MW Anniversary Special: Navin Noronha On Dismantling Taboo One Joke At A Time
Dabbling between stand-up comedy, writing, and curating attention-grabbing podcasts, Navin Noronha is attempting to make this world a slightly better place for the LGBTQ+ community as one of the first openly gay comedians in India
It all started with an open-mic night back in 2014. when comedian Navin Noronha came out of the closet in front of strangers and decided to own his reality. Noronha, if you already don’t know him for one of his stand-up comedy specials or podcasts, is one of India’s first openly gay comedians. With a rainbow and a panda emoji next to his name on Twitter, Navin Noronha is spreading joy, one joke at a time. The rainbow proudly represents him as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and the panda, we assume, is just his spirit animal.
While the community and its allies were still fighting to decriminalise Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, Noronha was already out and proud. He wanted to make sure to represent the community as much as he can, through comedy. He launched a podcast in 2016, which had 900 listeners in the first month. Three seasons and 5,000 dedicated listeners later, everyone wanted to know what he was talking about. From monogamy, marriage as a heteronormative concept to pride month and the #MeToo movement, Noronha is talking about it all.
“When I started comedy, there was nobody else doing queer-based content. I used to go and watch open mic before and I saw that nobody did anything remotely queer-centric. A lot of homophobic jokes, of course, were cracked. So I thought, let me debunk that by making these jokes myself,” Norohna quips. He feels things have changed from the time he started, and now he sees more queer comedians than before.
Norohna has lived through many changes that the community saw. When he had started out, being gay was a criminal offence. Three years into being unsure whether he wants to continue as a queer comic, the annulment of Section 337 changed the game. “I now work on projects where they are hiring queer writers, consultants. People are seeking my work out and slowly and steadily, things are changing. I wish I had the same kind of success as some of the straight comics do, though,” he adds.
Calling his podcast ‘Keeping It Queer’ a slow burner, Norohna’s attempt was to share his perspective about different things as a queer boy. It expanded to a broader spectrum when he realised that the community has more layers to it, and discussions can widen to a larger aspect. “A wide variety of guests came on the show, and I think it became like a very important point in history at least, which we were inadvertently just a part of,” he proudly say. A personal achievement, Noronha says, is visiting Australia, one of the first few countries to legalise same sex marriages. He got to perform to a much more comprehensive and empathetic audience, and was able to witness how much respect Australians have for the indigenous population.
While he felt safer back in a foreign land, Norohna feels that our government is still not on board with the existence of the LGBTQ+ community. He feels that the representation that gay comedians get is a kind of tokenism. “Someone will put me on their list of performers only because they want to fulfil the queer token. I think that would be something that I would like to change, even for films and everything we see,” he says.
So with all the pros and the cons, does Norohna think the future for queer comedians is brighter than today? He is hopeful. “We have Ritushree Panigrahi, who is a trans comedian, doing her own solo show in Bengaluru, as we speak. We have Ankur Tangade from Maharashtra. We have comics from Jaipur, Delhi, Kolkata. What’s lacking is them getting a platform.”
Norohna believes that it becomes very difficult to seek out support from the mainstream comedy team and hence, the need for producers and alternate organisers increases. The comedian is trying his best to support as many queer artists as he can.
Norohna also hopes that the LGBTQ+ community gets more and more representation in the coming future. He adds, “In the given political climate, the future for the community looks very dicey. In the terms of people living their full, authentic life, there’s no stopping them. But at the same time, there is enough hate. At times we do consider if leaving the country is a better option, because everything’s moved back 50 years.”
Navin Norohna is now preparing for his live shows that are lined up in the coming months, and wishes to keep creating, keep talking, and keep saying it like it is.