This month saw the launch of Britain’s first ever Tamil Comedy Club, in a jam-packed event with a diverse range of comics tackling politics, sex and life in the diaspora in front of a sold-out audience.
The Tamil Comedy Club, hosted by Sunthar V, was envisaged to be a space that was inclusive to Tamils from around the world and all walks of life, breaking barriers that had been longstanding in the Tamil community and the world of comedy.
“For a big part of my life, I struggled not only with coming to terms with who I am but how I fit into this world,” Sunthar, who moved to London from Toronto in 2019, told the Tamil Guardian this week. “LGBTQI+ struggles in the diaspora are quite different and varied than to our siblings in the homeland. However, they aren’t any less complex.”
“My biggest fear growing up was the need to abandon my Tamilness to be queer. It’s not that queer people haven’t existed in Tamil society before, it’s just that our issues have taken a back burner in the dialogue. Our queerness has never made us any less Tamil, it hasn’t stopped us from being discriminated against by the state. More importantly, it hasn’t stopped us from being at the forefront of Tamil activism and speaking up for all our people. So why should we hide these beautiful parts of ourselves? We don’t and we won’t.”
It was that determination that led Sunthar, who had already performed stand-up comedy in several places around the world, to put together the UK’s first Tamil Comedy Club. “Comedy and in-person experiences also allow us to have difficult conversations through comedy and normalize our experiences,” he said. “It’s not only extremely liberating for performers, but also equally powerful for attendees – they feel seen.”
The appetite for the show was demonstrated when within just hours of it being announced, tickets were all completely sold out. “The response was phenomenal,” said Sunthar. The show, held just days later at London’s famous Comedy Pub in Piccadilly, did not disappoint.
Sunthar opened the show with some cutting remarks on the irony of Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s visit to the UN Climate Summit COP26 in Scotland whilst militarisation ramped up on the island and shared his experiences of life as a queer Tamil in London, including a hilarious sketch that will not have you looking at mutton rolls the same way again.
As a packed audience from all over the country settled in, the roster of acts continued with Samarthan a British Tamil, offering some witty takes – and suggestions – for Insulate Britain protestors.
Some of the comics, such as Samarthan had worked with Sunthar before, but only online due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the Tamil Comedy Club night, many were performing live on stage in front of a packed audience for the very first time. The confidence of the performers however seeped into the high energy crowd, with acts such as Ragavi, a Londoner who works in mental health, who rapped off a hilarious routine on sex, leaving the whole audience – including her partner on the front row – in tears of laughter.
The international characteristics of the Tamil diaspora were also on display, with acts such as Sabishan, a laid-back comic who has a Tamil Eelam, French and East London upbringing telling the audience about the difficulty of dating whilst growing up in a Tamil household. Up next was Nina, a comic who described herself as “not the quietest chick in town”, lighting up the whole venue with her infectious personality and sharp jokes.
Despite it being an inaugural show, none of the performers shied away from highlighting difficult and taboo topics. Is Dexter, a successful performer with a substantial following on social media, spoke of their run-in with counter-terrorism police and institutional British racism.
Mental health was a topic that the acts also deftly tackled, with Sinthia’s softly-spoken but hysterical routine touching on mental health and sex, while Rohi shared his stories on depression and academics that were witty and grabbed plenty of laughs.
Chinna Thamizha, a comic who already has a popular following on Instagram and TikTok, shared his anecdotes of life in a South-London Tamil household, leaving the audience roaring with laughter (and with tales they could relate to).
The night ended with a bang with two musical performances – one from Vaish that featured a bottle of whisky and a saaram that flew into the audience. And another show-stopping routine from Saya Tikka, which had everyone, cheering and singing along for a raucous, hugely entertaining finale.
Even after the show ended, the electric atmosphere continued, with a standing ovation and an immediate demand for more. “A revolutionary night!” said one audience member. “Sunthar and every single performer out there were mind blowing!”
“This was by far the funniest comedy night I have ever been to,” commented another. “I cannot wait for the next one. Can I just get a subscription?”
“For far too long our ideas of comedy in Tamil society have been rooted in misogyny, homophobia and transphobia,” Sunthar told the Tamil Guardian after the show. “Tamil cinema may be slow to this shift but the palette of diaspora Tamils has changed. We’re ready for smarter comedy that punches up. That no longer comes at the expense of the most marginalized folks in our community. I want to show comedians and content creators who still don’t get it – that if you dig deep enough you can create comedy that doesn’t come at the expense of women and LGBTQI+”.
With the resounding success of the Tamil Comedy Club after just one show, monthly performances are now being planned.
With such an array of talent, we asked Sunthar what next?
“I want to create this space for women and LGBTQI+ people first,” he said. “I believe we’re the best creatives in the community, yet we’re not the ones in the limelight. And if we are, we have to hide those parts to make it.”
“I want my performers and audiences to feel like they can be Tamil and whatever else they are – and still be loved. In reflection, this is a huge part of my own self-healing journey to be one with my people. We may be displaced from our homeland but, there is so much power in building true allyship in our community. So that when we do have more visible queer Tamils – they have more Tamils who will go to bat for them then attack them.”
“I’ve performed my truth in Toronto, New York, Nairobi, Chennai and now London – I want that reach for Eelam Tamil LGBTQ+ comics and creators.”
“I want more full-time queer Tamil entertainers,” he concludes. “I want more variety in aspirations for who we are. That’s my mission. Pidicha vango, pidikatti pothikittu pongo. Valga Tamil!”
All photographs courtesy of @snapsbysaj.