(Photo by Taylor Ha)
YULA Girls High School

Comedian Abby Govindan breaks barriers in comedy

Neither stand-up comedy nor Twitter are easy to master. The talented comedian Abby Govindan has managed to do just that, all while preserving her own life experience within her humor.

The tour de force on the stand-up scene believes that both the stand-up and Twitter comedy genres intersect, but it’s important to find what works for each medium. Some joke formats work for Twitter and not for stand up or vice versa.

“It’s all about finding a balance,” Govindan said.

Her Twitter presence has led to some wild moments. She was invited to meet with presidential candidate Julian Castro by his communications director after sharing posts in support of his campaign.

She is followed by the husband of current presidential candidate Kamala Harris. She was most surprised when Adam Conover, the creator of the show “Adam Ruins Everything,” followed her.

“I remember watching his show since I was 16 — half of my knowledge comes from there,” she said.

While she thrives in the art of comedy, Govindan’s talent in humor isn’t her career’s only remarkable aspect. She’s also breaking barriers as a Desi woman.

According to a 2018 study by UCLA, women remain underrepresented almost everywhere in entertainment. Male directors outnumber females by seven to one, writers four to one, and creators of scripted shows three to one. Govindan combats this misrepresentation by “showing up and being good.”

Govindan also noticed that women in comedy are much more scrutinized than men.

“A certain female comedian made some racially charged comments like seven or eight years ago,” she said.

She recalled that people still bring up these comments as an attack against the comedian to this day. While Govindan acknowledged that everyone should be held accountable for inappropriate or offensive rhetoric, she noted that male comedians are held to a much lower degree of responsibility than female ones.

“Everyone’s favorite male comedian has a past. Maybe a problematic comment from seven years or one [as recent as] five years ago, but it’s not discussed as much because ‘they’re appealing’ or ‘they’re funny men.’ Women who have these same qualities are seen as annoying or irritating while [these] men are seen as charming,” she said.

Women, she explained, should not be looked at with more criticism and skepticism than men in comedy.

The same 2018 UCLA study exhibits how minorities are also grossly underrepresented in the entertainment industry.

People of color are outnumbered five to one by white broadcast and cable scriptwriters. They account for less than one out of every six film writers, and no show created by a minority won an Emmy award in 2015-2016.

Govindan estimates that there are hundreds of Indian men pursuing comedy, but the number of Indian women pursuing the field pales in comparison. She attributes this to conservative social values that South Asia has embraced in the past that “both the east and the west are moving away from.”

But Govindan’s South Asian heritage also helps her connect with people who share her ethnicity in ways people from a different background might not understand. One night she performed for a South Asian crowd and sent her routine to her managers.

“It totally went over their heads, but it was important for the audience to hear those jokes,” she said.

The joke she said was one that people without an understanding of South Asian culture would comprehend.

When Govindan was younger, she struggled with her Indian identity.

“Now I get to use it for this platform and this audience,” she said. “Having my identity be something that people engage with is so cool.”

She remembered messaging comedians such as Hasan Minhag and Hari Kondabolu about how much she admired them, and now she receives messages of praise and other South Asian girls come to her for advice on how to start their own comedy careers.

“There’s never going to be such thing as too many South Asian women in comedy,” she said.

She has also been messaged by people who have told her that it is very cool to see someone of Indian descent on the “mainstream Twitter scene.” Twitter, as she sees it, provides a platform for a diverse pool of comedians to access a wider audience.

“I would not be where I am in comedy if I did not have social media as a platform,” she noted.

“The first thing that put me on a public platform was [when] I had a tweet that went viral about PTSD,” Govindan said.

Many South Asian women suffer from PTSD, and many girls reached out to her saying how meaningful it felt that someone was talking about the issue they struggled with, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

Govindan’s identity, when laced within her comedy, makes other South Asian women feel represented. She exemplifies the need for comedy to give people with different backgrounds a platform, because she believes everyone should be able to empathize with the people who make them laugh.