Why are there so few female comics in India? Are feminists and comics natural enemies?
I think the gender division of comedy is skewed in general. In India though, female expressiveness is a cultural taboo. We turn it into a negative quality and dismiss expressive women, saying, “She doesn’t know her place.” I think that’s part of it. Comedy can sometimes be a bit of a boy’s club; greenrooms, backstage areas all filled with men who don’t exactly hold their tongues. It’s not always the ‘funnest’ environment for a woman. But, oddly enough, I’ve seen an upswing in the last three months alone, four female Indian comics as opposed to two last year and one the year before.
Feminists and comics are not necessarily natural enemies. Let’s put it this way, comics and people with no sense of humour are natural enemies. And there is a branch of feminism that can be quite humourless, where they’ll jump down your throat for any perceived anti-woman statement. Sometimes they’ll even miss the point or irony of the statement because it suits their righteous outrage. I think that one branch of feminism is a natural enemy of mine. I have no tolerance or patience for that brand of stupidity.
But at the same time, it’s important to recognise that not all feminists are that militant. I’ve had plenty of conversations with “feminists” that have been fantastic. It’s a bit like religious zeal, no? I had an incident after the Shakti Mills case in Mumbai. I made a statement on Twitter that was pretty pointedly ironic but a girl on Twitter missed the point completely and started this tirade against me. It escalated pretty quickly but even then there were plenty of women who stood up for me and told her, “Don’t be an idiot.”
Would you call yourself a feminist? Why not just act in a video yourself? All of you are great performers with excellent comic timing.
For starters, we’re not women. I think the video works because it has women saying, “You know what, f**k it. It’s me, I’m the a*****e. Happy?” Had it been us, I don’t think it would’ve been as biting and the irony might have been lost. Also, Juhi (Pande) and Kalki (Koechlin) are so much bearable to look at than us. It could have looked condescending with two men fronting it. I think it works from a first person point of view – the identifier is so much higher, you don’t feel like you’re being talked down to by men. I think the exasperation with current attitudes comes across better because it’s two strong ladies themselves saying, “You know what, we quit.”
On an aside, isn’t it important for men to talk about rape and stop it from being classified as a ‘women’s issue’.
I think it’s extremely important for men to be part of the conversation. I was being specific. This video works better fronted by women. But when you consider that a bunch of guys wrote the video, that’s got to count, right?
Recently, you guys brought out All India Bakchod’s The Sex Show. As a comic, where do you draw the line between satire and cruelty? For instance, would you ever make a rape joke in your shows to show the absurdity of rape culture?
That’s a line you walk every day. I’m still a comedian. I still want to make people laugh. But rape isn’t something I’d talk about just to get some laughs. None of us would. There was a time we were pretty cavalier about it. But we got our heads out of our a**** pretty quick on that score. Which is why while writing The Sex Show, we were careful not to go down that road, because it’s a show with a much lighter touch. So we didn’t want to pull that into the conversation and cheapen it. Luckily, all of us have decent filters on this stuff in our heads and so we understand the line between cruel and satirical. Plus, the Indian sexual landscape has so many other stereotypes and foibles to play with, we didn’t need to go down that road.
But at the same time, your humour is intelligent. It examines faulty stereotypes and power structures. Satire, after all, is powerful ammunition, especially to destabilise patriarchy.
I think humour is the most insidious way of getting someone to accept your idea or point of view. This is what I love about it. When people are laughing, their defences are down.
And satire, in particular, has a glorious tradition. If a rape joke is done right (like in the Louis CK video), it can be lethal.
And it’s much easier to get them to see things your way when they’re laughing. There’s so much talk about ‘the rape joke’. But it’s the same as any other subject. The idea is to find a clever way that takes the conversation ahead, or introduces a new thought, as opposed to just being a d***. There’s no such thing as an off-limits subject.
Finally, I think what the “feminists” really want to know is if this is the beginning of something beautiful. Can we look forward to some more intelligent deconstruction of sexual politics from the AIB boys? Or is it back to Sonia-Manmohan jokes?
We’re still comedians. We still want to make people laugh. That will always be priority number one. Every single time we have a good, smart idea, I promise we’ll execute it. But at the same time, if I think of a GREAT f**t joke, there’s no way I’m not doing it. I think all of us would hate to be defined by this one video. We definitely want this to be the beginning of something. We’re working with people who want to translate the video. We’re happy to let anyone take the “It’s Your Fault” message and run with it. And if there’s any way we fit into anyone’s ideas, we’d love to participate
But at the same time, we don’t want to be defined by it forever. We don’t want to be perceived as a female empowerment NGO or “the guys who only do that stuff” because our first priority will always be to make people laugh and think, no matter what the subject is. Sometimes if the joke is funny enough, we’re perfectly happy to just let them laugh. For instance, I would hate to be on stage doing a harmless “women talk a lot” joke and have someone stand up and scream, “BUT YOU MADE IT’S YOUR FAULT. HOW CAN YOU STEREOTYPE?” If it’s not a damaging stereotype, I still want the option of innocently going there.