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“I tried Marketing. Failed horribly!”
Read the other (funny) side of Kaneez Surka
Kaneez Surka belongs to the first generation of English Comedians in India. Better known as an Improv artist, her journey into the comedy industry was not how she planned it all. In a candid conversation with Feministaa, she laid bare her low points in life, challenges comedians face, battling male energy on stage and what it takes to be comedian.
Audience react differently to male and female comedians.
The reason it is difficult for female comedians to sustain is that certain slangs are not welcomed by the public. Women are conditioned to be ashamed of their bodies. Therefore, any woman embracing ‘feminine’ topics on stage, gets demeaning reactions. Kaneez remarked, “I’ve noticed that when I do a joke about a guy sucking my breasts, every time I’ll get a ‘tch tch’ from the audience without fail. I see my male counterparts do a penis joke and audience accepts it comfortably.”
Giving it back to the Misogynists!
On being asked about what advice she’ll give to the budding female comedians she exclaimed, “Instead of using ‘sucking my breasts’ I used to say ‘caressing my mammary glands’ and I realised I got way more hate! You need to just have conviction and believe in your content. Go head on. Say it like you want to say it. Deal with it. I just said those words. The audience will start getting used to it.”
Male dominance in the comedy industry.
“In this particular Improv group – with Kanan Gill, Abish Mathew, Kenneth Sebastian – I rarely have felt any kind of dominance”, Kaneez said, “They never made me feel my gender. We generally end up playing different kinds of characters”.
Initially, Surka started working and collaborating with the female comedians – not necessarily putting up content together but having writing sessions with them and discussing ideas.
“I respect the work my male colleagues are doing, but the support I get from my female comedians is different. What me and my female colleagues are going through is very similar.”
Kaneez feels men tend to bring a different aura on stage than women. “Men are naturally louder and bigger. When I first started doing Improv it was challenging because I couldn’t compete with the dominant male energy. Later, I just became better and more confident in my Improv skills and that showed on stage. Hence, I didn’t find the need to compete with the male energy anymore”, she added.
The Unpredictable Entertainment Industry.
Thousands of people flock to Bombay to make a name for themselves every year but only few are able to survive the industry. The entertainment Industry owes its stress to its unpredictable and insecure nature.
Explaining the ups and downs, she said, “It’s tough because comedy is such a fad right now. People become instantly popular. They get lot of attraction and work, and as soon as somebody else comes in the picture, you’re pushed to the side. Every three months there is wave of someone else being popular in comedy industry.”
The biggest challenge for Kaneez is to overcome the constant doubt that emerges in an artist – whether she is able to tickle our funny bones or not. “I have all the confidence in my comedy and my content, but I constantly have to overcome the doubt and I continue to do so”, she said.
“The biggest challenge for me was is to overcome the constant doubt that I have – whether my comedy content is funny enough or not.”
Failed attempt at Sales!
Surka came to India in 2005 and started “The Week That Wasn’t” show with Cyrus Broacha in 2006. She has been a part of that team for 10 years now. However, comedy was never in her plans and she only considered it to be a fun hobby.
Kaneez jokes, “I tried to work in different NGOs and tried to be a marketing executive. Failed horribly! I was working in The Akanksha Foundation in sales on probation for 9 months! They said ‘we’re not hiring you officially, ever’.”
The Low Point in Life.
“Few months ago, I was getting zero work. New stream of talented comedians came up and the focus shifted towards them”, Kaneez remembers. Overcoming the hurdle, she said, “I was constantly trying to push myself and fit in there. That made me re-evaluate what kind of comedy I really want to do. People suggested me to try new things. I started The General Fun Game Show!”
She believes that there is a cycle in the comedy industry. Even when you’re going down, something will happen and life will pick up again after some time. The idea is to never give up.
Sometimes, being off the limelight is good. “You have the space to experiment because no one is looking. You get to try new things without feeling the pressure. Sometimes when you are at the pub with all eyes on you, you are pressurized to put out a good start”, she adds.
The Marriage That Wasn’t
“When I got married, my first priority was being a housewife. I was doing comedy on the side. Only when I got divorced in 2011, then I thought, “Oh no, there goes my financial plan. What do I do now!”, Kaneez jokes. Like most women in India, she was conditioned to be an obedient wife of a man who can guarantee her financial security.
When I got married, my first priority was being a housewife. I was doing comedy on the side. Only when I got divorced in 2011, then I thought, “Oh no, there goes my financial plan. What do I do now.”
By that time she had already put 7 years in comedy and realised that it’s time to put those together and move forward. “When I got divorced, the comedy scene in India started picking up. It coincided beautifully. It was meant to happen!”, she chuckles.
Role of Industry in Fighting Gender Justice.
The comedy industry in India has witnessed a recent bloom – thanks to the reach of internet. Creative and crude ideas can make you an instant You Tube sensation. Many channels, taking advantage of the situation, have tried to spread strong messages across netizens.
“Videos have such a good reach. Lot of these comedy channels have started their comedy collective by women, for women. I collaborate with a lot of them. The content has a female perspective to it and hence, intriguing.
“Maybe down the line, comedy collectives will be by female, for everybody and anybody.”
There is no demarcation for Kaneez when it comes to personal and professional life. Most of her recreational time goes with the comedians, singing songs, making funny music, improvising etc.
The days when she’s not travelling, she likes to find time to explore the city of Mumbai. She believes the city has inspirational vibes and adds, “Cafe Zoe is my happiest place!”. When asked about her colleagues, Tanmay Bhatt and Kanan Gill, she said, “Kanan and Tanmay are my friends first – they’re great fun as colleagues and friends and I love collaborating with them because they get my comedy.”.
The Rapid Fire
We played a little game with her, asking her to speak her mind on the following topics. This is how she scored.
- Boring Husband: Divorce
- Three essentials you can’t live without: Lip balm, laptop, friends
- First thing after sex: Very emotional
- Casual Sex: Can’t do it anymore!
- Love at First Sight: Not real
- Commitment issues : Every guy I’ve dated
It’s said that making someone laugh is the toughest job in the world. And Kaneez Surka has aced it!