Funny Women Are Everywhere

South Asian comics are transforming a scene into a community, creating their own shows, and holding each other accountable.

Aditi Natasha Kini

September 25, 2019

Funny Women Are Everywhere
Maya Deshmukh and Arti Gollapudi (Diwali Party)

I’m slouched in the corner of a New York comedy club, where they banish singles and reporters, next to a family of five Brits. The older man is blocking my view. I was here to see Facial Recognition Comedy, an L.A.-based group of South Asian female comics. The family welcomes the first comic, Shazia Mirza. Yet, when she jokes about whiteness, or Britishness, or both, the family exchanges glances. 

South Asian women are having more than a moment: from Aparna Nancherla, known for her standup and writing on Late Night with Seth Meyers, to Lilly Singh, a YouTube star with a late night show, there are more South Asian women in comedy than ever before. The movement is ground-up, as local comics transform a scene into a community, create shows, and hold each other accountable.

Yet, it’s not easy — the industry is known for cutthroat competition and gender oppression, and it’s difficult to translate non-white experiences for mainstream audiences. Former progressive icons such as Aziz Ansari and Dave Chappelle fume against “political correctness” and “allies” feature token minorities to check off diversity requirements. It’s a long road ahead.