The Informer
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The Informer

Nepalese Stand-up Comedy as a Gendered Phenomenon

Comedy is an interdisciplinary and most favoured medium of entertainment for people of all ages. The comedy genre ranges from cartoons and movies favoured by children to the adults’ choice of late-night shows, movies and programs. Nowadays, the most popular shows among them are stand-up comedies. This style of the program has been a linguistic art of performing comedy to entertain people of different ages, races, sexes and other different so-called divisions in human society. In Nepal, stand-up has been the most viewed and liked show among different age groups but primarily popular among the youth in the country. The themes for Nepalese stand-ups range, if observed, from politics, activism, fashion, marital life, drugs, general livelihood to many others. However, this short monologue, in Nepal, has been chiefly a ‘boys club’.

Languages generate meanings and discourses (narratives, metaphors, rhetoric); whatever the comedy genre uses also produce meanings to the societal elements. Maintaining gender inequality has been foundational through the process of humour and laughter throughout history. Furthermore, the intersectionality of identities such as race, class and sexuality play an essential role in asserting the gendered roles provided by society through humour. Thus, the discourses uttered in the comedy genre tend to enforce the constructed identity of males and females in society. On the verge of making the stand-up more humorous and full of laughter, the comedians think of criticising the gendered roles and reinforce them to the audience. These discourses are more vulnerable when technologically mediated, where a comedian is not allowed to choose the audiences.

Regrettably, how Nepalese comedians collaboratively co-construct or criticise gender roles in spoken discourse is yet to be fully explored. Despite the developing research on language and gender, the strategies comedians use in their discourse to perform gender are still almost unexplored. Comedians, not only in Nepal but worldwide, disseminate two ideas: masculine and feminine ideas. If closely analysed, comedy monologues in Nepal contain many gendered stereotypes. Being a monologue, the audiences’ interruption is not anticipated, and hence, it becomes a uni-directional flow of ideas. No ideas exchanged in this process has a significant impact on meaning-making, considering the intellectual level of the audience.

One of the prominent gender stereotypes the Nepalese comedians use is ‘motherhood’, which enhances the mother’s celebrated nature of selfless nature. However, it is not limited to a mother’s love or the selfless acts she performs but moves beyond them. The stereotypical mother in the stand-up comedy is reserved, put together, stay at home, selflessly protecting her children at all costs and does what she can in the best interest of the child’s development. If the child is not at their best, the mother is at fault. Stereotypical Nepalese mothers have a do-it-all attitude and never complain about their role. This leads to the housewife/spouse stereotypes that come up in comedians’ specials. A wife’s habits and the food she cooked are also easy targets for jokes for the patriarchal audience. The relations between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are organised similarly to celebrate the gender roles defined by the Nepalese society.

Photo by Kabita Darlami from Pexels

Moreover, the stereotypical housewife has overlapping qualities of the mother. The housewife always presents herself flawlessly, provides for her husband, stays at home, and is selfless. These jokes based on typical Nepalese motherhood and wife communicate the meaning of a gendered Nepalese society through humour and even co-construct and embolden the meaning of gender roles in the Nepalese society.

Another overused stereotype in Nepalese stand-up is the successful working woman within a relationship. When a woman is successful career-wise or monetarily, it is frequently seen and depicted through the jokes as threatening to males. It is portrayed that an independent woman who does not require a male’s financial support will hinder men’s masculinity. If the successful woman is single, she potentially scares away men because they fear having their masculinity stymied. This portrayal of a scared husband is one of the famous punch lines used by Nepalese comedians. This relates to the creation of marriage as an institution in Nepalese tradition. Women are referred to and depicted as crazy in Nepalese stand-up monologues. This cultural definition of crazy involves acting irrationally, being overly emotional, and hysterical, which are taken as punch lines in the jokes. Similarly, Nepalese women are put into a cultural double-standard of sexual purity. ‘Slut’ is used on girls to create a power structure out of sexual criteria on the purity and pollution scale through the jokes. Women with multiple partners are sluts, but men who do the same things do not receive multiple labels. This is common among the jokes in the stand-up monologues.

Males are similarly subjected to a plethora of stereotypes as well. First, men are culturally expected to be providers for their wives and children. The most common stereotype among the Nepalese comedians is that men have to trick a significant other into marriage and believes he has to trick a woman into voluntarily filling that role for him. Furthermore, men are culturally assumed to be motivated by sex. If men sleep around, they are praised in some societies because they are assumed to be fuelled by sex. Lastly, Nepalese men stereotypically are not vulnerable. They are socially not allowed to show emotion or weakness. This stereotype is the tough macho man.

These stereotypes show up in the comedic material of the stand-up specials in Nepal. The comedians construct their humour in ways that debate the validity of the stereotypes and sometimes reinforce them. Gender is a complex topic; thus, attempting to challenge a comedian stereotype might implicitly reinforce another. Many jokes are elaborate and involve multiple punch lines. Comedians start with one topic and string as much humour as they can into the logical progression of the joke. In doing so, they involve more stereotypes. The role reversals, sarcasm, and storytelling tactics used by the Nepalese stand-up comedians reinforce gender roles rather than critique gender roles. It is essential to understand that comedy is undoubtedly more than entertainment. Stand-up comedy hosts a discussion about cultural norms and ideals, and it is also evident here in Nepal. Although the audience is expecting to be entertained, it is not the only thing happening onstage. The comedian’s primary goals are to make money by making people laugh and consume their comedy, but some comedians have secondary goals, more than entertainment.

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The Informer is an online platform where we share our writings collectively. Writings focus on themes of Economics, International Relations, Public Policy, and Diplomacy.

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Manish Jung Pulami

Manish Jung Pulami

Manish Jung Pulami is a PhD candidate/Research Scholar at Department of International Relations, South Asian University in New Delhi, India.

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