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.
Standup comedy was just one of the many things Urjita Wani happened to be experimenting with in college. “I was in my third year of Bachelors in Mass Media [from KC College, Mumbai]. And I was just trying everything—advertising, writing, and I wanted to try out event management as well,” Wani tells us. When she stumbled upon Comedy Ladder on her Facebook newsfeed, she thought they organised all sorts of events, including comedy to theatre. “It sounded like they did everything in their bio back then, now they have changed it,” she jokes.
Wani wrote to them seeking an internship and got on board. A month into it, Jeeya Sethi, who runs Comedy Ladder, pushed her to get on stage and try standup for herself. “She had asked me two or three times, so I finally did it. And I killed it in the first open mic! That was a great ego boost for me. So I went on stage again the next day, but tanked badly with the same set,” Wani recollects. Between bombing and killing, she fell in love with standup. You can now catch her on showcase lineups across Mumbai, when she’s wrapped up her day job as a writer at an online lifestyle publication.
1. What words have people used to describe your comedy?
Unique. People have described my stage presence as charming and likeable. I think you guys used the best words to describe my comedy though. <laughs>
The gist of what I understand is that when people hear me talking, they don’t think a joke is going to come out of my mouth, but they still feel like laughing.
2. What do you love about the scene right now?
That anybody can go up on stage and try. There are so many new people. There is some friendliness… a community feel, where we can say just anything to each other. Nobody has to be sweet and nice, forcibly. It’s the only industry where I feel people are damn honest with each other.
3. How many minutes do you have right now?
I have just over 25 minutes.
4. A recent bit you saw that blew your mind?
Uhh… I think Anthony Jeselnik. I don’t really follow non-Indian comedians for some reason. I don’t find them that relatable. But I really like some jokes from him in Fire in the Maternity Ward.
5. Your current favourite Indian comedian?
6. Your current favourite international comedian?
7. An Indian comedy bit on YouTube you’ve watched at least five times?
All of Abhishek Upmanyu’s first three videos. And Aditi Mittal’s bra video. I’ve watched it so many times!
8. An Indian comedian you think is underrated?
Shashwat Maheshwari. And Agrima [Joshua].
9. Do you have any rituals before you go up on stage?
I don’t, but I think I should. For now, I try and not look at my material, try not to practice it.
10. Who do you test your jokes on?
Live audiences only, actually. Because I have noticed that the jokes that kill with a live audience don’t work well in a one-on-one situation.
11. What songs do you have on loop right now?
I really like Shanker Tucker’s Jaane Kaise, and Caught in the Rain. You must listen to him actually. It’s very underrated, and he’s very amazing. They’re really soothing, and fun songs.
12. What’s the first joke you performed that got a laugh?
“I am so middle class that I think Zara is a girl’s name, and Chanel is a misspelling of the word channel.”
I had an entire set on how middle class I am. And I had given up on this set, because of too much cringe. But a couple of months ago, I had to perform at a private gig, and everybody was an oldie there. They looked like thoda privileged, civilised people. For some reason, I thought maybe they’d laugh at the mediocrity. So, I just cracked those middle-class jokes, and everyone was like, “Wow! What comedy! Nice!”
13. What mode of transport do you use to get to a show?
Local trains. I live very far. I say that actually: “Guys, I’m an outstation comic. I come from Kalyan.” I still live with my parents. I like to save on rent money and spend it on different things. And this one hour in the train is also like a buffer, for me to prep for wherever I’m going.
14. Have you ever performed a show while you were high?
No. I have never gotten high. I am sorry! <laughs> Not even drunk. Nobody offers me anything, everyone’s always saying I’m [too] young. Punit Pania used to introduce me on stage as a 12-year-old. I don’t think he knows I’m 21; he probably still thinks I’m in college.
15. What’s the weirdest place you’ve performed at so far?
One that I can remember off the bat was this performance at Three Wise Monkeys. It was a nice venue. But people were there to eat, not watch comedy. Comedy was a distraction for them. Just getting their attention that night was more than enough.
16. What social media platform are you most active on?
17. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far about being a comedian?
This is something that Jeeya [Sethi] told me: “Have fun. If you’re not having fun, nothing else matters.” Another thing she said to me after I tanked badly one time was that Louis CK tanked for 14 years. And I was just like, wow! That’s scary.
18. One thing Indian comedians should stop making jokes about?
Anything that they don’t find the conviction in. Actually, you know what? People should take this up as a challenge. Take all the done to death topics, and write the best set out of them.
It’s like Nolan remaking Grand Masti. Imagine. That would be amazing, right? Vir Das would fight to get into that.
19. If you had to choose between standup and screenwriting…?
Standup. Because here I get an immediate response. And only I can revise my script. In screenwriting, the fucking actors will improvise and mess with my script. In standup, it’s all mine, I can’t blame anybody.
Having said that, I also can’t just do comedy. I tried that for two months, and I was tanking badly, and couldn’t write anything. Having both keeps my mind running. I love working hard.
20. Hey, how come your Instagram account is private?
The thing is, I currently don’t have any content anywhere. If I keep my account public right now, I’ll get random strangers sliding into my DM typing ‘Hey beautiful’ and ‘shubh ratri bolo’ and other weird things.
And my Instagram is personal—collages of me with my family and friends. I don’t think the world needs to see that right now. I am not an “influencer.