With more women in the scene, Nepal’s standup comedy sector is getting rid of misogyny and sexism

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During the initial phase of Rajina Shrestha’s standup comedy career, she was frustrated with men and their sexist misogynistic jokes. Whenever she heard one during an open mic or a show, she usually walked off as she would not feel comfortable. But as time passed, she realised that walking away from it was not the answer.

“I realised that walking away from it did nothing. It was then that I started to tell the boys what they were joking about was not funny and it was problematic. I started policing people,” says Shrestha who has been in the standup comedy scene in Nepal since 2017.

For a while, she called out people for their racist and sexist jokes. But after a while when things did not change the way she had hoped for, she stopped policing people. 

Yet, she realises thanks to people like her, things are changing. With more women in the scene, male comics are starting to get the perspective and feedback they have lacked in the past. While some still make shrewd racist and sexist jokes that demean women, many have started to take their advice and have started to change the way they write jokes. But that said, women feel there needs to be more of them in the standup comedy scene.

Adding new perspectives

Yozana Magar performing at The Storyyellers Comedy Specials. Screengrab via YouTube

Aayush Shrestha, who started standup comedy alongside Rajina Shrestha says the feedback given to him by women has been incredibly helpful. He says that, as men, he and many like him, lack perspective about different things.

“The exposure to women’s mindset has built our understanding and adds information to our material. As a matter of fact, the exposure to and conversation with any comic who’s lived a different life than us adds so much more to our understanding,” he says.

Keeping that in mind, he says he has changed a lot of jokes that he wrote early in this standup comedy career.

One joke he cut out from his skit was about the patriarchy being bad for men. After being told how bad it sounded by Shailee Basnet, one of the first women to do standup comedy in Nepal, he decided to remove it.

“I talked about what I thought feminism should be like. But, Shailee didi told me how it would not hold ground in an argument and that I should change it. I’ve been trying different ways to write the joke and made small progress but for now, it’s not ready,” says Aayush.

There is a feeling among women comics in the standup comedy sector that a lot of men who get into the scene are quite naive. Yozana Thapa Magar, a standup comedy artist who does a TV show with Aayush, says that when she approaches young comics and tell them how their jokes are wrong, most of them look at her cluelessly.

“Maybe it’s because of Nepal’s patriarchal society that these boys think it’s normal to say things. They come to me and ask with all curiosity why it can’t be said. I feel sometimes these jokes or comments come out of naivety, which is why I and other female comics I know try and explain to them where and why they were wrong. A lot of the boys listen which is quite nice,” she says.

Understanding limitations

But, there are some who do not. And there is nothing much the women can do about that. 

“We can’t stop someone from saying something. It’s their freedom of expression and we can’t be going to people and be moral police because that would be wrong,” says Magar.

Rajina Shrestha says most comics in the Nepali standup comedy scene do not know the impact their jokes have on people. Most of the standup comedy shows and open mics take place in a room full of men, most of whom are tone-deaf. This means if there is a woman in the room, she will surely feel uncomfortable and even triggered by a naive joke made by a man based on his perception.

“I get that there is grey area in comedy so I can’t go to someone and tell them don’t do the joke. But I can tell them that it’s distasteful and that he shouldn’t be doing it. But, in the end, the decision rests on the comic,” says Rajina Shrestha.

But when these jokes are put up online, most of them go viral and the comic faces trial by social media.

Aayush Shrestha himself has faced this. In 2020, he made a rape joke that did not go well with people. There were calls to cancel him. But, he apologised for it, faced the backlash and since then seems to have developed a conscience about not doing the same mistakes again.

Welcoming more women

Rajina Shrestha performing at NexUs Nepal.

Women feel that this will stop if the standup comedy scene has more women. Currently, there are only a handful of women who are doing it. There are new women coming up, but many of the, stop after doing one or two open mics.

Silvia Raut, an upcoming standup comic, says this is mostly because there is not much encouragement for them. She says that while the scene in Kathmandu is good, comics away from Kathmandu find it really hard to find space.

“Even if they find a space, their family members don’t support them and that is what’s stopping more women to get into comedy,” says Raut.

Magar says they want to change that. She hopes discourses and women seeing other women thriving in the scene will help bring more women in the scene.

“We want more women from diverse backgrounds because the most voices we have, I think the more change we can create,” she says.

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Pant is a journalist currently working for Onlinekhabar. He writes on movies and music, travel and mountains, and culture among others.

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