Laugh Track: Vasu Ritu Primlani
Meet India’s first openly lesbian comic.
You don’t become India’s first openly gay comic, if you are afraid to ruffle a few feathers. So it’s no surprise that Vasu Ritu Primlani isn’t afraid to skewer, deconstruct and find the funny in any topic, whether it be gender politics, climate change or even rape—all of which could easily fall flat in the hands of a less clever comic. When Primlani isn’t blazing punch line trails on stage she’s pursuing her other passion: the environment. Or more specifically, working to make restaurants and hotels more green. And now Primlani is bringing her special brand of courageous comedy our way with a U.S. tour early next year.
Can you tell us how you ended up doing live performance over an airplane PA system?
I was traveling somewhere on the west coast, I think. I just walked up to them, and offered to do a 15-minute set. They said, OK, introduced me over the PA system, handed it to me. I took it, stretched it out to the aisle so passengers could see me, and did the show.
At first I could see question marks coming out of people’s heads; they had never had that experience before. I remember during the show I said, “Talk about a captive audience! If you don’t like my jokes, you can always walk out!” When the plane landed, the passengers erupted in spontaneous applause! What a miraculous experience that was!
How do you find the humor in serious topics?
It’s hard, I admit. It is, at the same time, the kind of challenge I want to give myself. We need to be able to talk pleasantly about issues to bridge gaps in communication and mindsets. For environmentalism, particularly, it’s a topic so complex, it really needs to be broken down into comprehensible, small sound bites.
How have people responded to you being openly gay?
I have been disbelieved. “She can’t really mean that!” or “What is that?” Openly ridiculed, no. I am very kind through it, and carry my dignity with me. I don’t draw swords unless absolutely necessary. Men have been drunk in the shows, yes. I have put them in their place, yes. They have never heard anyone say that to them in their lives “I’m gay,” and I get them to laugh with me about it.
In fact, the most memorable experience was an elderly audience member being upset what the comic before me said, and told another audience member: “I will not listen to that comic, but I will listen to Vasu; she has a point to make.” I was amazed that a conservative elderly Indian man would prefer to hear about my homosexuality than a male comic.
What motivates you to keep going?
Oh, it is such a blessing to make people laugh. I have had people come up to me and say, “I haven’t smiled in three days until I saw your show.” Another woman said, “Whenever my husband and I fight, he uses one of your lines, and then we both laugh, and then the fight gets diffused.”
How do you challenge patriarchy?
First, by being a female comic. For a country of 1.2 billion, I am one of perhaps five female comics in the land. I openly insult guys in the audience, and they laugh because they know it’s in good fun, in fact, they adore it! The lines of patriarchy are drawn so hard in Delhi, it does my heart good to come closer as friends, men and women—and be able to take a little good hearted ribbing from each other.
What advice would you give to the LGBT community in India?
I think more of us need to come out—there are thousands of us who get out and make our identities known in their work place, at home, where conditions are not safe and men and women are not respected for their choices.
We as humans wish to honor each other. We all have differences in our eating habits, praying habits, exercise habits. This is just another difference, and is absolutely no cause for contention, long as I respect, love and honor who I am with.
Come out and speak your truth. It’ll be all right.
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