The podcast is refreshingly honest and the three panelists acknowledge that sexism is widely prevalent in the comedy circuit.

When they talk about your breasts to introduce you Aditi Mittal and others on sexism in comedyScreenshot
Social Sexism Thursday, July 06, 2017 - 18:43

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. “There’s sexism in your sandwich, let alone comedy. Don’t ask again,” he says.

Then in a funny (but saddening) anecdote, Aditi recounts how she is approached by people to perform on Women’s Day. But, when she mentions how much she will charge, people often tell her that she should give discounts for Women’s Day. “There is tokenism around Women’s Day and women in comedy too,” she says.

Aditi also notes that the first step to addressing sexism is to acknowledge it, that it is as “suppressed and insidious” in comedy as it is elsewhere. “I’m considered more of a bitch when I’m being sarcastic,” she says, adding that when a man does it, it’s considered "insightful and incisive". “Where’s my insightful and incisive?” she questions.

One of the most satisfying aspects of this video is perhaps the men acknowledging that there is indeed a ‘boys’ club’ 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 it’s still difficult for women to break that hegemony.

“The ‘boys club’ exists. If you're slightly ignorant or if you're the kind of person who doesn’t pay attention and you’re a man, you may not even notice it. But it's very, very prevalent,” Karunesh states.

He also points out how it’s difficult to break the bro code among men as well. The bro code, as Ramanathan S points out here, is when men don’t call out other men for having misogynistic attitudes towards women when they talk among themselves. In the same vein, Karunesh says, “Male comics don’t call out others for their shitty, ridiculous, questionable things… for perpetuating negative stereotypes in their material.”

“It’s an inside community thing where we’re scared to be honest with each other,” he adds. “You get ostracized if you call out people in this circuit,” 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 ‘best tits in the business’. While she did go up on stage and perform after that, she says that she didn’t 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 hasn’t 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. “They (women) feel like no one has got their back. I want them to know that we give a shit,” he says.

Aditi's reply here is something that applies across the spectrum for victims of any kind of discrimination or oppression. “Just 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,” she tells Daniel. She also opposes the conception that discourses of sexism are deemed as an attack on men, when they’re actually not.

Daniel and Karunesh then come back to the ‘bro code’ and how that can be broken. “Life will give you a lot of opportunities to not be an asshole. Take them,” Daniel says to chuckles from Aditi and Karunesh. To that end, Karunesh adds, “The next time you see a male comic looking at an opportunity a woman got, and say that she only got it because she’s a woman – don’t be friends with that guy!”

You can watch the discussion from 16.05 here.