So what makes a good humour story? Can women write humour successfully? How hard is it for woman humour writers to survive? The panel called Tongue in Cheek: Women Writing humour focused on how women writers are changing the course of humour writing. Here are some highlights from a discussion featuring speakers Naomi Datta, Shunali Khullar Shroff, Diksha Basu and Rehana Munir, moderated by Sharin Bhatti Nair at the Women’s Writers Fest in Mumbai.
“Writing humour is no funny business,” moderator Sharin Bhatti Nair starts the conversation with a hard-hitting truth. “If women speakers on this panel are any testament, you know they have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to break gender stereotypes and societal norms to write openly and wittily about the world as we see and imagine,” she continued. “The world is becoming exceedingly unfunny. The economy, society or government are facing a crisis. Finding the fine line between humour and offending someone is never an easy task. So how do writers keep their innate humour intact?” asked Nair.
“By reading newspapers!” Naomi Datta, a television producer and writer, replies to the question wittily. “Twitter is also a medium to keep my humour on check. Over the years Twitter has now become a spectator sport for me. Earlier I used to be actively involved, choosing which Khan’s side am I on. But now it has increasingly become a space for people to fight over silly matters. While sometimes it gives me material to laugh. I don’t really engage much. It’s the best time to understand satire because as a country we don’t understand it too much. So I think it’s a great time to be a humour writer,” she explained.
Talking about her book How to be a Likeable Bigot, first anti-self-help book, Datta further expressed, “Since I spent a lot of time productively on social media I thought I could write a book on different aspects of social media. I wrote about parenting, work environment, journalism, work culture and management guide, etc. My first guide was how to contribute nothing to team meetings and still be figured as a productive person.”
Lovely to meet @shunalishroff @sharinbhatti #RehanaMunir @dikshabasu for a fun panel on why women writing humour need to be taken seriously. They were all very erudite – I cracked a few jokes 🙂
PS – diksha's little girl decided to join the panel and that was the best moment pic.twitter.com/YatDq9lD0G
— Naomi Datta (@nowme_datta) February 29, 2020
Surviving the internet as a woman writer
Is it a good time to survive any discourse on the internet as a woman writer with a funny point of view?” asked Nair. Shunali Khullar Shroff added, “Can we call it dark times? Yes, humour at dark times. Humour has always been a coping mechanism for me. And, this template becomes your life. So even at a funeral, you are getting a little maudlin, you crack a joke in your head and look like an obnoxious fool. So the reservoir of satire opens up like a Pandora’s box because it’s just getting worse and worse out there.”
Very recently, Shroff was targeted on Twitter after she took a dig at a religious leader for saying menstruating women who cook food for their husbands are reborn as dogs.
— Kiran Manral (@KiranManral) February 29, 2020
Are women who write humour taken seriously
“Interestingly, if I were to write about a young woman who hated her mother or had a traumatised relationship, it’d probably win awards and get shortlisted. But I think there are more fun and more precise ways to look at the world. Writing humour, which is incredibly difficult, but when women do it suddenly it’s subjected to critical analysis,” said Diksha Basu.
“And, if you are a man writing humour it immediately becomes interesting to look at poverty through the lens of humour. But if a woman writes it, everyone is waiting for the main character to get married,” said the very sassy Basu who was accompanied by her lovely daughter on the stage.
“For women writers, it’s difficult, it definitely gets dismissed but maybe ultimately we get to have the last laugh. Because Shunali and my sales figures are a lot higher than our male counterparts,” the author of The Windfall claimed.
“I find fiction liberating. It makes me feel like playing in the field and it’s a great experience. The element of play which might not come through in commissioned jobs, a novel gives me that space. It makes me feel alive — humour or otherwise, ” said Rehana Munir who ran a bookshop in Bombay in the mid-2000s. She writes a weekly humour column in HT Brunch.