Indian comic scene has serious problems: Sexism, bro-code and just a handful of women

While the number of women comics in India can be counted on the fingers of one hand, the bro-code in the industry keeps even these women, who survive hugely on self-deprecating humour, on the fringes. Moreover, the overall stand-up humour relies heavily on wife and girlfriend jokes.

Written by DIPTI NAGPAUL D’SOUZA | Published:June 3, 2017 10:59 am
aditi mittal, amazon prime, indian comedy, women comic, women in comedy, women comedians in india, sexism in comedy, tanmay bhat, kanan gill, zakir khan Anupama Chopra (sitting) with Aditi Mittal (far left), Tanmay Bhat, Kanan Gill, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Vipul Goyal and Zakir Khan

One of the most coveted spaces for indigenous content, Amazon Prime Video, when it inked a deal with 14 popular Indian stand-up comics, reinstated the growing popularity of both stand-up comedy and internet-based content. What none of the players in this sweet deal noticed is that the line-up includes not one single woman. That, until film critic Anupama Chopra pointed out the fact on her show, a round table with six stand-up comics and threw at them the question: ‘Is there sexism in the comedy industry?’

Interestingly, when she posed the question to the lone woman in that group, Aditi Mittal, a couple of minutes went by before finally Mittal was allowed to respond because the other five self-proclaimed feminist comics – Tanmay Bhat, Kanan Gill, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Vipul Goyal and Zakir Khan – hijacked the conversation to defend male-domination in the industry.

Let’s for a moment forget that the very act of hijacking the conversation does not indicate sexism, and look at facts. How many women come to one’s mind when thinking of stand-up comics? Of course there’s Mittal… and Radhika Vaz… Mallika Dua, Neeti Palta and Sonali Thakker… And men? There are 14 that Amazon signed up with. Are there as many women at all in the industry who enjoy the kind of space these men do? Sadly not.

On the show, the men argued that the deal with Amazon was purely one made with the events company OML, who manages all the 14 artistes. So, is it that OML doesn’t manage a single woman comedian? Do neither OML nor Amazon consider a woman good enough to recover their investments? Perhaps not. And when Mittal did eventually answer the question Chopra posed to her, she confirmed this, pointing out that the bro-code in the industry does keep women on the fringes.

The artiste, who was part of the (in)famous AIB Roast in 2015, said she realised over time that the bro-code between the male comedians, where they promote each other, leaves very little space for women. Mittal added that she became aware that she will remain on the fringes until she branches out and begins working solo. Vaz reiterated this Wednesday with a tweet that read, “The reason a bro code exists is because men have been conditioned to believe that the worst thing is to be beaten by a woman.”

The sexism is apparent also in the humour. A lot of the stand-up humour depends heavily on wife and girlfriend jokes. For women comics in mainstream, survival depends hugely on self-deprecating humour. For instance, Bharti Singh (of Comedy Circus fame) rarely veers away from the ‘fat’ narrative, where her jokes reaffirm that a woman is funny only if she is overweight and that fat-shaming women is absolutely normal. Well, why single out Bharti? She is, after all, only following in the footsteps of Bollywood’s popular comediennes, Tun Tun and Guddi Maruti. One wonders if Bharti will have any career left if she were to lose weight.

The only other “women” in mainstream comedy, in fact, are men in drags, such as Gutthi (Sunil Grover) and Nani (Ali Asgar). And the only real women who do feature on Kapil Sharma’s TRP-busting show have only one role to play – being subjected to sexist humour.

With television and cinema established as patriarchal, misogynistic industries, the Internet holds out a promise. Ask any comedian and they will confirm that it’s an emerging medium because it is democratic in nature. However, if within this medium too, the self-proclaimed feminists refuse to make space for women, there will be little reason left to term it democratic.

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