These Female Pakistani Comedians Are Laughing It Up In A Male-Dominated Genre

Posted on September 14, 2016 in Cake, Popsicle, Sexism And Patriarchy

When I was a kid, the only female comic I had any sense of wore a red frock, and paced across a Hana-Barbera background every afternoon. I’m talking about Lulu from “The Little Lulu show,” that used to run on Cartoon Network India in the late ’90s. This was before I was introduced to Jerry Seinfeld, or Johnny Lever, or Arshad Warsi, or the hundreds of other “funny guys” that dominated the genre of comedy. And by the time Kapil Sharma began flooding our living rooms with his overdone sexist gags, I was just about convinced that female comics were pretty much a figment of my cartoon-fed imagination. Until recently, when the world had to stand up and pay attention to the epic humour of Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, Sarah Silverman and a host of other funny women. Here in India, we’ve had memorable stand-up routines by queer feminist Pramada Menon, or comedian Aditi Mittal, who has been pretty vocal about her position as a woman doing comedy.

The world of humour has almost always relied on casual (if not full-blown) sexism, and these women are challenging it all by telling the jokes they’ve always wanted to hear. Add to that list the comedy troupe The Auratnaak Show. A portmanteau of “aurat” (the Urdu word for ‘woman’) and “khatarnaak” (Urdu for ‘dangerous’), the group seems to symbolize the kind of woman that most unsettles the Patriarchy – one who laughs.

Video: The Express Tribune.

Auratnaak comprises of a score of female comics from Lahore and Karachi. The collective includes several members of Girls at Dhabas, a Pakistani group that has been encouraging women to occupy public spaces. All of these women bring their own brand of politics to the microphone during their stand-up routine. For example, Faiza Saleem has written about her own personal experiences of reclaiming her body from a culture of shaming. Jaweria Khan brought her critique of marriage and matchmaking. The group also covers topics like menstruation, sex, sexuality and more. So when they returned for their second performance this September, it marked an exciting time for women’s comedy in Pakistan.

The Auratnaak Show was hosted on Sep. 3, 2016 by Lahore-based indie bookshop The Last Word, and described as “90 minutes of EPIC comedy” in a Facebook post. Naturally, the line-up had everyone in splits, and it’s awesome to see them maintaining their successful streak from a few months ago. It was back in June when they put on their first rib-tickling show, which received a rather positive response on Twitter:

But it was really interesting to see how the existence of an all-female comic show prompted a deeper conversation about women and their relationship to humour:

Everybody you know is bound to have made or at the very least heard of those tired old ‘wise-cracks’ about the crazy girlfriend, or the nagging wife, or the ditzy doting mom. Jokes have played a larger role in cementing toxic gender stereotypes than we give credit for, and let’s not even get into how jokes have perpetuated a culture of sexual assault. “Jokes allow you to deal with your fears, and pain,” said comedian Aditi Mittal. And that means that women approach humour in a way that is certainly informed (if not defined) by their gendered experiences. So it’s important to have jokes that are consciously feminist in their attempt to undo patriarchy’s firm grasp on laughter. But it’s equally important to be able to connect with people. As Girls at Dhaba say:

It is clear that groups like Auratnaak are going to have an impact on a number of things. They’re breaking into a largely male-dominated space, they’re punching up at the patriarchy, and they’ve even showing us that comedy is absolutely the place for women to be.