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The sandy shores of Goa will LOL tonight

Stand-up comedy in Goa is on a roll! After witnessing rib-tickling performances from some of the top names from the industry like Zakir Naik, Varun Thakur, Atul Khatri and Kenny Sebastian, among others, this time around, it is three ladies – Punya Arora, Urooj Ashfaq and Sonali Thakker, who will be doing what they are extremely confident of – making people laugh. And what could well make a strong case for negating sexism in the stand-up comedy industry, this is perhaps the first time that three female stand-up comedians are going to rule the stage in Goa.Her age might tempt you to not take her seriously, and this perhaps works in her favour, but Urooj Ashfaq is doing more than just breaking stereotypes. At 21, Urooj is clear about her priorities. A full-time stand-up comic and a writer on the side, Urooj has worked with some of the top names in the industry. This Navi Mumbai girl had a fun stint on Abish Matthew’s show, ‘Son of Abish’, full of what she calls “making each other laugh all day and order a lot of food and spend all day in one room just trying to think of jokes”, and believes that she has gained a lot from that experience. That everyone around her was patient and ready to answer her questions to help her get better was a massive added advantage.
On the other hand, for Punya Arora, a self proclaimed Punjabi by nature and South Indian at heart, but more importantly a professional photographer and a visiting faculty at Light & Life Academy in Ooty, a career in stand-up was a surprise. Punya says, “I’ve always enjoyed watching stand up and at some point (years ago, while studying photography), I was watching something on YouTube by this comedian abroad and he’d turned a simple observation into something funny and that really fascinated me. Also, throughout school, I’ve always been into mimicry, imitating my teachers and people with different accents.” An open mic in Bangalore was Punya’s first step into this industry and the response from the audience was amazing enough to get her hooked. She adds, “It was such a great feeling to see people’s faces light up and hear them laugh that I honestly didn’t want to stop.” For those unfamiliar with Punya, her style of comedy is observational, light-hearted and may involve more than one accent. Punya has been featured on every major stand-up stage across India and her work has been covered by print, radio, Buzzfeed and Huffingtonpost India.
Much like Punya, for Sonali Thakker too, a career in stand-up was not a well-planned one. After dabbling between pursuing studies in CA, dancing at celebrated choreographer Ashley Lobo’s Danceworx, and a few other things, watching a series of open mics in Mumbai tempted her to try it before she realised that she was bitten by the comedy bug. But what encouraged her to pursue it full time? “Paychecks!” she says with a wink, before adding, “I’m kidding. Or am I?”Stand-up comedy is still in its nascent stage in India and the three of them acknowledge it, thanks to the various challenges that they face on a daily basis. According to Punya, apart from making the impossible task of making people laugh, easy, with the comedians, the audience is evolving as well. “Certain topics just don’t go down that well at the moment but I’m sure we’ll get there eventually,” says Punya. Another hiccup, according to Sonali, is that people expect comedians to churn out new content every time, which is difficult. Sonali says, “It doesn’t work like that. If a comic has made you laugh your guts out for half hour, chances are he’s done that joke at least 50 times to get every word and his timing right to make you laugh that hard. Churning new content takes time.” And then there’s the classic issue of not being able to make a joke on a public platform because it offends people’s moral, religious or political sensibilities, says Urooj.In a country where women have to constantly fight sexism, stand-up comedy is still considered to be an offbeat career choice for men and perhaps more so for women. Urooj acknowledges this by saying, “Women are encouraged to look good, and not to express themselves. It makes a lot of people uncomfortable if a woman is up on stage joking and talking about her experience.” Punya, who is rather experienced at trying ‘offbeat’ career choices as she recounts her initial brush with photography, says, “When I started photography, that was considered an offbeat career choice for women and now it’s the most normal thing you see. Similarly, with comedy, I think there are fewer women right now, but there are definitely more coming in.”
But the times are changing and so are things in the industry. More people, regardless of gender, are taking a shot at open mics and that is encouraging. Sonali says, “Stand-up comedy may not be an art form that women tend to veer naturally towards. But it’s slowly changing. You have three of them performing in Goa, who would’ve thought of that?!” [H]

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