Shraddha Verma, a 23-year-old social worker, finds herself funny. According to her, that’s the most important thing for a stand-up comedian. You have to believe that you are incessantly and incredibly funny. “That’s when you have enough self-confidence to pull off a monologue amidst hundreds of people,” she explains adding that unless you have that conviction you can’t make people laugh. It’s as much about your body language as it is about your jokes, she says.
Her stand-up comedy journey started about a year ago, thanks to two shots of alcohol and a dare by a friend. Verma recalls how she always wanted to perform at an open mike event and so, at Bikalpa Art Cafe’s ‘Mondays are funny’ show, she finally found the courage to do it. She recalls, when up on stage for the first time, she ranted about work life and other mundane things and that the audience seemed to relate to her.
After that, there was no stopping her. Verma had thoroughly enjoyed the open mike sessions and went on to perform in many other such sessions in the months that followed. “I loved going up to the stage and being a part of the excitement. It was a rush that felt immensely gratifying,” she says. Soon after, Verma started getting offers for paid gigs and that was how she felt she had made a breakthrough.
One of her biggest achievements so far is performing at the ‘Story Yellers’ sometime back in September 2018 that has yet to be uploaded on YouTube. Today, she performs as a part of the Comedy Tuk Tuk, a group of stand-up comedians like her.
Her life as a social worker, working for ‘Girls Empowerment in Rural Nepal’, also spills onto her comedy. She has constantly put her views on matters like everyday sexism with the help of the stage and the mike. Furthermore, she has started her own fund raising campaign ‘Juneli Nights’, a music and comedy show aimed at raising funds for a school in Nawalparasi. “Rather than just receiving grants, I felt like raising funds by putting something out there is better,” she reveals. ‘Juneli Nights’ was successfully performed at the House of Music and Jatra in November 2018.
Verma has no strict idea that she sticks to while writing a sketch. Instead it’s an accumulation of what has happened to around her throughout the week and also the issues she feels need to be addressed. “If I feel like something that has happened to me has a comical angle, I include it in my monologue,” she explains. According to her, another important thing for a sketch to work is the ability of a comedian to go-with-the-flow. “Sometimes the crowd may not respond well to what you’re saying. But you can get back on track by mocking yourself for a lame joke or mocking the crowd for not understanding it,” she says.
One of her inspirations is George Carlin who is known to use comedy to talk about serious issues ranging from politics to society. Verma feels she has a responsibility to talk about social issues or issues that are close to her heart in order to bring awareness about it as well as change people’s mindsets. “Stand-up comedy can bring forward serious issues that are not too easily discussed in the society. Comedy can help make sense of stuff too,” she says. However, some days she just wants to rant about the weather or some other not-so-complicated stuff. “Comedy is an outlet for your pent-up emotions as well,” she adds.
Verma lost both her parents when she was a teenager and whenever she tells people this fact she says they become all stiff and rigid and don’t know what to say or do. “In one of my sketches, I talked about this fact and how people don’t need to feel uncomfortable,” she explains. Verma says, unlike other people, she has had to deal with such a tragedy at a young age but this doesn’t deter her from making the best of life and enjoying it. And through stand-up comedy she is doing just that.
“It’s as though I have discovered a whole new part of my life,” she says adding that she enjoys it immensely even though all the writing and the preparation can sometimes feel a little pressurizing. “Even if you are having a bad day you will still have to go up onstage and be funny and cheerful. That can be difficult at times,” she says.
According to Verma, stand-up comedy has yet to flourish in places other than Kathmandu. She hopes that eventually it will reach places like Pokhara, Chitwan, Hetauda, and many more. She feels that stand-up comedy has the potential to become a part of the mainstream entertainment culture in Nepal but says for that to happen people, who think they are funny, should muster up the courage to tell a joke on a platform, just like she did.