THE new sunday express MAGAZINE Voices Pushpesh Pant Anand Neelakantan Sathya Saran Ravi Shankar Gautam Chintamani Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment may 9 2021 SUNDAY PAGES 12 Standing Up For Women Male comedians do not find the pandemic funny. But the girls are giving India a side-splitting time to take life with a laugh. Jeeya Sethi Neeti Palta “I’m as social as social media lets me be.” “I will conquer today tomorrow.” By medha dutta yadav S ilk saris, gold jewellery oiled , hair adorned with loops of jasmine, large spectacle frames and an unapologetic Malayali accent—growing up in the 2000s, it was impossible to miss Lola Kutty the , versatile VJ of Channel V Lola was the . quintessential woman standup comic before such a term was even a gleam in Amy Schumer’s eye. “VJs were the influencers of that time. Now a performer can bypass TV altogether and take the internet route,” says Anu Menon, aka Lola Kutty Today she has her own . , standup act, ‘Wonder Menon,’ sans Lola. “I’m ultimately a storyteller. Finding my voice as Anu Menon is very important to me. Standup is the closest version of who I am,” she reveals. Take a look around, cock an ear and you will come across a thousand comedy acts; look deeper and you will see that more often than not, they are largely by men. Where are the comediennes? “Women are told not to talk about such and such things; don’t look too attractive on stage, etc, etc. Someone would say ‘women always talk about women things’. But then, men also talk only about men things,” Anu laughs. Even as comediennes are slowly but surely stepping on to India’s punning platforms, the rules remain different for men and women. Ironically it is only on , Women’s Day that women are much sought-after—it’s the woke thing to do. Koval Bhatia, creator of A Lil Anarky Films, used to host all-women standup comedy nights in New Delhi before Covid-19 applied the brakes. She believes that there are plenty of women who want Anu Menon on relationship with M IL “My mother-in-law is very attached to my husband. Obviously. She owned him first.” @jeeyadhadkdhadk LOL Your midlife crisis is at 25, because at 40 you know who you are, what you want to do and who you want to do it with. Love More than two women on the line-up. Hate All-male lineups. To the powers-that-be Take a chill pill, bro, and laugh a little. 28.9k followers @neetipalta Oops moment I fell LOL I’ve done so much off the stage at NCPA and dislocated my elbow. steam inhalation I’m quite sure I’ll fart clouds. Favourite comic artist Luisa Omielan, better. Hate A laugh for the times The PM Cares fund was for the PM’s care. The crash that comes after the high. I n 2013, a new funny face named Jeeya rocked the audience with her ‘gym joke’. She impersonated the gym dude bros doing the ‘trying-too-hard-to-impress-the-babe’ grunts and puffs on the push-up bench. Jeeya’s comedy has a lot to do with her own hassles and experiences. Her audience immediately plugs into her jokes, since the satire resonates with their own issues. The laugh lines are deep—“Falling in love is like cooking. Every once in a while you forget that the vessel on the stove is burning hot, and you reach out to hold it”. In the ‘Full Body Medical Examination’ act, Jeeya bemoans the pains of paying `15k for a cardiac test, a sonography a , mammography and what-have-you only to be told , she has Vitamin D deficiency Or the ‘Rich People . & Failing in School’ act—“I hate rich people. They would say in their Singapore-returned British accent: ‘You know, Jeeya, today I took a train from Church Gate to Andheri’”— which has people crying for more. A self-confessed classroom joker, her shows have all the bells and whistles that make good comedy work—snarky tones, and priceless expressions coupled with generous theatrics, witty improvisations and comebacks. The maximum hits on her YouTube channel is for “Inside the pot, not around the pot” joke in which she coaches men to take aim. The channel has over 126k subscribers. Does the establishment lack a sense of humour? “The establishment lacks a lot of things. They do not know how to have fun in life,” she retorts, her trademark large glasses, red lipstick N i v e d i t h a P r a k a s am o n and streaked hair in place. to do comedy but most open , mics rarely feature females of the species. Ahmedabadbased Preeti Das has been in the guffaw game for 10 years before she founded the comedy collective, Mahila Manch three years ago to get more female sense of humour on the stage. “Our brand of comedy is not your usual run-of-the-mill laughathons. We try to include awareness on pressing issues,” she insists. Preeti collaborates with hospitals to inform women on mammography She invites . couples to talk on domestic violence. Her acts have hardcore political content. While many male standup comics stick to amateur jokes on girlfriends, wives, beer and hostel days, women comics are taking humour seriously “The trick is . to package your act in a way that doesn’t look like ‘giving gyaan’,” she hints. However, these girls with the giggles get the most flak from hidebound male traditionalists hung up on the Bharatiya nari model—too many cuss words, gender jokes, references to sex, periods and sanitary napkins. Preeti points out, “Swearing and sex jokes are part of a cycle every standup comic goes through. When you start performing, you inevitably begin with the lowest common denominator, before your act slowly evolves and generates good content.” She thinks that ultimately standup is power and power is equated with men. “This is the reason we find women ‘ashleel’ or vulgar when they talk sex. We need more women on the stage and in the audience too,” Preeti is certain. Underneath the brimming confidence of the comediennes are bittersweet tales of parental ambivalence, patronising males, performance anxiety and hard sexual choices. They harbour a healthy contempt for the establishment. Theirs is the thrill of freedom and power on the stage which comes from their ability to connect, tell their stories and send patriarchy cowering with a big 'ha ha'. And somewhere in between, also pay the bills. in the cord of the mic and doing a weird cabaret to untangle myself. A laugh for the times With the lockdown I got so lonely that I rejoined my family WhatsApp group. Love The adrenalin rush. Favourite comic artist Varun Grover, Zakir Khan N eeti’s first open mic event in Delhi was her gravy train moment. Surprisingly, she believes that a standup comic’s first show should be bad. “It keeps them grounded. I became overconfident after my show became a hit,” she admits. But ‘Handas on Holidayzzzzz’ and ‘Punjabi Weddings’ prove that Neeti is hitting all the right notes on the laugh-o-meter. Sample these: “Nothing can beat a joint family if they want to work as a team.” “Punjabi aunty’s dancing energy at the wedding is directly proportional to how big a catch the groom is.” The success of a good act depends on impulse and timing. Neeti remembers reaching out from the stage in the middle of an act and grabbing a beer from someone close by in the audience. “At that moment I just needed a desperate sip,” she explains. Neeti believes the self-appreciative “stink of confidence” keeps her going. Nonetheless, she is apprehensive about the present Indian comedy scene. “There is hardly any space left for reason, let alone humour. Aggression and intolerance force us comedians to continuously re-examine our lines. How can anyone expect us to be funny, then? If quick wit is the requirement of a comic, a lawyer on speed dial is a necessity,” she jokes. Turn to page 2 w o m e n ’s l a c k o f h u m o u r “Women aren’t inherently funny because we don’t need humour to impress men.” Oops moment Getting tangled To the powers-thatbe Establish yourselves Aditi Mittal, Anirban Dasgupta 85.5k followers Saloni Gaur “Humour gives me hope.” @salonayyy 559 k followers LOL Trolls are just Oops moment I was once performing at my college fest and I cracked some jokes, which the teachers obviously didn’t like. They turned off my mic. keyboard warriors with cheap internet. Hate Nothing so far. Love People send free gifts so now I don’t buy new clothes. To the powers-that-be Do not take my jokes seriously. Favourite comic artist Vipul Goyal, Sumukhi Suresh, Prashasti Singh S A laugh for the times On your mark. Get set. Ro (cry). aloni wrote and performed her first gig in school. Going by the applause she knew she was a winner. She convinced her folks to let her take up comedy full-time after college, rather than go for an MBA. She was forever mimicking her teachers which gave her friends the laugh-aches. Her popularity soared after last year’s lockdown when her alter ego Nazma Aapi’s biting satire on the government on various issues like the CAA went viral. “With petrol and diesel competing to hit a century, we are not missing the IPL,” is a gas. A good standup makes the cut by spinning issues of the day that matter. Patriarchy is a favourite punching bag of comediennes the world over. Saloni’s Adarsh Bahu is a slap on the face of society—“My father never discriminated between his two children. He educated both his daughters till Class XII and married them off.” The Kangana Runout uploads took the Bollywood actor’s misogynist and anti-activist comments to the cleaners. “People often ask why spoof Ranaut? The answer is simple, she is right there in the middle of it all.” Saloni says the motormouth diva is great material for her jokes. Shashi Tharoor was so delighted with the comedienne’s impersonation of him that he tweeted: “Flattered by the comedic imitation. However, I would like to believe that I am not such a garrulous sesquipedalian... Clearly the artiste on the screen does not suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia!”
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