Rakesh(name changed so he doesn't get offended by the truth) from Delhi thinks 'women just aren't funny ya' and I want to ask if he's saying that because the woman comedian (who's show he was forced to go to) made a joke about creeps on the bus and not that one girlfriend he had in engineering college or wait, maybe she talked about periods!
Author's Note: A video of Shubham Mishra giving a rape threat has been attached in this article, please do not play it if it might be triggering for you.
From trolling, body shaming, lack of representation to facing stereotypes at every step, women comedians have to face it all. Just like all other fields, comedy in India is one full of barriers for women where they have to push harder to constantly prove themselves. A gendered division is done based on how women can and cannot do some things. Here, it’s comedy. In such an artform, success is measured immediately. If your joke is funny, the audience laughs and if not, the joke bombed.
But what if an entire gender is generalized because it doesn’t fit the patriarchal understanding of ‘funny’? Well then, welcome to being a woman. It doesn’t matter what jokes you were going to crack, you’re labeled ‘not funny’ already.
Even Aditi Mittal talked about how she resonated with Amy Schumer who highlighted the lack of support given to women comedians. She has also talked about how she was asked to not look too 'feminine' so as not to be sexualized when she is performing. The idea that a woman comedian's work is beyond just her work by which I mean making jokes is enough to point out the flaws in the business. I mean men are out there wearing t-shirts while making dick jokes but women have to cater to the male gaze and be 'as funny as men' which just means make bro jokes or not talk about having a vagina or bras or periods because 'that's just not relatable'. I wonder how dick jokes are relatable to the other half of the population! But the point is not even about relatability. Anyone can be funny, it's a quality like being witty or being street-smart. Yes comedians are especially talented and comedy is an art that they practice and perform but an entire gender not being funny AT ALL is a senseless argument and an entirely patriarchal notion.
What is bothering me is the popularity of this question. Why are people so obsessed with why women aren’t funny? An art and literature critic Richard Grant White said in an 1884 issue of the Critic magazine that humor was that of the rarest qualities in a woman. Following this, Kate Sanborn published an anthology called The Wit of Women which was packed with examples of funny women right from ancient Greece.
This is not just an old argument. A 2019 study claimed that men are funnier than women. The study was conducted by asking subjects, both men and women to write funny captions which were then evaluated by judges. It is absurd that time and resources were spent on such a study. The results of the study showed men were 63% funnier than women. Also, totally leaving out the fact that there is a difference between writing funny things and being funny. Of course, the study was widely cited by people trying to finally answer the 'big' question- Are Men Funnier Than Women? Not to mention that this is extremely discouraging for women starting in this field and other similar ones.
Common reasoning I found in articles dissecting this question is that women tend to look for men who are funny as partners. Does the line 'hasee toh phasee' ring a bell? In the olden times, men were required to be funny because it was seen as a marker of intelligence. But that is not a reason for why women are not funny. That is a reason why people THINK that they are not funny. According to patriarchy, only men can be intelligent, and therefore only they can be funny.
The reason why I think women are considered 'unfunny' is that we as an audience are biased. The comedy queen Tun-Tun was the only woman playing comedy roles in films in the 50s and 60s. Originally a singer, Uma Devi took to comedy where she picked up the name 'Tun-Tun' because she was generally a funny person, the testimony of which were her several colleagues. But even her comedy was centered around her being fat, making 'women being fat' a common punchline for Indian films. So even when women get to play comedy, there is only a 'type' they have to fit for the audience's sake.
The content of women comedians and that of male comedians differ by a lot. While the standard jokes men make can be now compartmentalized into the jokes about their girlfriends, domestic worker, engineering, etc., women often make jokes about what it is to be a woman in India. Of course, both make jokes about what they can relate to. But because women's content doesn't fit the patriarchal standard, it doesn't 'make men laugh' and that's when it is conveniently concluded that women just aren't funny.
When it comes to discussing the issue of sexism in comedy as well as lack of representation in comedy the scene is far from diverse. In 2017 a panel moderated by Anupama Chopra by the Film Companion was on sexism in comedy and had one woman comedian, Aditi Mittal on it. A six-member panel on sexism had just one woman in it. You read that right. That is beyond embarrassing, to say the least.
Other than just rampant sexism, women comedians have to face extreme hate and trolling. Comedian Supriya Joshi talked about how she was constantly fat-shamed by people posting and tagging her in memes. Supriya took to Twitter to talk about the trolling and how it had taken her a long time to love her body. She said that fat women have been used as a punch line for very long in comedy.
More than the woman comedian's jokes, her appearance takes center stage. Even feedback for several lineups of women boils down to how the comedian looked. Supriya also highlighted how she has to experience even a greater amount of hate because on top of being fat, she is also a woman and that directs more hate towards her than any fat man would experience.
Last year Agrima Joshua was trolled and sent rape threats for a joke she made. The joke was about a Shivaji statue that was being built in Maharashtra and a QnA she has read about it on Quora. The joke was not about the Maratha leader but about what people were saying on Quora. The video of the gig from 2019 went viral that led to huge outrage from followers of Shivaji.
One Shubham Mishra, an influencer from Vadodara expressed his outrage by talking about how he would rape her in graphic detail. His video was triggering and outrageous, to say the least. He was later arrested and Agrima issued an apology for the joke she made but the online harassment she faced was scary and traumatizing.
It’s not only the trolling and the hate but how violent it can get for women comedians. Of course, there is a growing intolerance towards comedy in India for everyone but for women and minorities, the apparent ‘dissent’ becomes violent and threatening.
To demarcate something like humor based on gender just so it can feed into the patriarchal structures around us is pathetic. Anyone can be funny but not anyone can take that up as a full-blown profession and do it consistently. Women comedians have to bear the burden of the audience’s obsession with gender and stereotypes. What could be an era of comedians punching up at these patriarchal standards has turned into a hateful and vile environment for women comics. Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves what we find funny and why we find that funny.