“When people say you are one of the famous female comedians in the country, I want to say back aloud that female is not a genre,” says stand-up artiste Shraddha Verma. Nothing is too big or small to be made fun of – from pondering on stereotypes and menstruation to making observations about the world – for Shraddha who manages to find humour in just about everything. “What can I say, I’ve always been vocal about my observations,” chuckles chirpy Shraddha, who effortlessly folds in humour into her observations on everyday life.
A student of law, Shraddha has always been open to exploring opportunities that the universe has to offer. Professionally a development practitioner, Shraddha is currently working at Jagriti Child and Health Concern Nepal and the National Coalition for Girl’s Rights. Aside from her profession, Shraddha can be found in open mic sessions and in several stand-up comedy platforms, making people laugh their hearts out. “I grew up watching George Carlin’s shows and was fascinated by the fact that humour and satire can actually bring change to people’s mindset,” she says.
Being in a society where people regard the upper social class position of doctor, engineer and pilot as the only standard professions, Shraddha was not surprised when she recognised that comedy is one of the least acclaimed professions in Nepal. “First of all, society does not perceive it as a profession (laughs). For the longest time I did not let my family know that I was doing comedy but when the videos started showing up, it was inevitable. In the initial days, people were hesitant about stand-ups as a career choice. However, people are gradually shifting their mindset and I can see more acceptance of stand-up comedy as a profession in today’s time,” she states.
The tug of war between freedom of speech and social taboos has been chronic. Because of this, many people get offended and find some jokes “out of boundary,” or “politically incorrect”. Shraddha, who has personally faced a number of backlashes for her content, believes that comedians do hold some responsibilities that should not be ignored or taken lightly. She explains, “Since many of the audiences are looking up to people who are on stage, I think the responsibility falls on the comedian that they should not be using the platform to attack any group of people/person or minorities”. Rather than taboo topics, she thinks what really offends people is the manner in which the content is portrayed. “Comedians reflect the issues of ethnicity, feminism and gender inequality on stage. The question then arises: are they depicting these topics progressively or in a regressive manner,” she observes.
Unlike on YouTube, people on social media post only a few bytes of videos and people start passing judgment without going through the full content. Shraddha has had her share of this experience. She recalls, “In one of the videos, I was talking about stereotypes and restrictions related to menstruation. Somebody uploaded just a snippet of that and some people found it offensive. I was using stereotypes as a satire. But when you do not upload the full context, the satire can seem condoning”.
Shraddha says that people get aggressive in the comment sections. People can go as far as to verbally harass female artists. “I even got a rape threat in the comment section just because I was speaking in English. I think it has a lot more to do with me being a female comedian than “the comedian” itself. On these platforms, people rarely pass mean or harassing comments on male artists.
Now, however she has realised, people will say what they want to anyway. “Being a performer, you become the landing place for people’s misconception about comedy, comedians and women. But like any other profession, as a woman, you need to work harder to prove yourself and always make sure you have a safe ride back home.” Because, she explains, making a joke in front of a hundred people is different from being cornered by one person who wants to abuse you. And abuse, advice and annoy they do because, “You just don’t know what’s going to trigger whom.”
Seen as a rising stand-up star to look out for, Shraddha believes stand-ups hold the power of social engineering. She also highlights that not every person goes through research papers and theories to understand the content fed by comedians on stage. She says, “How people view the world depends on the kind of entertainment media they consume. The kind of content comedians share has an impact on the young people who easily consume what’s presented to them”. She therefore believes that the content of comedy might impact youngsters in shaping their future as well.
Nepal is still new to stand-up comedy, but she foresees a glorious future ahead for this genre of art.