An interview with Arzoo Malhotra, Dubai’s “Unladylike” comedienne

{Break a leg for your upcoming gigs in Dubai and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Arzoo! Stay “Unladylike!” ūüôā }
Netflix specials, late night shows and humorous Instagram accounts have all made comedy so much more accessible in the past couple of years. But I wonder if Comedy’s rise to the forefront stems from more serious roots than to simply fulfill our need to laugh? Comedians’ have long been bestowed with the power to critique society, gender roles, religion and politicians on an increasingly public platform.
With massive changes to the way people interact and see themselves thanks to social media, it feels like we’re acutely self-aware of our turbulent and rapidly changing time. Perhaps we, the individuals who make up global societies, require a look in the mirror — the kind that only comedians can hold up to showcase our concepts of “the norm” or “the ideal.”
Fellow third-culture global citizen, Arzoo Malhotra is one of Dubai’s first female comedians. Born in India, Arzoo has lived in Egypt and America prior to moving to the United Arab Emirates. We immediately bonded over the questions of identity that come from growing up in cultures around the world rather than just the one you’ve got a passport from. In her debut comedy show, Arzoo plans to draw everyday observations from her multi-cultured background to help us discuss and tackle the mixed messages about what it means to be “a proper lady” today.
I really appreciate that she took the time to tell #nikitalyfe more about her background, how she got interested in stand-up comedy and details of her upcoming show, “Unladylike.”
Arzoo will be performing tonight in Dubai at The Junction at 8PM and will be taking her show to the internationally renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival in just a couple of weeks!
Arzoo Malhotra Unladylike
1. How did you get interested in comedy?
I loved the medium from a very young age. I used to love watching the short stand-up clips available on YouTube as a kid. I think what really cemented my love for stand-up though was an experience I had¬†when I was 13-years old. I was at a summer camp in the New York and got really sick while I was there. I was ill and bedridden for weeks and my parents just wanted to make me feel better. So they took me to a comedy club and I was blown away by the performers. It was a low-key open mic night, but still, I just remember having the best time. I think since then I’ve associated stand-up comedy with feeling better.
2. What or who inspired you to start performing stand-up shows?
I had been wanting to try stand-up for years before I got around to it. I just kept putting it off and saying I would give it a go “someday”. Then, a little over two years ago, I was in graduate school. I loved my program but I was just¬†exhausted by the workload. I needed to get out of the head space I was in and try something different. So I figured maybe this would be the moment to give comedy a try. I went with a couple of friends to an amateur comedy night and met some lovely comedians who were really helpful and supportive and gave me the confidence to get on stage. I did my first show in May of 2017 and have not stopped performing since.
3. Are there any comedians in particular who you look up to?
There are so many it’s very hard to just name a few. There are incredible comedians around the world doing really interesting and admirable things with their craft. I could talk for hours about how incredible Ali Wong and Dave Chappelle’s specials were, how good of a writer John Mulaney is, how brave Daniel Fernades is for tackling the kind of material he does in his shows, how there is a wave of hilarious, smart,¬†and feminist female comedians in India and I am living for them. But for me, if I have to the choose comedians that I really admire, it would have to be a few of the older generation of comedians who paved the way for the kind of diversity of voices you see in comedy today and really fought to make stand-up a space that has no boundaries on content. Those four would have to be Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin. To more, those four comedians, in their own ways, contributed so much to the art form, and I am ever grateful and in awe of how they managed to accomplish all that they did.
4. How do you come up with the content for your acts?
At this stage, a lot of my content is inspired by my own life experiences and the things I encounter in my day to day life. I think there is so much humor in our daily¬†lives and I enjoy making fun of that. I also enjoy observational humor and I’m a big of satire. So I think my comedy is kind of a blend of what I have experienced but delivered in the styles of comedy that I enjoy watching the most.
5. Why should audiences come for your upcoming show?
Because comedy is lots of fun and laughing with friends is a great way to spend an evening ūüôā Also, the show I’ve written, “Unladylike,” is kind of my way of making fun of and tackling all these societal norms and expectations that make me, and so many other people, feel like we are not good enough. I think there’s a certain joy in sharing those experiences with other people and having a laugh about them together. At the end of the day, I’m really proud of this show that I’ve created and would love to share it with as many people as I can.
6. What’s been one of your favorite on-stage/post show moments?
Oh my gosh I think my favorite thing is when audience members have super dramatic reactions to lines. I once told a true story about something really weird that happened to me on a date and I heard an audience¬†member audibly gasp. It was a really baffling date experience for me when it happened in real life¬†and it’s always nice to see audience members react in a way that shows that they totally understand where I’m coming from.
7. What’s behind the name “Unladylike?”
As a female stand-up comic, particularly one who doesn’t shy away from mature content and adult language, there have been quite a few instances after shows when people have come up to me and said things along the lines of “I don’t think ladies should make jokes like that” or “I don’t think women are funny”. These comments have come¬†from both men and women, and are not limited to people from any particular background. After a few conversations like this, I started to notice a pattern.¬†I realized that no matter what I did, in some people’s eyes, I would always be dismissed as unladylike. And that’s when the seed of this show was planted.
8. Details of your performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest, please?
I am really excited about going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. This is my first hour-long show and I am taking it too the city where I did my first ever stand-up gig. It feels kind of poetic. I’m going to be performing everyday from the 14th through the 25th of August in the Bottle Room¬†at the Mash House at 11:30 AM.¬†
9. You mentioned that a live performance is enjoyed differently than a comedy special on Netflix because it’s interactive. Can you elaborate on that? How do you feed off of audiences?
I absolutely love that Netflix and Amazon and so many of the online streaming platforms are leveraging the amazing comedic talent around the world and are showcasing their specials and shows on their platforms. The visibility that these services have provided to stand-up comedy as a medium has been really valuable, as it has showed audiences the variety of stand-up styles and helped cultivate more interest in the medium.
However, there is a certain joy that being at a live comedy show can bring that you don’t get when you’re watching a special online. It’s the similar to how different it is to listen to a song by your favorite artist at home versus hearing them play that song live at a concert. When you watch or listen to something pre-recorded, there’s no dynamism and your reaction doesn’t reach the performer. However, at a live show, you and the artist get to interact with each other. There’s¬†a playfulness to the back and forth; that¬†exchange of energy¬† makes the performance more like a conversation between the crowd and the performer. It makes the experience a lot more interactive and interesting.
I can’t wait to check out Arzoo’s show tonight! ūüôā I look forward to seeing many of you there — if her tickets on PlatinumList UAE haven’t sold out already! Until next time, keep exploring ‚̧ xoxo Nikita
Arzoo does Comedy
Arzoo Malhotra is back by popular demand this evening at the Junction Theatre, Dubai!

Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

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