8-14 November 2013 #680

Laughing matter

Shailee Basnet

‘Hello, I am Shailee Basnet from Nepal. How many of you know nothing about Nepal? We are a beautiful country right in between India and China. The entire world is looking at India and China, how dumb can you be not to notice Nepal?’

When my opening joke filled the venue with laughter, I could see my dream coming true right before my eyes. During my brief stint as a stand-up comic in the US, I received more love and support than I ever imagined. The audience roared with laughter, organisers invited me back, and fellow comics provided valuable encouragement. Stand-up comedy is not very well known in Nepal, but is a huge part of American culture. Hundreds of artists compete and moving up the laughter ladder is a hard struggle. Those who make it big, gain name, fame, and fortune through TV, movies, and stage performances.

I was afraid that for a rookie like me from Nepal, it would be impossible to find opportunities to get on stage. But standing on the American stage was a big dream. And as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. During my four months in USA, I took part in eight shows in Colorado and one in New York.

Like most newcomers, I started at open mic nights in clubs and restaurants where artists get five minutes each to show their talent. A good performance can land you a gig at showcase events. As luck would have it, on the night I went to watch a show at Comedy Works in Denver, local sensation Hippyman was on stage and he recommended my name to the Boulder Comedy Show after we met on a bus the same evening. After my first performance, I was booked for two more shows and was warmly welcomed for open mic gigs at Johnny’s Cigar Bar for five consecutive Tuesday nights.

It was the response of fellow comics at open mics that made me realise how big an opportunity I had landed at Boulder Comedy Show. Some of them had spent months rehearsing and had gone through video submission process to get a slot. They were surprised to know that I had already performed there and was invited again. Based on my performance at open mics I was invited for a couple more showcases.

A petite girl from a relatively unknown country talking about American culture; that was part of my appeal for the local audience. American stand-up comedy centres on very personal subjects like sex, but my focus is first world versus third world contrast. I use the guise of fights between me and my American husband to present this contrast, roll everything from Obama to Miley Cyrus to toilet humour in this concoction, and you’re golden. For instance:

When you marry someone from another culture, there are lots of differences. For example my husband eats with fork and spoon, I eat with my hands. In my culture, it’s important to touch the food and feel the texture, both going in (eating) and coming out (excreting). I mean he’s a wiper, I’m a washer. Sometimes I wonder which idiot thought of using paper when water has been around forever. Oh you think I’m gross. Think about it, I am the cleanest person in the room right now.

Stand-up comedy is one of the last remaining professions in the US where the term ‘female’ is still used to denote a woman artist. It was interesting to see more female performers at an open mic in New York. The hosts asked me to come back in my next trip and suggested I participate in the annual comedy competition ‘Stand-up for Diversity’. I never expected to receive so much adulation and encouragement in comedy, specially in the US. Being able to promote Nepal through the medium of laughter was truly motivating. I’m back home with new-found energy and confidence to have the audience in fits from bigger stages.

Shailee Basnet is a former journalist and coordinator of Seven Summits Women Team, a group of Nepali women mountaineers who aim to climb the seven highest peaks in the seven continents. She performs at stand-up comedy events around Kathmandu.

See also:

Women on top

Seven women, seven summits