Hate her, love her, but you can’t ignore her. She wasn’t meant to be just Lola Kutty all her life. She had much more to offer through comedy and that was her path-breaking realisation. Anuradha Menon, the woman who has fifty shades of Malayali-ness within her, has grown from the curly haired, Kajeeveram obsessed Malayali to a household name who cracked rib-tickling jokes about her life, Indians, and most importantly, her mother-in-law.
Beyond the Lola Kutty avatar, is a lady seeking to lighten your mood by finding humour in her personal life. While Anu has had her share of ups and downs in terms of her growth in the world of comedy, she still manages to push herself to pursue what she is good at. Her resurrection in the comedy scene only means one thing: Anu Menon is here to stay (and slay)! Also, she isn’t here to live up to our Lola Kutty expectations; she’s here to create her own identity on stage.
There are several factors that contribute to an impressive comedy experience. But the one main aspect we always look forward to is the person contributing. Anu Menon has left us in awe by pursuing a passion which was devoid of any Lola Kutty vibes. I, for one, have always admired Anu Menon, ever since she appeared on television because she represented my community. Little did I know that I would actually get her to talk about her uncharted journey in life, her true Malayali avatar, and her way of living.
What’s the one Lola Kutty story that you love sharing? (Alternatively, what’s the best and the worst thing about being Lola Kutty?)
Once I was doing a play in Cochin. My friend was sitting next to a couple and the lady was horrified saying. “Oh my god, you know, this girl Anu Menon is going to come now. She’s the one who does Lola. What a travesty! How can she do this? She’s making fun of us Malayalees terribly.” And the monologue of my play was a wannabe Punjabi socialite. So I had certain Punjabi mannerisms and pronunciations and all that. But that lady laughed for every Punjabi mannerisms and stereotypes of mine, hysterically. I always find funny. When it hits closer to home, it’s a travesty. But when it’s someone else, it’s hysterically funny.
The best thing about Lola is everything that I have was because of her. My sure shot claim to fame was Lola. The worst thing about Lola is that a lot of times people only think of me as Lola. It’s come in the way of my fantastic item number career.
Is there a Malayalam movie that you wish you acted in? And why?
I went through a very bad Dulquer Salman phase. For one week, I overdosed on Dulquer Salman, watching over 10 movies. In the end of it, I was Dulquer Salman out so I ODed so much. But someone has said that I should now start a Nivin Pauly marathon. But I knew my system couldn’t handle it. If I did that, I knew I would be cheating on Dulquer. But I really liked Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi. I really, really liked it. It was a beautiful road movie.
Also, Dulquer Salman is always on a bike in every movie of his. It’s almost like it’s written into his contract that “One scene I will always be on a bike.”
Which Malayalam movie do you recommend the most to your friends?
I loved Ok Kanmani. And I always find that when Bollywood tries to remake something from the South, a lot of the realness somehow goes away. I never saw Ok Jaanu. But, I can see why the ‘sur’ was wrong.
You often mention that you’ve faced many rejections, but you’ve overcome them like a boss. What advice would you give to people to help them overcome a rejection?
I don’t think rejection is ever an easy thing to face. But the worst part is, in the industry that I am in, it’s not a 2+2=4 situation because you can give your best and feel more qualified but it ultimately isn’t so cut and dry. It’s a performance, visual and size based thing. There are so many factors that come into play. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not very conventional looking. I look different and I had to come to terms with that early on. I attract roles like a typical South Indian woman, posh mother, or a bubbly character, but a lot of times I did things that were in my control. If a straight and narrow isn’t working, you take a by-lane. You have to improvise on your own journey because it’s not going to be laid-out. There’s no one way to get to a destination.
If you were a Kerala dish, what would it be? And, why?
Appam – Soft in the centre but crispy on the outside.
How do you handle criticism?
Today, we live in the age where whatever you utter is going to be offensive to someone. Now, you cannot be all things to someone. I think you should own your narrative early on. For example, for my stand-up special I’ve received both a glowing review and the “Oh, it’s so dull” review. See, for every pro there’s a con. Even in today’s world, no one even knows what to completely believe. For every Huffington Post article, there’s a First Post article against it. Criticism is fine. I am a story comedian so I talk about stuff that actually happens in my life. I believe that jokes are supposed to make people happy. You don’t have to change the world, one joke at a time. It’s not a TED talk. It’s supposed to lighten people’s mood. So, this idea that you have that unless you have Modi/critical jokes, you’re not a valid comedian is wrong. I don’t buy into that premise. I think everyone has a different voice.
Yes, criticisms affect me, but I just have to shrug it off and move on. Throughout the day, there’s a lot of things to be upset about. I can’t always be bogged down by criticism because I have big life where I have to fetch my son from school and take him to tennis class. You leave the criticism aside and you continue your chores for the day.
How would Ayaan describe you?
Ayaan would describe be as funny but strict. I had to once to go to his school to do some workshop because I am “the token entertainment parent”.
He said, “Please be funny. Don’t be boring mama.”
And I was like, “Oh God, the faith is killing me”.
After the session, we come back and home, and I remember him telling me this – “When you’re a guest speaker, you’re very funny and fun. But otherwise in real life, you’re not so funny and fun.
I replied, “You know what buddy, my bad jokes pay for your education.”
Three comedians you like watching and why
Joan Rivers is amazing. So sarcastic. She always dressed well for every show. Fearless about what she said. Also, at a time when not many women were doing it.
Jonny Castle loved her in the Tonight Show and she even hosted the show when she was unwell, which is unprecedented for a woman to do. I don’t think even a woman has done that today. I think at that time, she was a complete path breaker and her humour has always remained cutting and relevant. She’s my all-time favourite.
I also love David Chappelle because he has such a romantic story. The fact that he walked away from 50 million dollars saying that it was too much for him to handle and disappeared from the public eye only to return after 20 years a as a chill person with four Netflix specials for 60 million dollars is really cool. I find him very eminently watchable.
And I also love Bill Burr’s angst and his rants. It amazes me.
What’s the hardest thing about doing a stand-up piece?
Fear of failure. I suffer from that all the time. I tend to rush through my sets so much because I am so tensed about it. A lot of times I struggle with trying to break the “women aren’t funny” stereotype. I feel like there is this entire burden of the gender sometimes, which I shouldn’t be bothered about because everything that comes out my mouth isn’t always going to be funny. It’s trial and error. The other hard part is that you know that the set is not quite there, and you’re stuck in a roadblock; sometimes you like something the audience doesn’t, sometimes the simpler jokes will get the most laughs. Sometimes the audience don’t relate to your jokes. And it’s okay because those jokes make you happy.
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