Interview Aussie Indian stand-up comedian Uma Thakar on how humour can break barriers
“I’ve always been fascinated by laughter,” says Melbourne-based stand-up comedian Uma Thakar, who is touring India this month. “Yet I never thought I was a funny person. Even today, I pinch myself when I get a good laugh.” She was recently in Bangalore to research her documentary and novel.
Growing up in India, Uma says she was a very quiet and serious girl. “Then I joined Humourversity, Australia’s first university to teach humour, comedy and laughter. That changed me. I started to appreciate the funny side of life.” she says. There was no looking back after that. She then ventured into stand-up comedy — a rather unusual line for a woman and an Indian woman at that. “Well, as with any other career, a woman has to work harder to succeed. There is this prevailing cliché that women aren’t funny,” she says.
And work hard she did. “My first attempt was an absolute flop show,” she says. “But I’m pretty tough and stubborn and I persevered with it. I like pushing boundaries,” she adds thoughtfully.
Uma went on to perform at a number of major events including Australia Day, Republic Day and International Women’s Day at the Indian Consulate, Harmony Day at the Australian Taxation Office, the Festival of Lights at Federation Square, St. Kilda Laughs Festival, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Melbourne Fringe Festival etc. She has also produced and directed documentaries, presented humour workshops, scripted and acted in television shows, and is currently writing a book titled The Surreal Diary of an Aussie Indian.
“I adopted the Australian attitude of laughing at myself and not taking myself too seriously,” says Uma. “Australians are a multicultural, melting pot of humour and it takes a lot to offend them.”
Not that Uma’s brand of humour could be perceived as offensive, anyway. “I do a lot of corporate comedy, so I need to keep my humour clean,” she says. “Blue comedy gets you a quick laugh but it’s not great in the long term.”
Uma admits that humour is often culture-specific and needs to be adjusted according to a situation but also believes that, “Below the surface we are all the same. We laugh, cry, feel pain, for pretty much the same reasons.” This is why she hopes to use comedy as a tool to bridge the gap between Australian and Indian cultures! “I have discovered that comedy can be a catalyst for social change,” she says. She points out that Indian comedy is coming of age and adds: “The sign of maturity in a country is when they can laugh at themselves.”