Writer-comedian Sumaira Shaikh speaks to TNM about her stand-up special ‘Dongri Danger’ on Amazon Prime Video, her brand of comedy, censorship, gender in the comedy scene and more.

Features STAND-UP COMEDY Monday, February 28, 2022 - 17:31

Known for her fiery brand of comedy, stand-up comic Sumaira Shaikh finds ways to weave dark humour into relatable observations from day-to-day life. She got her big break in the comedy scene in 2017 when she was roped in as the co-writer for stand-up comedian Sumukhi Suresh’s web series Pushpavalli, which follows the life of a fun, unconventional and deranged protagonist. There was no turning back for Sumaira after that.

After starring in Netflix’s reality entertainment show Comedy Premium League which had sketches, debates and roasts featuring 16 comics, Sumaira made her solo debut with Dongri Danger, a stand-up special that started streaming on Amazon Prime Video from February 25. From road trips to her love for gangsters, Sumaira takes audiences through her experiences of growing up in Dongri, a port city located in Maharashtra’s Thane district.

TNM caught up with writer-comedian to discuss Dongri Danger, her brand of comedy, censorship, gender in the comedy scene and more.

How did you get into comedy? What has your stand-up journey been like?

I think there are two kinds of comics. One, of course, is the breed who know they are funny and everyone else around them are also aware. They are the class clown kind of person. Whereas I’m the second kind. I was very quiet and shy in school and I was always observant. But I was outspoken with my family. In college, I knew I was funny and there was this angst to prove myself.

How would you define your brand or style of comedy?

Primarily, I’m someone who does observational comedy. With Dongri Danger, I wanted to go a little personal also. I think comics generally do all styles of comedy until one style sticks with you. My relationship with storytelling is a little different because I’m a fiction writer. But I don’t prefer using storytelling in stand-up unless I really want to tell a story

Comedian Sumaira Shaikh in her debut comedy special. Credit: Amazon Prime Video 

Does ‘Dongri Danger’ have a combination of new and old sets? How did you curate the special?

Yes, it does. It has jokes that were written in 2016. I felt like some of the jokes and bits are still funny and wanted to include it. After my brother passed away in 2017, my comedy has changed. It was a life-changing event that had an impact on my life. So my approach changed a bit. I wanted to include personal stories, which is why it has both new and older jokes. Dongri Danger has both storytelling and observational bits.

What has the pandemic been like for you?

The pandemic has been difficult for everyone and it was no different for me. In 2020, all of us initially thought we could make it through. But stand-up comedy shifted to Zoom. I got the chance to do Dongri Danger on Zoom for a year in 2020. That really helped me. It’s good to know that audiences were willing to attend Zoom shows, even when they couldn’t go out. Social media has also been another tool that has helped. I started this series called Jaanvar ki Jaankari, which has found a unique audience online. Zoom and Instagram have been a blessing.

Sumukhi has been roped in as the director for this special. You’ve also collaborated with her for Pushpavalli. Does having women writers and directors on board help you bring out fresh perspectives?

I’ve written Pushpavalli with her and we’re also working on co-creating a show. It was important for me to have a comic on board as a director for Dongri Danger. I wanted Sumukhi to direct it because she has already created shows and has experience in show-running, and she is a comic herself. It was the right combination of things. Therefore, I wanted her to do it.

About how a female comic’s perspective has helped the output, of course, she understood that I was not a male comic who has popularity. Our show was designed and marketed accordingly. I knew it would be a little difficult for me to sell tickets for the show. She was there along every step of the way. I’m grateful to Amazon Prime Video for coming on board.

Comedian Sumaira Shaikh is seen along with audiences in her debut comedy special. Credit: Amazon Prime Video 

Several women comics have spoken about facing sexism. Have you been subjected to misogynistic behaviour?

Within the comedy scene, it does not happen often. Even if it does, it becomes easier to call someone out for that kind of behaviour because people are open and honest. But I’m aware that audiences find male comics more relatable. I think audiences are still getting used to the idea that women are also funny. More than their relatability with jokes made by women comics, I think it has more to do with audiences’ attitude.

Do you think the stand-up comedy scene is inclusive? Both in terms of gender as well as social identity?

After the pandemic, the scene is trying to get back on its feet at the moment. It has really ruined live events, and show producers have been affected. I really hope it gets back on track soon. I think it can grow bigger and more inclusive if there are more gigs happening.

While some believe that comedy should be politically correct, a section of comedians argue it is censorship. Your thoughts?

I think my agenda as a comic is to write jokes that entertain people. It is only to make them laugh, it is never intended to offend anyone. It is unfortunate that some comics feel censorship in comedy will restrict us. But I think the answer is to have smart comedy. Comedians need to have layers and put in research to have an understanding about the topics they talk about, especially when it is sensitive. If a joke does not work, I would go back to the craft and see what went wrong. However, the fear of whether a joke would be received negatively never clouds me.

Comedy Premium League had a segment dedicated for roast comedy. The genre had invoked negative responses in the past. But do you think both comedians and audiences have become more comfortable with the genre now than they were earlier?

Yes, I think people are more respectful of the roast comedy form now. For CPL, it was comics roasting comics. Permissions were taken from other comics and we were given instructions on topics that had to be avoided if they were sensitive to the other comic. All the precautions were taken. I had fun roasting Amit Tandon (laughs).

Can you tell us about your future projects?

I’m co-creating a fictional show with Sumukhi. I’m very excited and looking forward to it.

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.