Shreeja Chaturvedi, the coy girl wrapped in a blanket of nervous energy, was born in Lucknow but calls Mumbai home, where her life actually unfolded. “I started off as a standup comedy audience. I love standup comedy. I watched AIB perform at my college and I was just like ‘whooooa!’,” Chaturvedi tells us. Enamoured by the craft, she knew she’d end up in this space. “But I always imagined being a writer. Mumbai Mirror used to have this ‘Joke of the Day’ column. And in the beginning, I wanted to be a writer for that,” she admits.
She ended up in advertising. “But they used to have this social gathering on Friday afternoons in office, where people were expected to come and talk for 5-10 minutes about anything under the sun.” She explains how this “employee engagement” activity was just a lame excuse for employees to get off their desks and loaf around the cafeteria. “No one used to pay any attention. And so no one wanted to go up and speak. I was new, so my boss just sort of forced me to do it. That’s where I performed for the first time,” she reminisces. Scheduled to speak for 10 minutes, Chaturvedi ended up speaking for 20, and “it went really well. The topic was ‘How Govinda is a sales hero/inspiration’.” She marks this day as the one that sowed the seed of standup in her head.
A year later, she mustered the courage and made it to her first open mic at The Habitat on 7 February 2017, which was also the first open mic that The Habitat was hosting. “Kunal Kamra was hosting. And almost everyone on the lineup was tanking. I hate to show off, but I won that open mic along with Masoom Rajwani,” Chaturvedi laughs.
Chaturvedi has since quit her job, had a good run on the open mic circuit, and is a contestant on Comicstaan Season 2, now streaming weekly on Amazon Prime Video.
1. What words have people used to describe your comedy?
It’s mostly ‘weird’. The nicer ones have said ‘unique’. But traditionally, ‘deadpan’.
2. What do you love about the scene right now?
I think it still has the excitement of a fresh scene. It’s also evolving very fast. Everyone wants to do well, everyone wants to do new things.
3. How many minutes do you have right now?
20-25 minutes that I’m more or less proud of.
4. A recent bit you saw that blew your mind?
It would have to be Gaurav Kapoor’s Missing Testicle bit. It was just, “whaaaaaaatttt?” He has taken the video down now, but I’m glad because now he gets to continue doing it live, which is so much more amazing.
5. Your current favourite Indian comedian?
Shashwat Maheshwari and Manik Mahna.
6. Your current favourite international comedian?
I have recently discovered Mark Normand. I have caught a few of his bit on YouTube. And he’s just really chill!
7. An Indian comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?
Middle Class Family vs High-End Restaurants by Kenny [Sebastian]. I watched it and then I showed it to everyone around me.
8. An international comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?
I don’t think I have watched any of them because it would get me anxious. But Bill Burr ka ek rant tha about Philadelphia. He was basically performing for a very rowdy audience, and the way he was handling it was just crazzzzy. So that I saw a few times just to see how do you handle [the audience].
9. An Indian comedian you think is underrated?
10. Do you have any rituals before you go up on stage?
If it’s a major show, I usually listen to this song called I am the Best from Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani.
11. Who do you test your jokes on?
It’s mostly two people. Every two months I call my friend Shivangini to the show. And then I just ask her how she felt. She’s usually very brutal. And my comedian friend Aman Jotwani, he’s just amazing at giving feedback.
12. What songs do you have on loop right now?
There are four songs I’m listening to a lot. There’s Nakhrewaali from Mard ko Dard Nahin Hota. And Jalte Hain Jiske Liye by Talaq Mehmood. And there is a song called Black Superman.
13. (That’s three songs, but ok.) What’s the first joke you performed that got a laugh?
At my first open mic, I did toilet jokes. It was basically about toilets giving you a lot of confidence. Like going to the toilet really helps. It makes you embrace your weaknesses, like hug them. I was quite proud of it back then.
14. What mode of transport do you use to get to a show?
I love autos.
15. Have you ever performed a show while you were high?
<Thinks hard> No. There have been concept shows where basically you have to drink and get on stage. So only those, because that was mandated. Otherwise no. It really affects [the performance].
16. What’s the weirdest place you’ve performed at so far?
Someone’s drawing room. I did that quite recently. It was a house party scene. But I thought it will at least be a setup where people are sitting down on the floor and am standing. But I was literally in a drawing room standing in front of a TV. Aur saamne sofe pe log baithhe huye the.
17. What social media platform are you most active on?
18. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far about being a comedian?
Manik [Mahna] told me this when I was really upset that the jokes I was doing before weren’t working any more. He was just like the audience sees your comfort and experience on stage now. So the jokes also need to evolve. Waise toh aur bhi bohot advice mili hain. But this one really stayed with me.
Oh also, I used to speak very softly on stage. So this one time Shashwat [Maheshwari] was hosting and he went on stage and went like “Shreeja kabhi kabhi lagta hai ki apne mann mein jokes bol rahi hai…” So ya! I took that as advice and started speaking loudly.
19. One thing Indian comedians should stop making jokes about?
Probably engineers being single jokes. They’re still doing the rounds. Woh ho gaya hai…
And I think a lot of Modi jokes, “can’t say this because Modi…” but woh toh abhi rahega shayad.
20. Are you the funniest person in your gang of friends?
I was always the funny person in my group. They would always say that I’m funny. I will be completely honest, main hamesha se hi kaafi arrogant rahi hoon apne sense of humour ke baare mein. Woh humble ab hua hai, when I am exposed to much better senses of humour.
I feel I was way funnier before. Now I have been exposed to people being funny in so many ways that I value that more. Earlier I used to be like ‘I am the funniest person in the room’ but that’s not the case anymore.
21. Besides dustbins, what are other street things that have caught your fancy?
Right now it’s public toilets, that’s what I’m amused by. And coconut sellers.
I would like to add just one thing, that dustbin waale set [on Comicstaan] mein Kanan Gill had a MAJOR role to play. He was just really there while mentoring. Even like at 2-2.30 am he would get back with feedback. It was mind blowing to see how involved he was.