Unfunny task of female comedians: Yet to crack up
The recent controversy over an old video of Mumbai-based stand-up comedienne Agrima Joshua has exposed the ‘unfunny’ reality of female comic artists, who are still unable to break the glass ceiling and continue to get targeted. Joshua’s year-old joke — on the proposed statue of Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in Maharashtra — resurfaced on the internet and caused a massive uproar on social media, accusing her of hurting religious sentiments. The comic took down the video and issued an apology, but the row didn’t stop there and prompted rape threats, including one that had an abusive video message from a 26-year-old Vadodara resident named Shubham Mishra, who was later arrested by the Police for his demeaning act.
Many celebs have spoken in support of Joshua, and against Mishra’s video. These include comedians Kunal Kamra, Mallika Dua and Bollywood actor Swara Bhasker. But, the question that now arises is whether the stand-up scene is still not a conducive space for females, as any jovial statement gone wrong can invite harassment, both on stage and online.
Comedienne Neeti Palta agrees that the trolling faced by Joshua is the reality of most comedians in the country. “As of now, we are all being trolled. But, if you are a comedian and an outspoken woman, you will eventually hit the sexist brickwall,” opines Palta, who is aghast at the way trolls behaved after Joshua’s old video resurfaced. She adds, “You are well within your rights to take offence, but violence is not the answer! People are now taking out our old tweets and misconstruing them... they are also making the case for their actions by arguing that comedians are always targeting religion. Well, these arguments are baseless.”
“It’s tougher for a woman to make her mark because as soon as a woman enters the stage, she is judged; people often don’t hear her out but simply look at her. They go as far as to judge her family,” says stand-up comedian Amit Tandon. Conceding to the thought that comediennes are made scapegoats, and acknowledging the fact that insults for women are of a more personal nature, comedienne Anuradha Menon says that many a times female artists in the stand-up realm have to reconsider their jokes due to intolerant attitudes. “Most people come in with a bias that women lack a funny bone. The trolling starts with comments on our physicality; we often hear things like ‘You are ugly, fat and are not funny’. We are the easiest targets because anything we say has the potential to offend someone at some point. Within the world of comedy, there is so much space to disagree. What I may find funny, you may not and vice versa. But why is there no space for disagreement in the society? As comics, we are asked to punch up, but how do we do that when there is so much pushback from society,” says Menon.
“Many female comedians have left the profession because of this constant badgering,” says popular stand-up comedian Vasu Primlani, without mincing her words. She feels that comedy still is a serious business when it comes to her male counterparts, but things remain to be harder for women in most aspects. “For example, one OTT platform did not have women in their specials segment. There is a general bias in many firms... But in India [it’s a given that] people won’t notice all our jibes; like the ones on civic issues. People, we don’t just make jokes on religion!”
Once a comic , male or female, takes a dig at something, and it goes viral, it becomes difficult to then explain one’s stance and render an apology. Tandon says when a joke goes wrong “You can’t give clarification on social media because 95% people have already made their minds. You can’t expect a sane conversation wherein you can explain to people that they misconstrued your statements. ‘Sorry’ isn’t seen or heard on Twitter or any social media platform. And if anyone takes a legal action, then you issue clarifications because solutions lie in the real world; you cannot win a battle on social media where people can edit out parts of your statement and mislead others.”
Author tweets @bhagat_mallika