For too long, the queer community has been a punchline in terrible ‘comedy’ performances, films, and shows. Even today, we see terrible artists treat cross-dressing or feminine gestures as a gag on mainstream television shows. It is appalling and it definitely acts as a barrier to queer phobia being eradicated from society as the evil that it is. What we need is not just better comedy, but also more conscious comics. And who better to talk about the community, than those who belong to it?
Here are six queer artists who joke about everything under the sun- without believing in punching down- and leave your stomach hurting from laughing too much!
@queernaari: Ritushree Panigrahi is one of India’s first openly Transgender Women Stand-up comedians. When on stage, she jokes about her personal journey of coming out of the closet as a Transwoman and the social stigmas surrounding her identity and journey. As an incredibly active Twitter user, she freely expresses her opinions (especially on politics). Once someone on Twitter told her that satire is not a Transwoman’s cup of tea- and from that day she has made it not just that but also her bread, butter, Nutella, and wine!
As lawyer, DE&I professional, Queer rights Activist, Columnist, Corporate Speaker and Stand Up Comedian, Ritushree wears many hats. She has performed in many well-known Comedy clubs and events in India. She has also recently performed at the Kashish Queer Film Festival Closing and Award Night. Currently, she is touring across India with her one-hour solo stand-up comedy show “Coming Out”.
Talking about the need for more queer stand-up artists, she said, “Historically, comedy was always at the expense of the caricature of marginalized society. For long we have seen, and still see , most Stand-Up comedians punch down with Homophobic and Transphobic jokes. Some- like Dave Chapple- also win Grammys by doing this. These jokes have traumatised the community for a long and it’s time the Queer artists take the place and tell the world their stories and their point of view. Till the community doesn’t come forward and take back the Mic, no one is going to speak for us…Also the Queer community needs to step forward and show their support for Queer artists.”
@goaty_einar: A pansexual artist, Goaty Einar uses the pronouns she, her, and that bitch (Lizzo would be proud!). She has done a few sets previously in comedy ladder’s Queerrated comedy. Her comedic process is very much like Mary Poppins’ anthem about a spoonful of sugar making the medicine go down- for people do find it easier to be receptive to others when they are laughing.
Giving the example of doctors who distract little infants while giving them injections, Goaty explained how she thinks about connecting with the audience during her shows, “All they will feel is “it was fun ..I laughed a lot…I didn’t know when they put the medicine into me…but I can feel the change inside “. Comedy is therefore an easier and safer medium to communicate about our community loudly.”
@houseofnorohna: Navin Noronha’s journey as a comic is extremely closely tied with his public embracement of his queerhood for believe it or not, he actually came out to the audience in an open mic event in 2014. Navin, however, did not do this for shock value, but because he saw the community being laughed at- instead of being laughed with. He felt that there was a need for queer comics to take back the narrative, and he did exactly that with his sets, which he has performed in India and abroad.
Off the stage, Navin works on many projects as a queer consultant and writer, but he is perhaps best known for his podcast, ‘Keeping It Queer’ which touches upon various issues concerning the LGBTQIA+ community. Navin believes in using the stage that he stands on- literal and metaphorical- to raise awareness and highlight important conversations and perspectives. Therefore, he makes sure to bring diverse guests to his show. Unlike a lot of cis-het comedians who have a lot more privilege than him, Navin is using his platform to pass on the mic. And to deliver punchline after punchline, so that you are laughing, unlearning, and learning at the same time.
@shorthairedbrownqueer: Prarthana is a 24 year old queer content creator on YouTube and other social media platforms. The content that she makes aims at offering a genuine perspective on queer and desi experiences along with suffusing a hearty amount of humour within the story telling process. She has previously worked with global companies such as Buzzfeed, Grazia, LookUpLive. She has also spoken at sessions by various colleges and organizations centered around LGBTQIA+ sensitization and education. She wears a lot of other hats as well, as she is also an entrepreneur, an ardent reader, and an enthusiastic baker!
Sharing her process, Prarthna explained, “Humour has been my number one defence mechanism for as long as I can remember. It feels like the most effective one too because it’s hard for someone to make you feel bad about something that you’re already laughing about. If you took my queerness and my humour away, you’d be taking away about half of my personality so they are both very close to who I am as a person.
I think queer comedy helps bridge this gap of isolation we feel as queer folks. We always feel so alone in our thoughts and feelings. Seeing jokes about your deep dark secrets can feel so freeing. It’s exactly how I felt when I first came out and saw youtubers cracking jokes about lesbians moving in together too fast or always wearing plaid shirts.
Serious discourse is endlessly important. But humorous discourse on queer and desi experiences is so rare. Which is part of why I love doing it so much!”
@vasuprimlani: As a comedienne, environmentalist, marathon runner, and somatic therapist, Vasu Primlani wears many hats- and each suits her better than the last. This over-achieving queer artist is amazing at observational comedy, and her sets are usually packed with tight punches delivered one after the other. She often discusses socially relevant issues in her sets and takes the audience on a journey through her perspective. This globe trotter has performed all over the world including Sydney, Dubai, New York City, and Mumbai!
When Vasu is on stage, the laughter echoing in the hall is recognition enough of her immense talent, but this star shines equally bright off the stage as well. Amongst the many honors that have been bestowed upon her for her environmental work are the California Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (2003), the U.S. EPA Region 9 Environmental Achievement Award (2003), the Global Ashoka Innovators for the Public Social Entrepreneur fellowship (2004), and the Government of India’s Nari Shakti Award (2015).
@swati.sachdeva95: Sassy and hilarious, Swati Sachdeva started out as a comic in 2017, when she would treat her sets as a hobby. It was the lockdown that ended up giving her the time and space to concentrate on her writing, and we were all better for it because she came out- literally- with one of India’s most hilarious stand-up sets. Swati went viral recently for a video that captures this legendary performance which she begins by coming out to the audience as bisexual.
The jokes that she goes on to deliver are interested in more than just visibility- they are carefully crafted punches that give an insight into her perspectives and experiences as a member of the queer community in India. She talks of bi-invisibility, being in straight-passing relationships, and familial issues. As of today, this video has more than 1.3 crore views on YouTube. However, Swati is far from a one-hit wonder for she continues to engage her fans on stage and off it through her social media presence. As far an up-and-coming comics go, she is the one to watch out for!