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Monday, October 25, 2021

Where are our funny girls?

If Indian women are publicly funny,it is in the Tun Tun wayrather than Tina Fey.

Written by Sharon Fernandes |
May 10, 2011 1:32:37 am

Being funny is difficult. Even if you are Tina Fey — a seven-time Emmy Award,three-time Golden Globe Award,and four-time Writers Guild of America Award winner. A funny woman is a rare species,as Fey says in her bestselling autobiography,Bossypants. “Only in comedy,” she says,“does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.”

While Tina Fey with her Sarah Palin impersonations and more importantly as her alter ego,Liz Lemon,a writer of a late-night comedy show on NBC’s 30 Rock,Fey is a huge hit. But she hasn’t always been appreciated. She’s even been called “an ugly,pear-shaped,bitchy,overrated troll.” It is not easy being funny. But before we get to how difficult it really is (Fey mentions handling difficult Hollywood stars,colleagues who pee in jars,and worse),take a closer look home. Can you think of a single Indian female comic? Not slapstick-funny but sharp,witty funny? Go on,take all the time you need.

To help you think aloud,let’s list what we have been offered as comedy at its best. First it was Tun Tun (screen name for Uma Devi Khatri) and Guddi Maruti that Bollywood presented as comic relief in the ’50s and ’80s. Both worked on simple lines — they wobbled on screen,and everyone laughed. Because if you are fat,you are funny,and all you have to do is sway your hips and eat constantly. Things never got better in Bollywood for the funny woman. In the ’90s,actors like Juhi Chawla and Sridevi had to prance around quite a bit to get laughs. Slapstick is the only thing that works on Bollywood screens.

As far as late night comedy goes,you have The Laughter Challenge,which is clearly challenged in the humour department,with little beyond stale mother-in-law jokes,and children impersonating adults. If you are searching for talented women,Comedy Circus has a female judge,an ex-actress who dresses like she is on her way to a wedding,except that she adds a loud guffaw for this appearance. On cue,“ha ha.”

Books haven’t helped us out with funny lines either — slapstick only gets worse when committed to paper. Chick lit tries hard,but you’ve got to be clever to get lipstick,heels and boyfriends together for a great punchline.

There is a huge gaping hole,just right for a good,original comic voice — and a female one would be nice. The stage for stand-up comics in India is small,not many know anyone beyond Vir Das or Papa CJ,and there are no famous female stand-ups. Desis in the US and UK do sell the Indian family stereotype well,and there are a few NRI desi women who say it like it is,but there is little homegrown talent.

It’s a pity,because between politics,scams,cricket,bad movies and sanctimonious protestors,there’s plenty of material that’s crying out to be used as satire. And without putting a heavy feminist spin on it,surely it’s not too much to expect some comedy we can relate to? There is no dearth of women who are funny,but no one has made a successful career in comedy. Not that it would be easy — they can expect a long line of “haters” in India — but it’s still worth it.

Even Fey has had to deal with a few mean-spirited critics,but like all good comics,she strikes back in style. To the person who called her an “overrated troll,” Fey replied,“To say I’m an overrated troll,when you have never even seen me guard a bridge,is patently unfair. I’ll leave it for others to say if I’m the best,but I am certainly one of the most dedicated trolls guarding bridges today. I always ask three questions,at least two of which are riddles. As for ‘ugly,pear-shaped and bitchy,’ I prefer the terms ‘offbeat,business class-assed and exhausted,’ but I’ll take what I can get.” Find me an Indian woman who can take on a heckler with such pizzazz.

And in the meantime,please inject our TV shows and movies with some real wit and humour. Even though we can’t manage a Tina Fey right now,we can certainly do better than stagey laughter.

sharon.fernandes@expressindia.com

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