Sweet and Joyful: Shubha is Extra Virgin at the 2015

Adam Chalmers laughs at a virgin

Shubha Sivasubramanian’s first solo stand-up comedy show is a roaring success. The audience laughed its way through an hour-long journey through Sivasubramanian’s thoughts and anxieties about love, sex, marriage and the human body. Her writing and performance were both excellent, and she showed a real knack for empathising with the audience and drawing them into her life.

Extra Virgin, as the name implied, dealt with Sivasubramanian’s sex life. Unlike many other comedians, she never patronised her audience with mediocre dick or period jokes. The human body or sexual misadventures were rarely used as gags. Instead, sex and anatomy became a launching pad for a much more nuanced exploration of sexuality and romance. Sivasubramanian delved into both the world of casual hookups and  the unfamiliar world of arranged marriages, like the one between her parents. Jokes about the experiences of her friends and her parents helped her sketch out an overarching thesis: she wants “to fall in love with someone for every reason besides sex.” Her comedy was both thought-provoking and hilarious, and by the end of each night, both Sivasubramanian and several audience members were in tears.

Sivasubramanian’s set was full of excellent stories. Some highlights were her complicated relationship with an old lady in an open-plan shower, her encounters with two drunks walking along Broadway, and a hilarious re-enactment of the sex-ed talk she received from her mother at age 4. I was particularly impressed with how she handled jokes about rape and cancer, two topics that usually offend audiences and dramatically shift the tone of a show. But under Sivasubramanian’s careful writing and sweet, joyful performance, both topics were comfortably joked about. I didn’t expect to find anything funny about a 20 year old dying from cancer, or to laugh when reminded that rapists are objectively scarier than spiders. Jokes like this set Sivasubramanian apart from the lowest-common-denominator brand of stand-up found elsewhere around Sydney. She demonstrated a keen ability to empathise with her audience and joke about uncomfortable issues without trivialising them.

I can’t recommend Sivasubramanian’s comedy enough. I saw Extra Virgin twice and actually enjoyed myself even more the second time around, because Sivasubramanian never relied on the unexpected or shocking to find laughs. Instead, she put together a solid hour of writing that drew comedy from her excellent performance skills and a genuinely thoughtful examination of modern romance. She will likely be performing the show again at the Sydney Comedy Festival, and I highly recommend you see it.