By Persis Shanker and Raven Lim
The stand-up scene is finally taking off in Asia. New faces are coming up, including women who are finding their voices though comedy. We still have a lot to catch up with the West but it is a great start.
Growing up in Singapore, the comedy we saw on our screens was generally slapstick and the epitome of funny was a man in drag. If there were women around, they were usually foils to men or their biggest cheerleaders. There was a stigma attached to funny women who are usually portrayed as loud and undesirable. Mothers used to chide their girls to hold back and not laugh out loud as that was seen as “unladylike”
Things have come a long way since and technology has changed the way comedy is seen and consumed all over the world. These days, we no longer have to travel halfway across the globe to see our favorite comedians at Comedy Cellar or Gotham Comedy Club. YouTube can take us there. Instead of just relying on promoters and venues, many comedians are using the Internet as a platform to promote themselves.
And that’s how Tomboy Tirade, an extension of the lifestyle site Tomboy Tarts, was created. We realized there is a lack of representation of Asian Women in podcasting and we decided to create our own comedy podcast to make ourselves heard. Three years later, we are still going strong three years and Tomboy Tirade has grown into Asia’s biggest and only all-female comedy chat podcast.
Among our interviewees, we have featured many upcoming and established female comedians in Asia and beyond, including Joanna Sio (Hong Kong), Sharul Channa (Singapore), Aditi Mittal (India) and Jenny Yang (USA).
As we Asian women get a foothold in the industry, we are still facing many challenges and doubters. It can be as simple as “Can women be funny?” We have interviewed many female comedians on Tomboy Tirade and they are equally frustrated by how they have to answer the same questions over and over again. Do they think that the women are funny? Or whether they’re as funny as men? Or whether it is harder to do comedy if you’re a woman? Or why there are fewer women than men in the industry?
But we only want to be comedians, who just happen to be women. And we do talk about a variety of issues from politics and social commentary to sports and technology, not just the “women stuff” – though we should make fun of periods and sex, if that ‘s what we wish to. Nobody asked the male comedians the same questions: Are they funny? Or whether they’re funny as women. Or whether it is harder to do comedy if they are men? Or why there are more men than women in the industry?
Too often we saw producers slotting in one woman in the show just to fulfill the gender diversity quota. Sometimes it can feel like women carry the weight of their gender on their shoulders every time they walk on stage. If our jokes go flat or we bomb on stage or our humor just doesn’t appeal to you, it ‘s like we failed all women. “Amy Schumer is not funny,” they say. “ That’s why women can’t be comedians.”
Dealing with hecklers is part of the job but whether you are up and coming future star or one of the biggest names in the business, female comedians still are faced with “Show Your Tits!”type of classic heckling, designed to shut us down. Amy Schumer dealt with the heckler brilliantly at a recent show in Stockholm, having the man ejected from the venue with much approval from the audience. We can’t help but wonder: How successful do we women have to be in order to be from exempted from such sexism?
It’s a long and tough road but thankfully we are no longer walking alone. Being part of supportive communities have invigorated us and we are inspired many female comedians whom we are interviewed and worked with Through Tomboy Tirade, we hope to be a voice for funny women from Asia and all over the world.
Persis Shankar and Raven Lim make up the team of cool, passionate tomboy gals who can tell their lipsticks from their brogues at the drop of a fedora hat. Based in Malaysia and Singapore, they co-founded Tomboy Tarts, a lifestyle site in Asia for women celebrating the classic tomboy spirit and home to Tomboy Tirade, Asia’s biggest and only all-female comedy chat podcast. From comedy, fashion, travel and lifestyle to media and technology, Tomboy Tarts provides a smart, witty and well-curated collection of stories, appealing to the new cool woman of today.