Last weekend stand-up comic Vasu Primlani sang Happy Birthday to my breasts. I didn’t mind, I was just so grateful someone was earning money making fun of the crass mannerisms of Delhi men. Primlani had quite a few one-liners about Delhi men. Example: Delhi men are bisexual, if they don’t get it, they buy sex. Delhi men are chivalrous around old people, young children and big boobs.

Of course she also riffed about facial hair, her Sindhi parents, George Bush, sexual identity, and the recent court order penalizing same-sex intercourse but what struck me was the ease with which the audience laughed at her jokes about Indian men.

Primalani. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Primalani. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

A day after the show, Primlani tells me in a phone conversation that she is a rape survivor herself. “My frustration with Indian society is that men don’t take responsibility for rape, and nor are they expected to take responsibility," she says.

On stage she emphasizes what so many commentators have since That Fateful Night in December 2012, when we decided to go public with the debate about violence, men and their atrocious everyday sexism. The clothes women wear are IRRELEVANT to the rape discussion, she reiterates. “The right question is India, are you raising your sons correctly?" And then she follows that up with a rape joke:

Somehow it’s never the guy’s fault.

It’s the woman. She provoked me.

Seriously? Guys are going to be the judge of what provokes them?

Anything provokes a guy.

A hole will do.

Bagels, vadas, for the specially abled, Polo.

Don’t you agree with me sir? She points to some poor sod in the audience.

It’s always been easy to make fun of and rant about Indian men, but now it’s almost required that any woman who can speak up, does so loud and clear. Have an opportunity? Get on stage and say your piece. Primlani makes the point over and over. On her Facebook page she posts: A girl in a dress should not be considered brave, she should be considered pretty. “I’m an activist who uses comedy to get my point across and everyone gets it," she tells me. Even the men.

They often walk up to her after a show and tell her she is spot on. After one such encounter, the man added, “And I’m looking at your eyes when I’m talking."

Primlani says all her jokes about Delhi men are based on her personal experience of living in that city for the past four years. “They give me content every time I walk down the road," she says.

Aditi Mittal. Photo: Manoj Patil
Aditi Mittal. Photo: Manoj Patil

Mittal says her approach is to target an act rather than any person/group. So she takes great pleasure in decimating that unique and offensively named national pastime of “eve-teasing".

When she performed for an audience comprised largely of army personnel and their spouses, all dressed up for a night out, she said the laughter was not as robust as she was expecting. Then she realized she was hearing lots of tinkling. “I realized it was the sound of jewellery shaking," she says. It was the sound of army wives laughing quietly.

After the show, Bubbles Singh, the army chief’s wife, came up to her and said with a perfectly straight face: “Beta that was very funny, you ruined my kajal," pointing to her streaked eye make-up.

Mittal says the main difference she’s seen is that women are laughing like never before. “Everything that upsets you, when you point a finger and laugh at it, it becomes more tolerable and takes away power from them," she says. Now that’s certainly the best reason I’ve heard to laugh at Indian men.