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As a rule, Indian stand-up comedian and actress Sumukhi Suresh doesn’t believe in having a no-go zone. Her trials, triumphs, and her missteps in relationships have always been her biggest source of material for her gigs, but she has learned to draw the line at self-inflicted body shaming.

“I tried to make jokes about my appearance, but it just didn’t fly… Somehow my audience – especially girls – didn’t want to see me talk about myself in that light,” said Sumukhi in an interview with Gulf News ahead of her show in Dubai on December 9.

“But those body/fat-shaming jokes work really well when I do corporate shows with suited-up men. But when I do public shows, I have stopped making derogatory comments on my physical appearance because my audience is not impressed. They are not being woke or it’s not some social commentary, but that’s how I have grown on them,” explained Suresh.

Sumukhi Suresh
Sumukhi Suresh Image Credit: Supplied

This female plus-size comedian, whose credits include acting in the wicked and funny series ‘Pushpavalli’ and her stand-up special ‘Don’t Tell Amma’, finds her fans’ protectiveness towards her endearing.

“Their loyalty towards me is so cool,” said Suresh. While this 36-year-old writer, showrunner, and popular stand-up comedian will be staying away from making caustic remarks about her own body, she will dig deep into her relationship missteps in her upcoming show at the Dubai Heights Academy in Barsha.

What do women want and don’t want in a man will be one of the defining themes of the show… Excerpts from our interview with the sassy comedian as we talk Sam Bahadur Vs Animal, her self-deprecating comic style, and her hunt for the right partner in life…

Your show in Dubai tomorrow seems to be the comedy show equivalent of a Girl’s Night Out where you gather your gal pals for a fun time…

Yes, this is a perfect girl’s night out show… I remember how fellow comic Kusha Kapila had put up this review of my show—we didn’t ask but I am glad she did – and her review was spot-on. She said in that review that she was upset that she didn’t watch my show with her girlfriends. But the trick, I believe, is if you can trick your boy to get in… It’s a perfect show for your girl gang.

So is it safe to assume it’s male-bashing at its best?

Not at all… My show is not about talking about the men in my life. I want to talk about myself, my relationships, my friendships… The politics around women have changed. We came after a generation of mothers who were told to behave in a certain way. While Gen Z is also going through similar struggles, but now we are taught to grow up and be like a man – take care of the household and our careers. Plus, we are all fighting for feminism, experiencing feminism and understanding what all that really means to us… I broke up after a very long relationship with a guy, but my show is all about the relationship that I have cultivated with myself. By the way, this whole show was triggered because I went for my hormone profile and my PCOD [Polycystic Ovarian Disease - a medical condition in which the woman's ovaries produce immature eggs] was off the charts. After that, I learned to take care of my body but I am still hormonal. So the seed of the show began on that foot. It’s not like I hate men. This show has nothing to do with men, but it’s a story about us, women.

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Sumukhi Suresh will be looking back on what she learned about her self after breaking-up with her boyfriend of ten years

So the show will relate to women and their trials with relationships…

Of course. As much as I would love to talk about my ten-year-old relationship with a guy, more than anything, I prefer to talk about my relationship with myself after that [break-up]. Boys will ruin our lives, but why am I ruining mine is the big question… The show will explore the concept of masculinity and femininity based on the interesting revelations that I experienced… Questions like: what’s the plan next after the end of the ten-year-relationship or have I been given the permission to live alone will be explored. Plus, you will learn about the hilarious dating stories of my life.

So it’s not going to be anything like ‘Animal’, Ranbir Kapoor’s polarizing film that’s steeped in misogyny and toxic masculinity?

I don’t want to put myself in a mad mood and I don’t want to give him [director Sandeep Reddy Vanga] money. I just had a script reading and somebody asked me: ‘what did I think of ‘Animal’? and I said I don’t even want to talk about it… I enjoyed Sam Bahadur and I am a big Meghna Gulzar fan. I would love to talk about her film that was released at the same time as ‘Animal’. She’s iconic and the fact that she was ready to release her movie along with ‘Animal’ was a ballsy move. But I don’t want to talk about ‘Animal’, let’s talk about ‘Sam Bahadur’.

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Vicky Kaushal in director Meghna Gulzar's 'Sam Bahadur' had Sumukhi Suresh's heart.

 Just like how you are batting for Meghna Gulzar, you have always batted for women's voices and you are even keen to work on movies with strong women narratives and voices… How difficult is it to be taken seriously?

I am not the first person to do this and I won’t be the last, but many more of us have to come forward because I truly believe that stories that are told by women are so compelling. At a given point, women have so many stories, moods, and roles going on in their heads and if we could capture even three per cent of it, it will be amazing. Plus, a comedian's voice when they write a show or a movie is different. I would love to see something like Saturday Night Live in India… I want to display the same guts that Meghna Gulzar displayed, and I want to live with that kind of guts. I like her hustle, and she’s such a go-getter… I don’t want this interview to be about ‘Animal’, a movie that will trigger me.

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Sumukhi Suresh believes her true super power is to bat for female-driven stories Image Credit: Supplied

Of course. Moving on, I love the fact that you have touched upon relationships in your latest stand-up show because as women, we do tend to discuss men a lot. But did you get triggered by your own material?

It’s a great question. In my 20s, I was overthinking about how I can find this perfect partner. Although I don’t want to blame anybody in this situation, I want to now be on an equal footing with a man. Perhaps, it comes from our conditioning that women are caregivers and caretakers of men. I took that role so seriously in my twenties that I didn’t have any fun… Before I traveled with my latest show, if somebody asked me what I was looking for in a partner, my answer would be more about anyone who finds me desirable. But after doing this show, my mindset has altered. I may not want a tall, dark, and handsome man, but I do want banter and loyalty… The show explores how I wake up some days thinking that I am going to die alone and some other days where I feel I am not going to die alone. The show is not cathartic per se, but it has been like therapy. It has helped me figure out life, the fun of romance, or the fun in having a crush. It’s as simple as that. I have learned to appreciate the smaller things, thanks to this show.

Do you have a no-go zone when it comes to this show in Dubai?

Comedy is the only space where the audience is really smart. They may laugh at the low-hanging jokes, but they are also discerning when it comes to the solid jokes. They don’t like being lied to… With my shows, my intention has always been honest, and I like to dig as deep as possible. Sometimes it can be emotionally offensive, but most times you strike gold when you come from an honest place. I don’t have any no-go rule as a comic… In the recent interview I did with Shefali Shah and Vir Das at the International Emmys, I remember Vir saying that we comics treat ourselves in the worst possible manner, and that’s how we write our characters.

So deprecating humor is your biggest tool in your comic arsenal… Isn’t that tough when you are your own favorite punching bag?

There’s a saying that as a comedian, you have to have a little bit of hate for yourself… Most of the days, we are sitting in a corner and wondering why we did what we did in a day as we sip our coffee. Self-deprecation comes easily to comics because we feel it makes the audiences feel safe with us. They can relate to us a lot more. With self-deprecation, there’s more scope for open dialogues. If you are attacking them, then their guards are always up. And it’s the funnest [a lot of fun] to be self-deprecating.

Don’t Miss It!

What: Stand-up comedy show with Sumukhi Suresh

When: December 9

Where: Dubai Heights Academy

Tickets: Dh100 available at Platinumlist