First Times Are Special😉: My First Ever Stand-up Comedy Set
Meet Ria, an Australian-Indian actress and dancer with a BFA in Acting from New York Film Academy. She recently found herself on stage in North Melbourne making her stand-up comedy debut. Here, Ria shares some funny words of wisdom about that experience.
Written by Shyaire Ganglani with Ria Patel
From dancing to acting to comedy, what a ride! Did you always want to do stand-up comedy?
As an actor, I’d say I’m pretty fearless and open to trying new things. If the task at hand is to bare my soul and cry, I’m here for it. I could go Shakespeare on you, “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate”. Get dramatic? Check. Get up on stage? Check. Monologues, improv, kissing. Yup, check, check, check. Stand-up was the only thing I vowed I would never do.
Over the past two years, I did many classes and workshops and worked meticulously to understand comedy better and develop a loving relationship with it. Comedy is technical: setup, punchline. It’s a formula of building tension (dopamine) and then releasing it (adrenaline).
I started taking note in my day-to-day life on why someone laughed or didn’t. Try it yourself. Next time someone says something and someone laughs, notice why. Was it because it was unexpected; did they change their voice? Whatever it was, notice it. I started feeling a little more confident with comedy but still NEVER wanted to do stand-up. When you’re given a script, you’re playing a character but stand-up is just you and nothing else to hide behind.
So you wanted to get better for your acting? How’d you foray into stand-up comedy?
Here’s where it gets good! (gasp). Last year, I was shocked to see there was a show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival called Brown Women in Comedy. I was like, “whaaat!? Brown women? Funny? In Australia? ON A STAGE?! This, I gotta see.”
When I saw the women perform, for the first time, I felt seen. I understood their stories and empathised. Dare I say, I was starting to want to do this too. Watching Brown Women in Comedy made me realise I could (maybe) do this too. I’d say the show gave me the courage to want to try. Given that it’s organised and run by ASAC, it’s a full-circle moment to get to do this interview.
I started going to a few shows. I connected with some South Asian comics who were so sweet and supportive. As 2023 drew to a close, I set a goal to cross stand-up comedy off my “actor checklist” before the year’s end. While I didn’t manage it within 2023, I performed my first set in the first week of 2024. That still counts, right? I convinced myself to try it at least once, reasoning that if I hated it and bombed on stage, I wouldn’t have to do it again. However, I also acknowledged that if I did ‘bomb’ on stage in front of a live audience, it would be quite a challenge to make a comeback.
Did you have a process? How did you prepare for the first show and how has that evolved?
I started saying random jokes to myself and then wrote a set. I know that sounds simple but it was a lot of work. It was a series of dirty jokes – which I thought were hilarious. But, when I started working with a comedy coach, she didn’t find all of it funny. She said there is a difference between being funny and provocative.
What I learned from her is that in your daily life, we are all multifaceted people, we’re unique and people don’t normally ‘go dirty’ all day long. Think of your set as showing different parts of you and earn that sex joke! Tell the story, don’t just land the punch line essentially. I started taking notice of other comics too, the ones that made me laugh the most didn’t go dirty from start to finish, it was peppered in. Think of it like an orgasm – a playful build-up to that ultimate, satisfying punchline (if it goes well). Here I go with my “dirty” jokes again, ha!
What have you learned from doing stand-up comedy?
Comedy comes from truth, it’s never about being funny. At the end of the day, I feel stand-up is storytelling. You just tell the truth. I’ve always believed storytelling has three purposes: connect, comfort or challenge. That is how I felt when I watched Brown Women in Comedy.
I think stand-up teaches great life lessons, it humbles you. If you bomb, you get up and try again. It teaches you to be aware of your audience, much like in life, to be aware of people’s emotions, and energies around you. It teaches you to be brave and do it.
My first time was special. I’m proud I got up and did my set, and I even got some laughs out of it! Right now, I don’t aspire to be a professional stand-up comic but I do want to do more of it and explore it further – let the journey take me where it needs to. I’m inspired to be brave so watch this space! And if something has been calling to you or you’ve been meaning to try it, this might be your year to give it a go too.