and nobody gave a shit. They were just looking at me ki ek ladki stage pe khadi hai and voh acchi lag rahi hai, bas. That was the compliment—“Aap bohot acche lag rahe ho“—even though I wasn’t. Maybe they were just surprised ki there was a girl standing on the stage.

It was bizarre because suddenly people were singing songs. It was SO funny.

There were some random people who were telling jokes from puraane comedy shows, from Kapil Sharma, WhatsApp forwards and Punjabi movies, and everyone was laughing at those! Nobody gave a fuck about what I was saying.

Aise kaun karta hai yaar? I travelled 6 hours to do that.

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

Instagram.

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

The best advice was given by Jeeya Sethi. I met her when she was in Chandigarh for her Femapalooza show; she advised me to move to Mumbai so that I can get more stage time and a better audience. It really helped me and, since I‘ve moved to Mumbai, my performance has drastically improved.

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

There’s nothing. It’s a joke. There’s nothing wrong with cracking a joke on anything. People do dark comedy, it’s a joke, let them do it.
Mazaak ko mazaak hi rehne dete hain.

19. Tell us a little about the scene in Chandigarh and why you moved to Mumbai from it?

Regular people are trying their best to build up the scene but it is a very small place. Though it isn’t a backward place and people are educated and know about comedy, they are not like Mumbai’s audience. There’s a family scene in Chandigarh, and people usually prefer going for movies over comedy. They do go out when some big comic is on tour, but they don’t generally show up for open mics. People there are very comfortable in their lifestyle; it’s nothing like Mumbai or Delhi ki people are hustling.

If someone is performing in Chandigarh, I think they should try to come to other cities because stage-time is everything. Whoever you ask, big or small, they will tell you that stage-time is everything. You can have a 100 pages of jokes and you can have three hours of material but if you’re not performing it, there’s no use of it. For stage-time you need an audience, and for that you need to move to a city where the comedy scene is working.

Though people are trying very hard in Chandigarh—comics and some producers—to improve the scene. It has improved lately and, whenever I go home, I’ve seen it. Slowly and steadily, it is growing.

20. Your Instagram tells us you’ve opened for a lot of comedians. Who was the most fun to open for?

Yeah, I have opened for a lot of comics. Everyone was really nice. Last, I opened for Neeti Palta. She was very cordial and is one of the few women who started comedy in India. I really respect her for that.

Apart from that, I have opened for Abhishek Upmanyu who was great fun and had also told me that I should move to Mumbai.

Rahul Dua, Aakash Mehta—I’ve opened for these guys as well. Everyone was really nice and supportive.

21. Do you still vlog?

No, I have stopped ya. I don’t have the time since I’m focussed on standup. I have a full-time job and I can’t ignore that. They are paying me money, which comedy isn’t doing yet. Once this thing becomes commercial, I’ll quit.

I’ve been doing theatre since college, and have always been interested in being on stage. I used to do bhangra, dance, acting—everything. That’s why I started making those videos and some of them did well too. On Facebook, I got some 60-70k followers.

But now, since the last one year, I have not even taken my camera out of the cupbaord. I’m concentrating on standup because I’ve realised that’s my thing.

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