The #MeToo movement of stand up comedy, or as a friend and senior comedian said, #HimToo movement is catching up and it is amazing to see women come out in support of each other.
A few things about the world of stand up since it has been 6 years into it:
Yes it is as the most say ‘a sausage fest’. There is a very strong bro code that exists.
Stand up is about humor and in the changing rooms also; the comedians think they have to be funny and not treat others as fellow comedians. There is no respect for women performers and everything that is said and done is supposed to be taken as ‘funny’.
It is in this stride that many things are said and done. It is all supposed to be a joke. So often when we encounter such things we do not know what to do. We are numb and shocked.
“If you would have told me that time I would have ensured that he would be shown the door,” is what most people running the show say. Despite them being as witness to things along with half a dozen people.
Many inappropriate things are said in private and we do not have the ‘proof’ to show. If you did not stand up to things said in public what will you do with things said in private.
My experience with a male senior comedian when I said that I will have to finish my set and leave because I need to feed my baby (I was a lactating mother then); he replied saying ‘I find that arousing in a strange way.’ I brushed that comment aside because I really had to run to feed my son. And of course did not bring that up.
Yes I have a joke on the trauma of a lactating mother in my set but that does not mean that I am open to crass comments.
I have many more examples including one which happened during a stage performance.
Because my content is ‘bold’ it does not mean am open for lewd comments or being taken for a ride.
Run an analysis of the content of most male comedians- it is around how women love men with looks and money, stories of their ‘nasty or dumb ‘girlfriends, how women are forever PMSing, spending money on shopping, bargaining like it is the end of the world etc.. By putting out a few videos on what they think is equality and then again using such a fantastic medium to spread misogyny makes it impossible for women to be in.
Also where are the women in the videos- beyond being there for ornamental value. (Remember the brilliant video about how AIB has NO space for women in their video. It holds true for the most.)
When we do open mics, the male comedians are seen rolling their eyes and often heard saying, ‘These feminists are back. Now see they will start complaining.’ And I have the entire Mahila Manch team to back me on this. We have stopped going for open mics and do our own. When we over hear such things we get angry- some women performers get nervous because they are trying to think of a comeback and forget their sets while people like me end up ranting in anger.
While it is ok for men to talk about PMSing (something they do not know about), it becomes complaining when we talk about things that effect us. Why this double standards.
In stage shows, start observing how women performers are cut off by men if they are doing sets together, co hosting or doing improve.
That is why we need more women. That is why we are trying to form a collective in Gujarat. We feel safer in numbers. Even if you are not a part of MM but want to reach out we are there.
Women comedians are vulnerable even in private shows.
In a recent private show (in the kind of farm houses which are generally away from the city) when I said I speak 6 Indian languages (part of my set), a guy from the audience asked me, ‘Chodtey ki bhasha mein ho,’ (which language do you fuck in).
And all I could do was reach for my phone hoping that there is signal and I could call my driver to come and stand where he can see me. I finished the set and left silently. I had not come back line for that man. Only anger and fear. These were a bunch of ‘well connected HNI’ partying. These were women in the audience as well and like me all of them were shocked. Some walked out in shame.
These will stop only if you all stop encouraging such comedians who are using the power of humor to spread hatred, misogyny and not provide a safe and equal platform for women.
Comedy is power. Stage is power. The audience is listening to you. Use it to usher change.
(Opinion was first published on author’s Facebook profile.)