A few weeks ago, a video clip of a panel discussion among some of the top comics in the Indian comedy circuit was shared widely on social media. The comics included top names like Kanan Gill, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Tanmay Bhat and Aditi Mittal, among others. Moderated by film critic Anupama Chopra, they discussed sexism in the comedy industry.
What was most noticeable in the video, however, was the fact that everyone apart from the only woman comic on the panel, Aditi, had their say first. They attempted to give various explanations for why more women were not being showcased on streaming sites like Amazon Prime, until Aditi pointed out, with some much needed snarkiness, that she was learning so much about being a woman in comedy from all the men on the table.
In stark contrast to this panel discussion is a recent podcast by comedian Daniel Fernandes called You Started It, which features Aditi and Karunesh Talwar. Not only do the three acknowledge how prevalent sexism is in the Indian comedy circuit, the men were also interested to know from Aditi how the industry could be made safer and welcoming for aspiring women comedians.
The discussion on sexism begins 16 minutes into the podcast when Daniel mentions how many media persons contacted him after the Anupama Chopra video went viral. They asked him if there was sexism in comedy, which Daniel thought was the stupidest question of 2017. âThereâs sexism in your sandwich, let alone comedy. Donât ask again,â he says.
Then in a funny (but saddening) anecdote, Aditi recounts how she is approached by people to perform on Womenâs Day. But, when she mentions how much she will charge, people often tell her that she should give discounts for Womenâs Day. âThere is tokenism around Womenâs Day and women in comedy too,â she says.
Aditi also notes that the first step to addressing sexism is to acknowledge it, that it is as âsuppressed and insidiousâ in comedy as it is elsewhere. âIâm considered more of a bitch when Iâm being sarcastic,â she says, adding that when a man does it, itâs considered "insightful and incisive". âWhereâs my insightful and incisive?â she questions.
One of the most satisfying aspects of this video is perhaps the men acknowledging that there is indeed a âboysâ clubâ in comedy. This was something Aditi observed in the panel discussion with Anupama Chopra, referring to how male dominated the comedy industry still is, and how itâs still difficult for women to break that hegemony.
âThe âboys clubâ exists. If you're slightly ignorant or if you're the kind of person who doesnât pay attention and youâre a man, you may not even notice it. But it's very, very prevalent,â Karunesh states.
He also points out how itâs difficult to break the bro code among men as well. The bro code, as Ramanathan S points out here, is when men donât call out other men for having misogynistic attitudes towards women when they talk among themselves. In the same vein, Karunesh says, âMale comics donât call out others for their shitty, ridiculous, questionable thingsâŚ for perpetuating negative stereotypes in their material.â
âItâs an inside community thing where weâre scared to be honest with each other,â he adds. âYou get ostracized if you call out people in this circuit,â he says later in the discussion.
At one point, to demonstrate just how prevalent sexism is and how uncomfortable it makes women comics, Aditi recounts an incident where a producer in Kolkata introduced her on stage as the âbest tits in the businessâ. While she did go up on stage and perform after that, she says that she didnât take the payment - she just got into her car and left.
Karunesh names the producer and asks comics and the audience to not give him business, even though Aditi does not. Referring to this behavior as a denial of access to opportunities to women comics, Aditi says that she is still freaked out by his messages and that she still hasnât taken what was due to her for that performance.
Daniel reveals that sexism is not something that affects only new comics, but happens at the top as well. He then asks Aditi how they can make the comedy industry friendlier for women. âThey (women) feel like no one has got their back. I want them to know that we give a shit,â he says.
Aditi's reply here is something that applies across the spectrum for victims of any kind of discrimination or oppression. âJust listen to them. Be mindful of the points they say hurt them. Listen to what they want, and if you feel like it, you can provide it for them,â she tells Daniel. She also opposes the conception that discourses of sexism are deemed as an attack on men, when theyâre actually not.
Daniel and Karunesh then come back to the âbro codeâ and how that can be broken. âLife will give you a lot of opportunities to not be an asshole. Take them,â Daniel says to chuckles from Aditi and Karunesh. To that end, Karunesh adds, âThe next time you see a male comic looking at an opportunity a woman got, and say that she only got it because sheâs a woman â donât be friends with that guy!â
You can watch the discussion from 16.05 here.