Sat, Sep 01, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Indian women-only comedy show tackles breasts, bias


A woman applauds prior to the start of women-only comedy show Femapalooza in New Delhi on Aug. 19.

Photo: AFP

Men are strictly banned at Femapalooza, a comedy show for Indian women where the punch lines range from breasts and bras to equal pay and censorship.

Men were not allowed to attend, perform, or even check tickets at the most recent show at a New Delhi club.

For Femapalooza founder Jeeya Sethi, humor just for women is a way to make progress in deeply patriarchal India, where rape and gender bias are hot-button issues and women are widely expected to adhere to conservative stereotypes.

“Men only talk about men, [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi and masturbation, or they make sexist jokes,” stand-up comedian Sethi said.

Femapalooza has organized more than 35 shows in several cities over the past three years, providing what she called a safe and friendly environment for female comedians.

“Stand-up is all about being unabashed. When there are women around, you can say anything at all and not be judged,” Sethi said.

Rights activists have campaigned for years for greater access to public and performing spaces for women in India — and their safety, given the record of violence against women in the vast South Asian nation.

Some have emerged over the past few years, with similar comedy events held in Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Women-only shows such as “Leddis Night” by online magazine Ladies Finger and “Disgust Me” by stand-up comic Sumukhi Suresh have been widely acclaimed.

At Femapalooza’s New Delhi show, 13 comedians, aged between 17 and 37, tried out their jokes on an audience of about 30 women in an intimate, dimly-lit room. Some appeared nervous, but the crowd reveled in every woman-friendly gag.

Priya Elias vented her frustration with thongs.

“Women don’t enjoy wearing thongs... I am pretty sure a man invented them,” the former lawyer said jokingly.

She told reporters that her content is received much more warmly by all-women audiences.

“The energy in the room is different,” Elias said. “Women are always told they are not funny and that is not true at all.”

First-time performer Naomi Barton said that she was more comfortable sharing her jokes with a women-only crowd, with no pressure to entertain men.

“When I talk about PMS [premenstrual syndrome] and how it affects my mental health, landing me in funny situations, a woman will get it,” said Barton, a digital publisher with a major firm.

As in many countries, public discussion of menstruation and sexuality is replete with euphemisms.

At the New Delhi show, Sethi asked teenagers if they understood her joke about “the bedroom toy.”

As the teenagers blushed and smiled, she introduced the surprise act of the evening: Aditi Mittal, one of the handful of women to have made an impression in India’s male-dominated comedy scene.

Mittal has a special affection for women-only shows.

“Many men think women are doing stand-up comedy because they are so desperate for attention... Some even say: ‘Don’t you get enough attention from your boobs,’” said Mittal, the first Indian woman to get her own special on Netflix.

Comedy in India can be a boys’ club, said leading male stand-up comedian Rohan Joshi, a member of the popular All India Bakchod sketch group.

“We live in a culture where for years, women’s opinion has never been valued. This is at the heart of comedy,” Joshi said.

Platforms such as Femapalooza have helped bring more women onto the comedy circuit, but there have been objections about its format.

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