Feminism in Indian Comedy – Stand-up comics

There has been a spike recently in the number of stand-up comics in India. I remember a time when this wasn’t considered a serious profession, even in the field of arts.
The first time I was a spectator at such an event, it was 1988 and I was barely fifteen. The humor club in Chennai allowed members to grab the microphone for a few seconds and recite jokes like poems. That was the extent of it. So a man (and on rare occasion a woman) would get up on stage and start off with something like, “Two priests walked into a bar…”
There was no heckling, no name-calling.
Things are very different these days. Everyone is more than willing to talk about their lives, their observations, and voice their humorous opinions about everything under the sun. When allowed the opportunity the fear of public speaking vanishes. The mind is now possessed by the need to engage in satirical comedy and determined to have its say in public, or so it seems. How else can you explain this phenomenon? YouTube?
And there is heckling, a lot of it, but oddly not during the acts that you’d assume would be easy targets. Like the woman (No, not Aditi Mittal) who went on and on about pubic-hair sculpting. She was in a restaurant, in India, I think New Delhi, and people were either too shocked to say anything, or the India I know has changed for the… better I want to say. I loved that act. She ended that delectably with “Leave your fucking vagina alone.” Am still looking for the video, not sure if YouTube has stricter policies than that restaurant in India, but it is gone now. It was bold and refreshing. Not many women’s issues can be discussed in such a humorous way without offending anyone and she accomplished that. I just wish I could share that link here.

While I may be disappointed in my quest to seek the unique feminist voice in Indian comedy, the happy note here is that most of these acts are straight-up above par. And not all run into trouble for their ‘loose’ tongues like Tanmay Bhat (For tarnishing the Indian nightingale’s image with suspect mimicry). Tanmay Bhatt

The crass Ashish Shakya joking about rape and molestation will only get a jab for that here.

I do love Aditi Mittal’s mostly feminist views. Here’s one about vaginal creams – Aditi Mittal – Vaginal Creams
She has the knack of handling every such topic with finesse. She slips in and out of any awkwardness very easily, like she has the pulse of the audience. Her audience isn’t just the urban or global Indian, since she perfoms in Hinglish – an undefined mix of Hindi and English, and sometimes even other Indian languages like Punjabi and Gujarati.

I am not sure how this gentleman here, Kenny Sebastian, is so popular with his liberal use of Indian languages in his act, especially since he is very global. His brand is a clear cut middle-class sophistication, and he fits the definition of the person who discusses almost anything. Noted here for the gentle handling of women’s issues whenever he chooses to delve –Sebastian
This one in London – Sebastian in London

There may be odd bits of feminism making its way into a man’s act but it would be so much more real if it came straight from the horse’s mouth. The three women on this list (see below) – is that too many or too few? Too few, according to me.
From Neeti Palta, Indian men have no game – Neeti Palta

And New York based Radhika Vaz with her ‘unladylike’ performance – Radhika Vaz

That’s it. No other new or old voices lurking around anywhere that deserve this tag.

The question is, are they making a difference? How does it help, making jokes about women’s sexual issues, and other issues like dealing with a sexually aggressive bra salesman or dealing with stereotypes? The humor adds a veneer of acceptance and tolerance to inflammatory and taboo topics. It provides an inside view to a larger audience, and that helps build an understanding. This is social literature on YouTube. This is the voice of the common Indian woman who is speaking to an audience she never imagined she could reach.

The freedom the Indian woman seeks, from archaic social shackles, may be visible on the horizon and while she waits, these delightful women who’ve broken through that ceiling provide her with a much-needed laugh.

There should be more, many more sharing that stage with them.