Queer comics shine

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday August 8, 2017
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Billed as the largest South Asian Comedy Fest in America, the latest edition of the 4th annual Desi Comedy Fest will begin on Aug. 10 at Cobb's Comedy Club in North Beach. By the time it concludes on Aug. 20 at the Marines Memorial Theater, dozens of comics will have taken to the stage in nine Bay Area cities.

"Our mission is to showcase the funniest South Asian comedians and create a unique live experience for the South Asian Diaspora," states the Desi Comedy Fest homepage. This year's fest includes three out queer comedians, all three of whom spoke to the B.A.R. about how their life experiences inspire their comic stylings. Karinda Dobbins was raised in a politically active family in Detroit but now lives in Oakland. She became a comedian after a girlfriend dared her to perform at an open mic.

"I am known for making funny observations around my family and friends," Dobbins told the B.A.R. "My girlfriend thought I should try that out onstage. I thought I was going to bomb and that would be the end of it. Didn't happen that way, though!"

Dobbins finds a great deal of humor in the current political climate. "My number one job is to make people laugh," she said. "If there is something political that I can shape into a bit, then I go for it." She does not, however, find humor in the Trump presidency. "It's very difficult to make fun of someone who announces a transgender military ban in a tweet. The joke is his presidency thus far."

Desi Comedy Fest comedian NikDodani. Photo: Courtesy Desi Comedy Fest

Some of the queer comics address racial issues in their humor. "Occasionally I get a Twitter troll or an angry-looking white man in the front row of a show," said comedian Nik Dodani. "But no significant backlash. Growing up in Arizona and dating a white guy for two years has made me really good at talking to white people without triggering them."

Dodani notes that there can be similar issues from audiences in dealing with his queerness. "Other than a weird remark here and there, I don't foresee any serious challenges," he said. "My parents' generation has issues with queerness, but young Indian-Americans are in a very different, less shitty place. And this is San Francisco! It's the gayest city on the West Coast. That's gotta count for something, right?"

He said that as a rule, his parents love his comedy, except when he talks about them. Or about his sex life.

Desi Comedy Fest comedian Arjun Banerjee Photo: Courtesy Desi Comedy Fest

Arjun Banerjee told the B.A.R. that he identifies as bisexual. "I, personally, have never experienced bi-erasure from a member of the LGBT community," he said. "I hang out with young queers who believe that everything is a spectrum. But I know that it happens to a lot of people."

The funny man spoke seriously on how to deal with bi-erasure. "Decreasing it will take time and effort, and by my estimation there are two main causes that we need to address," he said. "One, I think a lot of LG people see being bi as this trendy new thing that us millennials are taking up in an attempt to be different. And there are definitely more people who are claiming to not be straight these days. I guess a more accurate thing to say would be for the first time in the West since the 1700s, we're seeing a world where the pressures of heteronormativity are diminishing, so you would expect to see more people claiming to not be heteronormative. I think the 'trendy' claim stems from the idea that being straight is still the preferred state of being. Dismissing that will require us dismissing this demand that we be totally straight."

Banerjee's childhood was steeped in tragedy. He was raised by a white woman after his mother passed away. "The main challenge is communicating to audiences that it's ok for them to laugh at the sad thing," he said. "Because, personally, my main way of dealing with sad things is laughing, even if I know it's not that funny. So that creates a pretty big gulf between what I laugh at and what audiences laugh at. One of the best pieces of advice I've heard on this topic is, 'If you want to know how to juggle with fire, learn to juggle first.'"

First and foremost, the comics want audiences to have a good time. "I hope they get a sense of who I am," said Dobbins. "I want them to have some belly-aching laughs."


Info: desicomedyfest.com.