Not just a joke: Aditi Mittal on life and laughter
Not just a joke: Aditi Mittal on life and laughter

Not just a joke: Aditi Mittal on life and laughter

Mrs Lutchuke’s advice for young people: No glove, no love

Watching Aditi Mittal perform in Bengaluru on June 12 was not just about laughing. It was exhilarating to discover just how the things you were never allowed to say as women could be converted into an amazing special performance called “Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say”.

What was especially endearing about the performance, besides being tummy-hurting-cheek-hurting funny, was Mrs Lutchuke (pronounced Lut-chukey) and her sex-education class. I would vote for this to be included in our non-existent sex education classes. (Just one spoiler here. Mrs Lutchuke’s advice for all youngsters, “No glove, no love”.)

Mrs. Lutchuke is a character derived from the personality of her school friend’s grandmother. “I used to hang out with her aji (grandmother) a lot. She was a doctor and she would talk about everything so normally. I even took my first heartbreak to her,” Aditi later said in a telephonic interview with The News Minute.

Mrs Lutchuke is also a Marathi-accented school teacher so that her endearing charm can deflect any social censure when she talks to you about vaginas and penises. “What can you do with her at most? Ignore her,” Aditi says.

Keeping the audience in splits throughout the 45-minute show (or any performance for that matter) is very, very hard work observes Aditi. “It is absolutely disrespectful,” she says, with a very different kind of emphasis than she uses in her sets, “to turn up for a show unprepared. It might seem clever, but 60% of that is scripted.”

In the early days, around five years ago, “everything” was raw material, especially newspapers and Bollywood, besides a lot of “depressing stuff”. “I looked for anything that I could expand on. You have to know the rules in order to break them.”

Look closely at her sets and you notice that a lot of what she does is give you a way to laugh at your troubles, or troubles created by others (like global messes) – thus, Periods, or George Bush (who would be after your armpit if he discovered your deo was based on oil).

“Sometimes people come up to me and say they know exactly what I’m talking about, or they tell you they didn’t know something (that I talked about). Once, a woman told me that after my act, her husband went straight to the cupboard where she keeps her pads and opened one of them to find those designs. He didn’t know that,” Aditi says.               

In a piece for Verve titled “Punching Up or Punching Down”, Aditi has discussed laughter and humour theoretically. “I always wondered about the purpose of laughter. You feel hungry because you need to eat, and thirsty to drink water; but what made primitive people throw their heads back and laugh?” Researching for that article, led her to discover a very poignant joke that was popular in Nazi concentration camps.

Today, she thinks that people make jokes – either punching up or punching down (but mostly punching up) – because they can’t change their reality. “Can you go up to Modi and ask him: ‘Ache din aa gaye (with a sarcastic question mark)’ or Manmohan Singh and say, ‘Arey, please, kuch boliye’,” Aditi asks.

Essentially, jokes are a conversion of pain into laughter. “Comedy is essentially the opposite of your fears. Jokes allow you to deal with your fears, and pain.”

But as a child, jokes were a way to express affection in the family, especially by her father and uncles. “When my mother teases me saying I’ll never lose weight, it is also a way of saying I’m thinking about you.”

All this time, her sounding board has often been her mother. “So initially, she was very concerned. She asked me, ‘You go out every night at 8, and return after midnight, and you don’t even drink alcohol. Where are you going with all these notes?’” When she explained, she says her parents did a very “un-middle class” thing. “They let me be,” Aditi says.

After having spent five years doing stand-up comedy, laughter is her livelihood; with unmistakable pride, she says she pays the house rent. There was a lot of shit to put up with to get to this point, mostly summed up in one word: sexism.

“I used to wear shirts and trousers. There were rumours that I slept my way (to where I was). But then I realized that the exact same thing continued to be said about me.” Once, she was actually told to shut up by male stand-up comics in a meeting to plan a collaboration.

She doesn’t let this bother her anymore. She’s too busy working to make people laugh. “If you laugh, mission accomplished. And if it gets you thinking, that’s an added bonus.”

Would she consider doing anything else? “I don’t know how to do anything else. I would probably faint by the water cooler (in a company) in those pencil shirts. I just can’t stand them.”

(Photos from Aditi Mittal's Facebook page)

The News Minute