Sindhu Vee, Lilly Singh and Mindy Kaling. These are some of the names that often come to mind when one thinks of a brown female comedian. But closer to home, there's a new generation of South Asian Australian women coming up in the comedy scene, ready to challenge the stereotype that brown women aren't funny – and make us laugh while they're at it.
'Brown Women Comedy' is back at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for the second year, with six comedians taking centre stage across five shows over the Easter long weekend. They are Urvi Majumdar, Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, Daizy Maan, Amna Bee, Kripa Krithivasan and Moose Jattana.
We spoke to the show's curator, Daizy Maan (also the co-founder of the Australian South Asian Centre) about the stellar lineup, what to expect from the show, and how comedy can be used to tackle cultural stereotypes and taboos.
How was the idea of 'Brown Women Comedy' born?
There are more than 540 comedy acts at Melbourne International Comedy Festival and only three to four South Asian Australian women comedians. This [lack of representation] is common across the arts and startup scene across Australia.
Through Australian South Asian Centre we're always looking for ways to amplify and engage South Asian founders and creatives. I came across a few comedians and had engaged them to MC events in the startup scene as part of my day job and it made the events so much more fun, especially during lockdown on Zoom. Eventually my co-founder Sehar Gupta and I thought, 'Why don't we bring together all the comedians together and put on a show?'.
We came up with the name 'Brown Women Comedy' and decided to go ahead and register it for Melbourne International Comedy Festival. We had no experience in production or comedy, but the show sold out with 180 people attending in 2022, so we figured we might as well go big in 2023 and do a 600-person show.
What do you hope audiences take away from the comedy show?
I think art and entertainment is a powerful tool to tackle taboo issues in our conservative community, and humour goes a long way. Our comedians touch on topics like getting divorced, coming out as LGBTQIA+, racism and growing up in conservative families.
There's often a misconception that female comedians aren't funny. On top of that, a lot of people don't expect South Asian women to be comedians. What are your thoughts on these stereotypes?
I think the fact that our event sold out in 2022 and had rave reviews says it all. The concept that they're not funny is predominately perpetuated by men, and the scene is dominated by men. Often the best comedy touches on real-life experiences that most people aren't willing to talk about. Being South Asian, there's usually an added layer of "Shit, what will my family think?!"
'Brown Women Comedy' creates a space for these comedians to flourish. Last year one of our comedians said it was the best audience she had ever performed too. The audiences are rooting for their success and they love the humour.
What was involved in the process of curating the comedian lineup?
We've normally seen them perform previously or seen some of their work. It doesn't always have to be stand-up since we're all about giving newcomers a shot. We love raw honesty, relatability and the more besharam (shameless) the better.
What can we expect from your set?
My set is based on South Asian superstitions that are passed down like family heirlooms, coming from a Punjabi family and our obsession with height. I initially thought this set would only appeal to other South Asians, but I recently performed it and was surprised to find out the exact same superstitions are held by Irish and Greek people! So it's more universal than I expected.
When did you start doing comedy?
This is my first time. I hadn't planned on being part of the lineup – that happened rather last minute. Producing the show became a full-time job towards the lead up and I thought if I'm putting this much effort into all the production, why don't I give it a crack and add myself to the line-up? I'm on a career sabbatical so it gave me a creative challenge. I do make comedy videos on TikTok, but they're all in Punjabi, so it's been fun creating a mish-mash of Punjabi/English and taking it from social media to an in-person experience.
What sorts of reactions have you received towards your comedy so far?
I've only done three open mic nights, and it's been a mix. Most open mic shows are in a pub late at night and I've generally been the only female amongst a sea of white men – it's a little intimidating to be honest. The South Asian friends and women in general love the set. I'm not a professional comedian, it's just something I'm doing for fun at the moment. I think everyone should perform a five-minute set at least once in their life.
Are there any South Asian women comedians who you look to for inspiration?
I love Sindhu Vee and more locally Amna Bee is hilarious. I love how they turn their life experiences into comedy, even the tough things that no one else wants to talk about.
Tickets to 'Brown Women Comedy' from April 6 to April 12 at the 2023 Melbourne International Comedy Festival can be purchased here.