It’s about the jokes, not the gender

Sneha Suhas
Sneha Suhas

PHOTO COURTESY : SNEHA SUHAS

Women in comedy is no longer a rare sight anymore. But the ratio of men compared to women is definitely higher in India.

Comedy is a unique profession. A profession that does not necessarily guarantee you success. It is very easy to make someone cry, but it is a very challenging task to make the audience laugh without offending them. People are staring at you, judging you and you get to witness their response first hand. Tickling their funny bone, making them pay attention to what you’re saying, while performing live can be daunting.

Receiving an applause, indifference, or blank stares while performing are reactions which you have to get used to. You can’t lose the flow, and neither can you be affected by the audience’s response while you’re on stage.   It’s a challenge all comedians face.

But once you master this art, you grow as a person, a comic and you handle situations better. Whether it’s on stage or off, you learn the ability to read people. That’s what Sneha Suhas believes.

Suhas sits on the chair, eating her cake, in her favourite cafe in Kormangala.

“Comedy is my catharsis, but it grants you the chance to test your verbal abilities and skills at making people react.” she gushes. Dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, she digs into the vanilla cake with her fork.

At first glance, it is impossible to say that this 22 – year – old Indian girl, has made numerous audiences hold their sides with laughter on various occasions. She recollects the situations where she did crack jokes amidst friends and they still would not laugh. The embarrassment only escalates when it happens with complete strangers. But that didn’t stop her from practicing her jokes during shows. Suhas always told herself the typical comforting words : “I can do better the next time. If not today, it will be tomorrow. I’m in it for the long run.”

But those words played a key role in making her the successful comedienne she is today.  Suhas always knew that she had the funny bone. However, she was too shy to tell the jokes out loud. But she always thought about improving her jokes in her mind. That seems unbelievable, since she has done innumerable shows in her hometown, Bangalore.

Suhas is known for capturing the pulse of Bangaloreans, with her witty jokes on language barriers and traffic. She has released a lot of funny videos regarding the woes of Bangalores, making her relatable. Her Youtube videos have received an overwhelming response. She is slowly paving the way for female comediennes in Bangalore.

But unfortunately, Suhas has a stereotype she has to overcome. With the wave of feminism hitting the world, she says labeling her a ‘female comedian’ is wrong. She wants to be known for her talent, not her gender. She wants to be ‘Sneha Suhas the comedienne’, not  ‘Sneha Suhas, the female comedienne from Bangalore’.

“I see jokes as jokes, I have no reason why my gender should stop me from experimenting with what I think can be funny.” she states. She believes that this is a fair request. She doesn’t want to be stopped from telling certain jokes, just because she is a woman. The late comedienne Joan Rivers had confessed that she wasn’t allowed to say certain jokes because of her gender.

Suhas wants to break the same shackles society has bound women with. She wants to exercise her freedom of speech, to be able to say anything that’s funny. She doesn’t want her gender to restrict her. And indeed, she has exercised her right and the laughter of her audience can attest to her comedy skills.

She shares with me, the tricks and process involved in comedy. It’s not always spontaneous. It’s the comic’s talent to make it seem spontaneous. You don’t just pick up the mic and talk. It’s more intricate than that. Neither is it as simple as it looks. There is also a specific formula to write jokes, none of which the general public may always be aware of.

“The premise of your jokes, the detail which goes into the story is called the ‘set up’. This is usually written first.  The twist or what makes a person laugh  is called the ‘punchline’. The set up and punchline have to in sync,” she informs. “There is a premise, which is the broader topic, a set up which is a detail in the topic and then the punchline is the surprise.”

Suhas performing at a show
Suhas performing at a show

Initially, the young woman was a little daunted. It is mostly a group of men at shows, with very few female participating. She didn’t have many female mentors either. She was venturing into unchartered territory. The path less taken by. One would assume that her male counterparts would give her a tough time. But Suhas brushes off that assumption.

“They’re a really nice community in Bangalore and also very helpful. They tried to help me any way possible,”she said, gratefully.

But there is yet another big risk which comedians, irrespective of their gender have to face. Many comedians have been in trouble for taking jokes too far. For example, when AIB roast took place, millions of Indians were offended. Simultaneously, many extolled their effort. Nonetheless, Indians were offended. But Suhas draws a clear line between an insult and a joke. “As long as you and the other person who you have cracked the joke about can laugh together about it, it is not an insult.”

When questioned as to how she dealt with being blatantly rejected, she says developing a thick skin always helps.  Having previously worked in sales, she was accustomed to rejection. If one joke does not work, writing a better one or the same one in a better way is what kept her motivated.

Today, her name is mentioned in every newspaper in India.

“There are less than 20 female comediennes in India. It’s unfortunate, but I hope that more women will step out and try their hand at comedy,”she expresses.

Making people laugh is a blessing and a talent like no other. Pursuing a path as divergent as comedy, Suhas has proved that women can do absolutely anything and excel at it.

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