Sumukhi Suresh, a writer, showrunner, comic and founder of Motormouth, was part of the first edition of Women Leading Change in India.
During the virtual event
, she spoke about stereotypes related to a career in stand-up comedy for a woman, how she reacted to trolls, Indian advertising, her opinion on fairness creams, and more…
Here’s the full transcript of our chat with Suresh.
When you told people you’re pursuing a career in stand-up comedy, what were the stereotypical responses you received?
I got the standard ‘what’s a comic’, ‘why a comic’, ‘is being a comedian a career’ responses. So, that’s the first problem I faced.
The bigger concern or stereotype I ended up facing was during the audience interactions. When you’re doing shows, the audience’s response or laughs are much lesser for a girl. They take some time to warm up to you. Earlier, I had more men in the audience who didn't relate to what I was saying.
There’s a notion that between a boy and a girl, the former is supposed to be funnier. A lot of people say that it’s changing, but I’m not sure it is. When Clubhouse was at its peak, I was in a room where they were talking about dating a comedian. The girls were cool with dating a comedian, but the boys were apprehensive. They were wondering how they could impress someone who would be funnier than them. People think this, and it’s insane.
The good part came a little later when more women started watching the shows. Now my TG has a lot more women and I love that. It’s not that I don’t want men to come. The men who come have a lot of fun too, but the women enjoy my sets more.
During corporate shows, which usually consist of men (unless it’s a Women’s Day event), the bombing I get is insane. Slightly older men are troublesome when it comes to audiences. As comics, we are used to bombing and so it doesn’t hurt us. What hurts is if the content is women-based and the men don’t like it.
Comedians and celebs have facing trolls. As a woman comic, do you face more of it? Is it something that has increased with the rise of virtual events?
The increase in virtual events didn’t increase trolling, but anything on social media attracts it. For a lot of girls who are putting out stuff on Instagram or YouTube, the biggest parameter of success is the hate they get. If we get a lot of hate, it means that the video is doing well. If my comments are only attracting positive comments, it means that only my closed group is watching. When you read comments like ‘chup kar bhens’ (be quiet, buffalo), it signals that the boys have come. Boys hate sharing a lot more. I positively take these comments and look for those where people have called me a bhens (buffalo).
Have you received any kind of threats, especially for a joke that a man found distasteful? How did you tackle that?
I have received plenty of them and i reacted by eating ice cream!
Did it scare you?
The first time it did. But eventually, you realise that when it comes to men trolling and threatening you online, it’s all coming from a vacuum.
As of now, I have taken the liberty to believe that it won’t affect me, but I keep OML (the team that manages me) informed so that my security is taken care of during live shows. But, most people who troll women online are those who have inherent competitiveness and wonder how women have the right to talk.
What they don’t realise is that women are also competitive and you can’t take over the space that they have rightfully earned.
How can women comedians break the social conditioning that has existed forever?
By turning up. That’s the only way out. The biggest piece we can do is find a space for more women to come and speak and do comedy. Right now, comedy shows are restricted to metros because it’s easier access for girls. What about girls from other cities? Some girls are not allowed to be out after 6 PM. I’m able to do so because I don’t live with my parents. If I was living in Nagpur with them, the number of permissions required would be insane.
These are the basic problems that a lot of girls are going through and the reason why we haven’t heard half the raw or fresh voices that we can.
We need changes at the operational level. The ones who have the privilege of access to do this, have to turn up!
Your social media pages show that you’re working with a lot of brands. What kind of associations do you look at? Have you turned down any?
I don’t do fairness creams, and they haven’t approached me anyway. There’s no point because we know it doesn’t work! I have tried them and I’m waiting for my fairness. And what is fairness anyway? If I look like a European, you’ll be scared and wonder if my iron levels are falling.
In terms of brands, I enjoy working with the ones who like me to do character work or take the satirical route. I usually like brands that trust a comic and the jokes. We know how it is to be funny. There are some brands, that want to tell us what jokes to crack. My response to them is that I don’t tell them what their TG should be, so why must they interfere with my jokes? I have that luxury right now, but if I need the money, I’ll start listening to them. However, no fairness creams in any case!
A lot of comedians have been poking fun at the advertising industry with sets around it. Do you indulge in this?
Parodying an ad is a given, and you have to do it. But trolling an ad is a big no.
I don’t think that’s fun anymore. It worked a few years ago. I’m sure 20 years later people will parody us. It’s a thing about generations.
I’d be upset if someone parodies the Cadbury girl ad
. It was such a nice thought. You can’t parody the Fevicol ads too, which were so much fun.
You announced the launch of your content company, Motormouth, a few months ago. What’s the idea with that and how’s it progressing?
The whole concept of Motormouth is to create content centred around female characters. It’s as simple as that. One of the things that I love doing is creating characters.
Motormouth aims to write movies, shows and branded content, with the eventual goal of becoming a production house.
Writing a campaign will be nice, and we hope to do it soon. The first piece we were involved in was co-producing Samaira Shaikh’s stand-up special. I directed it as well. We have a movie that we are writing for Tushar Hiranandani, who is the director of Saand Ki Aakh. We are also working on something with Rhea Kapoor.
With inputs from Eularie Saldanha.