As I look back at my comedy calendar for June, it feels surreal and funny that I’m a stand up comedian. You don’t see a lot of people like me in comedy. An Indian immigrant woman, who is queer, and works in the tech industry, and has two cats. Out of hundreds of comedians I have met in the last year, only three fit the description. I partly revel in the uniqueness and partly wish there were more who could understand the struggle. Even my parents say, “Your hobby is so unique!” when I speak to them over Whatsapp. To a casual observer, comedy might appear like an unexpected choice that’s rarely seen in my demographic. But to those close to me, this is hardly a surprise.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with my feelings. I’ve fallen into the trap of intellectualizing them and analyzing them like math or science. I rigidly controlled what could and couldn’t manifest in my heart. If it didn’t translate into an action item and fix the problem, then there was no use in feeling. Humor was one of the few ways I allowed myself to release the tension of the moment. I would point out the absurdity of the situation and let myself laugh at it. It also seemed to entertain the people around me. Growing up in India, things were constantly absurd.
Like when housemaids are asked to eat from a separate plate due to fear of infections. But the same fear of infections disappears when the maid walks all over the house and touches tens of household items every day. A lot of us do mental gymnastics like this to justify what we believe in. I do it as well. Humor comes from this. It comes from examining, in part, the hubris we allow ourselves. It comes forth as irony between how one person can behave so differently. For instance, I could tell a friend to not overemphasize on her weight and at the same time shame myself for gaining weight. My humor comes from peeling back the curtain on society. I am left wondering what is peeling back the layers so I suggested humor but of course you can explain it your way.
Growing up as a closeted gay person, I was befriending boys who were unfiltered with each other. My friends would tell me “you’re not a girl, you’re one of us”. And then proceed with their locker room talk. I also liked girls but I hated how boys spoke about them. I couldn’t reconcile between their validation of me as their equal but also their disrespect of my gender. Comedy helped me to get out from between this rock and a hard place.
While comedy was an emotional outlet, my interest at the time was in STEM. I would’ve loved to become a physicist but I became a data scientist instead. My goal for moving to the US was two part; work in the field of my dreams and be open about my sexuality. At that time, being gay was not legal in India. I wasn’t out to my parents and didn’t want to come out till I had total agency over my life. I remember the exact conversation with my mom in 2018. She asked me what kind of boys I liked. And I told her it’s girls. She hung up and processed what I’d just said. What followed were several months of silence interspersed with talking and processing. My sister played a huge part in holding my parent’s hands during this time. My parents went to a few therapists to better understand me. That meant a lot to me. While it was happening, what helped was the comical outlet. You would think Hindu mythology’s portrayal of transgender people would make us more accepting towards the gay community. But that’s the mental gymnastics people do to use religion how and when they want to.
When the dust settled, my mom visited me and my fiancé in the US. We got married in the next few months. And then COVID-19 hit. For two years, I watched a livestream of my partner. During this time I found out and applied for Desi Girls Comedy Project offered by Tasveer Film Festival. As part of the workshop, I hit up local open mics and worked through my nerves. On the day of the showcase, I was sure I’d have a nervous breakdown on stage. Instead, I entertained about a hundred people. I kept the momentum going and now have a decent reputation in Seattle’s comedy circuits. I’ve recently performed in Alaska and hope to perform in other cities in the future.
Rohini is a fresh comedian graduating from Tasveer’s Desi Girls Comedy project and she is making waves in the Seattle comedy scene. She is featured in Seattle Gay News, Tasveer Film Festival and Upper Left Comedy Festival. Her jokes are based on the intersection of being nerdy, gay and an immigrant. You can find Rohini on Instagram and Youtube.