An Indian comic who arrived on stage via engineering, Ironman races and clown school is bringing her new show to the Glasgow International Comedy Festival.

Anu Vaidyanathan will perform her work-in-progress show Menagerie at The Old Hairdresser's on March 16.

The show will take in the best and worst of every 'season' of life, boiling it down to what it is - "a giant, unavoidable wedgie when one is on stage about to accept a lifetime achievement award".

Ms Vaidyanathan told The Herald: "I’m a baby when it comes to comedy, my first stand-up set was in September of 2021 and I’ve kind of risen through the ranks like a bull in a China shop.

“I had no intention to do so, the stories just felt urgent to tell and I found a stage to tell them.

"I’m not really sure how things have evolved in comedy per se because I can’t really call myself very old in this work at all.

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“That said, I think the odds are always very lopsided when it comes to female performers – I can’t tell you the number of sketchy incidents I’ve had to process and I’ve been gigging for two-and-a-half or three years.

“It’s not a pretty picture, and I think in general I’m always very happy to hear about female-run comedy nights or clubs where at least the first level feels safe to approach.

"I’m an engineer so I graduated in a class of 150 where there were only five women. So for me the world has always been very male-dominated, even from where I started.

“But I think what buoyed me through these experiences was coming from a household where we were never treated differently for being a girl or a boy.

"I was always told I was as good as my brothers and could do anything men could do."

That advice doesn't just extend to comedy. Ms Vaidyanathan is a former endurance athlete, the first Indian woman to qualify for a 70.3 mile triathlon World Championship event, and the first Asian woman to finish an Ultraman - a 10km swim, a 420km bike ride and an 84.4km run.

She explains: "I was a very geeky child, hated physical exercise, loved physics, literature and algebra.

The Herald:

“When I got to college and the gender disparity was glaring I had to pick up some physical activity to stay sane.

“It was a very competitive college, man or woman you had to fight or you weren’t going to make your grades.

“Engineering was very stressful, I went to Purdue University and they were trying to maintain their reputation for putting Neil Armstrong on the moon.

“So for me physical activity was a vent, that’s how it started but I soon discovered that I had my best ideas when I was out running, biking or swimming.

"It was a very progressive thing to get to long-course triathlon.

“I quit my first PHD because I didn’t get along with the advisor, and the second time I had an offer back in the US and one in New Zealand. I picked New Zealand in a heartbeat because it’s the home of the greatest endurance athletes in the world.

"The whole time my parents never once questioned me, or told me anything like you see in these movies like Bend It Like Beckham.

“My dad said, ‘do you know what? Whatever you want to do, more power to you’.

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“That’s South India though, so maybe that makes a difference.

“North India and South India are practically different planets, very different cultures and attitudes.

"For example, South Indians think that butter chicken is a conspiracy – there’s butter and there’s chicken the two should never meet!”

Ms Vaidyanathan wrote a book, Anywhere But Home: Adventure in Endurance about her experiences as an athlete, and it was from there she took the long road - via clown school - to stand-up comedy.

She says: "I’m still a jobbing engineer, it still pays the bills. To some degree film and comedy have taken centre stage but they’re not exactly profitable things to do – it’s not a day job, I’m not there yet.

“I started to investigate film when a book I wrote went to a film market in Mumbai.

“At the time I thought I wanted to be a cinematographer because I was good at building bikes and rigs and things like that, but then I discovered that film is really about the story and as a director you have the most fun, as a writer-director you’re the centre of the circle.

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"The film work came about because of the book, I had two offers to adapt it. I think one was the early version of Disney in India and one other major studio that makes a lot of Bollywood rom-coms.

“I showed up to the meeting – and I use this in my stand-up – and I found it very depressing that they were going to tell a story about a woman’s life and there wasn’t a single woman around the table.

“Bollywood is actually a terrible name because it appropriates all of Indian cinema into this 300 miles around Mumbai – that’s not ‘Indian film’.

“I grew up on Tamil film with very feminist, firebrand directors.

"The subjects we were aware of were never seen in Bollywood, so I found it all a bit of a caricature even if it was nice to go and meet all these very busy and important people.

"I was skilling up as a writer-director but when the pandemic hit I couldn’t make my first fiction feature because I didn’t realise how much of a congregational act it was and I didn’t have the insurance the rest of the film school had because I was a career courses student – basically the loser filling up the halls in the summer.

“So I worked very hard on my writing for those two years, and the comedy happened because I ended up at Philippe Gaulier’s clown school.

“I wanted to direct a comic performance because I’d written a comedy script, and it’s not all spoken – comedy is also very physical.

“I wanted to understand exactly what the performers were hearing from their instructors to make me a better director for my actors.

“Gaulier is a contemporary of Peter Brook, who I think is the greatest stage director who ever lived, so I was very curious about this school.

“I showed up and within a few days Philippe picked up on the fact I was just there to passively participate and he said, ‘you have to be aware you’re in a room full of performers’.

“Some of them were incredible acts, great physical acts as well, so he had a point and he kept picking on me in every class.

“Indian teachers are very much the same, they really give you a lot of shit until you get good, so that month really changed my perspective.

"I think film school is great and all that but I think it also limits you.

“We say that film is truly democratic then say it has to be done in a certain way, and comedy felt like a halfway house for me between writing books and making films.

“In stand-up the feedback is quite quick, you write something, you show up, and if you’re good you’re good and if you’re terrible you’ll find out in five seconds.

“Philippe doesn’t like stand-up comedians -he’s all about clowning and physical comedy - so that was only the spark.

"I love it and I have no intention of quitting. One of the things you realise as a mum is that your kids don’t give a shit about equations or physics but if you can make a funny face they’ll love you forever.

“That aspect of delight is something that makes my heart very full, on a great night it can feel like the most magical thing you’ll ever be a part of.”

Ms Vaidyanathan will perform at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival on Saturday night, and says she holds a real affinity for the city having been inspired by Graeme Obree in her triathlon days.

Having performed in India, the United States, continental Europe and across the UK, is there any difference between the crowd?

She says: "They are very different around the world but I don’t think any room is the same – even in one city.

“In Edinburgh you can play two nights and it can be earth and sky, you never know who will come through the door.

"The common thread with any crowd is that they’re all there to listen to what you have to say so you’d better do your job.

"There was a Tamil comedian called S. Ve. Shaker who was probably sub-consciously my origin story.

"He used to say that you have to keep the room with you, if you don’t then your show is done, you’re sunk.

“I’ve been to Edinburgh twice and I’ve had all kinds of people in the audience, all demographics, countries and ages.

“That tells me that yes, audiences are different every night but there isn’t room for only one kind of story. There’s room for a lot and it’s up to you to discover that as a performer and as long as the audience keeps coming in you’re doing your job.

“If four people show up you still do your job for those four people and see where you land.

“I think the common thread is that we’re living in a very difficult world, and comedy is that one area where we get to suspend our reality and laugh.”

Anu Vaidyanathan will perform at the Old Hairdresser's on March 16 at 5pm. Tickets are available here.