Eight stand-up comics take the stage in front of a three-member judge panel, that includes the likes of actress Richa Chadha, and comedians Rohan Joshi and Kaneez Surka. There are jokes about living with parents, curfews, hunger strikes, and everything that the modern Indian audience would find funny. The only difference between this show and any other on television is that the eight-member funny troupe consists only of women.
TLC’s new weekend show, Queens of Comedy is consciously looking to give women in comedy a push, in what has been a male dominated space. And that is a refreshing change for comediennes, who have been on the circuit for a while now.
Neeti Palta, comic and screenwriter, believes that audiences are far more accepting of female comics now than they were earlier. “I have — and I’m sure so have other comediennes — felt the difference in the way they reacted to a male comic versus me. It took audiences time to accept you onstage, and there were different parameters of judgement. They reacted differently to a female using cuss words or doing edgy comedy, versus a male. Somewhere, the mentality was that if she’s so open on stage, she’s open to other stuff in life too. But as we’re getting more and more loyal audiences, we’re getting the kind of crowd that comes to watch comedy to have a laugh. The gender lines are blurring,” she smiles.
Contestant Dwijal Mehta
“It just so happens that some of the biggest professional comics in India happen to be male. But that doesn’t count out the women of the scene too,” says Supriya Joshi of AIB, who has written sketches like A Woman’s Besties. “The gender ratio may be skewed, but there’s a lot more women who are taking the stage now. I think the balance will happen in a few years.”
The names on the show are quite a mixed bag, with some like Aayushi Jagad and Urooj Ashfaq having been part of the YouTube sketch scene for a while, and open mic enthusiasts like Dwijal Mehta from Mumbai. “It was nice of the makers to do this kind of show, but it was also necessary,” she asserts. “There are so many stereotypes that need to be busted around the idea that women aren’t funny. A lot of comedians now know that women are funny and can do a great job. Hopefully we can get a new classic comedian out of this show that has opened up opportunities so far.”
Neeti adds that while she isn’t a fan of the female-only format, anything that helps, works. “You’re not running a special category — it’s not a test of physical strength. So, why are we doing a separate thing? However, if it helps more women come out and do this, and gives them a more encouraging platform, then why not? When I see the show, I see such good talent coming up and I wonder to myself ‘Where were these women?’ And that’s awesome.”
Only earlier this year, a controversy erupted around Amazon Prime’s specials. All of the 14 comics signed up were men, and not until Netflix’s special with Aditi Mittal turned up that there was a female comic special in India too. Neeti reasons, “See, if there are a 100 male comics, there are only four female ones. If you work by that average, the 14 male comic special isn’t reason for a hue and cry. Truth be told, there are only two or three of us female comics who have one-hour special content. And yes, they could have reached out to us, but I’d rather be chosen on merit than quota.”
Adds Supriya, “If the jokes are funny, the audience will see it. That’s all that matters. Joke telling is not independent to the person’s gender. But surely, our lived experiences add that relatibility to whoever is watching it.”
Dwijal pragmatically says that the response to the show so far has been rather mixed, especially because most audience members won’t let go of stereotypes. “The reaction so far has been pretty polarised. We’ve got a sizeable amount of people going ‘Women aren’t funny, I’d rather watch The Kapil Sharma Show’. But there’s also been a good amount of them who have liked either the show or the individuals. I will have to die and be born again three times before a widespread acceptance of female comics arrives. It’s an extremely long way to go. But a lot of smart people know and are convinced that women are funny. And it didn’t take this show to tell them that,” Dwijal winks.
— With inputs from Pratyush Patra