Their influences range from Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry to Sundeep Rao and Sanjay Manacktala. While one is a professional photographer, the other comes armed with a degree in social work from TISS, Mumbai. While one would never use swear words during an act, the other would speak on anything and no subjects would be taboo. Different as they are, the one thing that unites them both is the fact that Punya Arora and Shrirupa Sengupta are both comediennes who are taking the city by storm. In what was an entirely male dominated field in Bengaluru up until a few years ago, the girl brigade have been making their presence felt through their fresh new stand up acts.
In spite of its many open mic shows, why don’t the funny women of Bengaluru step up? Is their something about stand up culture in the city that makes it unfriendly to women? Shrirupa says, “For the longest time the female perspective has been missing in stand up comedy in India. So while, that is not being deliberately unfriendly, a stand up comedienne may just end up having to weave around quite a bit just to get accepted. Then of course there is this insanely intelligent (NOT!) idea of telling them “You got/won this/that because you are female!” “Women have it easy” “Women are not funny” Make some rather sexist jokes and then go “Hey! Be a sport!” but if a woman says a joke calling out the man, it becomes “Hey! Feminazi!” It is of course up to the comedienne to choose between being homicidal or humorous in response.”
While both women are confident that the stage is set more and more comediennes to emerge, it did not even occur to Punya that she was doing something particularly brazen when she signed up for her first open mic show. She says, “Being the quintessential Punjabi, I am very talkative and would always crack jokes and tell funny stories when I was with friends. I did not realise that what I was doing was ‘comedy’ until I watched a few online videos of comedy shows. The best part is the response of the audience. In comedy, that’s the only factor – there isn’t a boss giving you feedback at the end of the month. I really think that more girls are getting on stage and there is really no reason for them not to.”
Both women are strong in their opinions that jokes on how terrible women are no longer funny. “How long are you going to tell the same joke?” laughs Punya. Shrirupa elaborates, “When a woman says “I cant do comedy”, what she actually may be saying is “I cant do that kind of comedy”. This stereotype automatically breaks as the scenes mature and comedians start finding their voice and subject matters which go beyond the easy laughs. It really depends on personal comfort and what women relate to. I, for instance would never be comfortable milking a cow or doing a medical examination. Similarly in comedy when women watch stand up, they may not feel they relate to what they are seeing, or even want to do it.”...