The audience laughed, giggled and was even taken by surprise at times by their unusual take on ‘women issues’.
Sitting in the basement of a house in New Delhi’s Defence Colony, the audience for women open mic stand up comedy was mostly made up of men. By the end of it, most of them seemed to have liked what they saw.
The performers came from diverse backgrounds - a researcher, an engineer, a lawyer. The jokes ranged between the recently presented union budget, to general observations made on the Delhi Metro, to why men randomly send “dick pics” around the internet.
Some of them were performing on a stage for the first time. But they didn’t seem to be over awed, even when some of their jokes fell flat. The show, perhaps, didn’t look like an out an out professional gig, but that wasn’t the idea to start off with.
The woman behind the gig and the host for the evening, 27-year-old Pooja Vijay started hosting such women only open mic events in the city in August last year. This was her fourth such event.
The idea, she says, is to get more women into comedy, since they are “not supposed to be cracking jokes”. “The notion that woman can't crack a joke needs to change," she says.
Stand-up comedy is not new to India, but in the last few years, the young English-speaking Indian youth are really warming up to the idea of stand-up comedy and making money by cracking jokes on stage. Open mic nights have become a regular in most metros. While women comedians have also made a breakthrough in the region, they still have a long way to go.
“There have always been funny women, but only a handful made it to the mainstream,” Pooja points out.
Pooja moved to Delhi from Bangalore two years ago to work as an “energy policy analyst”. While she loves her job that involves field trips to Rajasthan to advise farmers, she says it was comedy that helped her settle down in the new city. She gets off work at 8pm then goes for a show at 9pm and gets home exhausted at 11pm after a long hectic day. Yet, she doesn’t want to give up either.
She had no plans to become a comedian. But one day, while still in Bangalore, she decided to go on stage after being convinced by a friend to come along for an open mic at a café next to her house. Pooja says she enjoyed it more than she had thought. And since moving to Delhi she has become regular at open mic nights around the city.
“I have been performing at open mic nights in Delhi regularly but I’m generally surprised by the lack women’s participation. It’s usually just me performing with mostly male stand-up comics,” she says.
So she looked deep and hard at it and came up with the idea of hosting open mic nights only for women. Pooja says while her male colleagues are always helpful and give her important feedback, she herself feels more comfortable when there are other women comics performing with her.
“Most of the open mic events start late in the evening and can go on till midnight which is not the ideal situation for women in this city. Also, performing with male performers can be a little terrifying. Stand-up comedy isn’t easy. There have been instances when I have completely frozen up on stage,” says Pooja.
Most of Pooja’s performers come to try their hand at stand-up comedy for the first time. Her idea is to give them a platform where they can at least give it a shot without much fear, and results have just started to show.
“For the first event I had to convince the girls to come, but today we have eight performers and a couple of them have become regulars. Even the audience has grown,” she says.
Pooja believes that women being funny is not just about busting gender roles, but also to bring a new and fresh perspective in comedy. “Comedy is the best way to spread laughter and relieve stress. It can do wonders,” she says.
Pooja is planning to hold another open mic night for women pretty soon, and she hopes the audience will grow as well.