The comic is out and proud and is keeping the conversation going around queer people. His YouTube special 'The Good Child' is a result of his passion to bring queer comics into the mainstream
Few people can claim to have done what standup comic, writer, and podcast host Navin Noronha did. Born and raised in suburban Mumbai in a conservative Roman Catholic family, he came out as queer at an open mic in 2014 to a room full of strangers. And the reactions that he got could be a standup routine in itself: there were some gaps, some applause, and some laughter because people thought that he was making it up as part of his routine.
Unlike most comics, Navin keeps an open dialogue at his shows, encouraging questions and answering queries from his audience. He believes that in this day and age, words can do a lot of good but can also cause a lot of damage, and he is on a mission to curb the latter. He aims to normalise queer folk, shatter stereotypes and myths, and have an open conversation to sensitise people and inform them about the LGBTQIA+ community.
He is also a curator of Queer Rated Comedy, India’s first and only all-queer comedy lineup that helps comics from the community come into the mainstream comedy circuit based solely on their talent.
As the comedy special released on YouTube, Navin got candid with OTTplay about queer comedy, India post Section 377, and more. Excerpts from the conversation…
Why did you choose standup comedy to educate people and have conversation around the LGBTQIA+ community?
I had never seen something like this happen on the comedy circuit before, at least not in Mumbai. I got into comedy because I had seen comedians make jokes about queer people, and I was not okay with that. So, I decided that comedy was the way to go about sensitising people about the community. I was doing open mics at the time, and you get only four minutes when you start out. I wondered if it was worth it. But then fellow comics told me that they had seen artists abroad do this, and there was enough material out there to convince me that this is what I want to do in life. It’s been a fun journey.
People in India don’t know much about the queer lifestyle; they don’t know how we meet, hook up, or what our dating apps are like. So, when I spoke about all this at my shows, I initially did so assuming that people already knew about such things. Later, I realised that was not the case, so my sets became more like queer sex life for dummies. Sometimes, you have to unravel things to put them together.
What reactions did you get when you came out at your open mic?
I got a range of reactions. There were some gaps, some applause, and some laughter because they thought I was making it up. The thing was, the way I was dressed back then, I wasn’t gay enough for the queer people or the straight people. So, I wondered how I could prove that I am indeed gay. Slowly, over time, more queer audiences started reaching out to me, since there was clearly a void that I had filled. There was finally someone from the community who was in the mainstream. But it’s not like I got this far only because I am queer. I have paid my dues by doing the same number of open mics as any other comic. I am a good artist first, and that has translated into me becoming a wholesome queer person.
Watch Navin's new YouTube special, The Good Child, here:
Words can harm or heal, and perhaps the queer community knows this best. You've shown that comedy can do the latter. What kind of difference have you seen in people’s attitudes after your shows?
The idea behind my shows is to normalise being queer. I was opening for a fellow comic in Bengaluru 4-5 years ago. After my bit, I got a message on Instagram from someone who told me that he watched the show with his office colleagues, whom he was afraid to come out in front of. When he saw them laughing at my bit, he realised that he could come out to them, which he did, and he was accepted as queer by his colleagues. People have come out in the middle of my shows. It’s a beautiful medley of feelings. After my shows, people leave comments on YouTube saying that I have helped shatter some stereotypes. I am blessed to have these kinds of experiences. Of course, there are negative comments as well, but the positive experiences outweigh the negative ones.
Vir Das is one of the most popular Indian comics. He's addressed homophobia in his routines, but even he came under fire for his tweet on pronouns. As a queer comic, where does one draw the line between being sensitive and being able to joke or take a joke?
Under the comedy umbrella, everything is good to be made fun of. There is an audience for all kinds of comedy. We can’t dictate what people can or cannot say. But all I can say is that people shouldn’t talk about things they don’t understand just for the sake of getting some laughs. I also make fun of the queer community; we also have flaws, but how we reflect on them is what’s important. The gay community is okay with taking a joke. But of course, there will always be jokes that are considered taboo. Even I have had to cut out some jokes.
A recent tweet of yours reads, ‘I've spent way too much time defending the art of stand-up comedy on this hellsite, but today I give up. Today I know that the real snakes are in the comedy scene itself.’ Tell us more about this…
There is someone from the comedy scene who goes on Twitter and actively harasses those who speak up against people in power. Such people are hypocrites. Comics always defend free speech, so what is someone doing in this field if they can't take a joke or criticism? If something is bothering you, make a joke about it. This person has no followers, which is why he’s attacking other comics. I can't stand the ‘crying wolf’ mentality that some people have. That’s what the tweet is referring to.
June is celebrated the world over as Pride Month. How important is it to have something like this?
It is important to have some kind of commemoration because so many people are honour-killed in our country and there is so much damage for no reason. We are queer, and there is nothing that is going to stop us from being us. There will be people who will kill us and torture us, but we are not wrong, and we are not going to go away. So, a month like this is a reminder of all that. In recent years, more companies have been marking Pride Month because they want to encourage their employees to have an open conversation about their lives. These things matter as long as they are not tokenism, of course. In an ideal world, no one would have to come out; we could all just be.
India still has a long way to go as far as acceptance and even understanding go. Do you feel positive about where we are going after Section 377?
I feel a little nervous, to be honest. There are a lot of people who put out queer support videos, and there are haters, but those are just morons who want attention. Many countries have legalised queer marriages and adoptions, and it has been proven that queer people are not ‘abnormal’. Those who are against all this are just doing it out of spite. But hate doesn't drive you as much as love does. If someone leaves a negative comment, slowly and steadily we will change the ideology. But the point is that all this shouldn’t have been such a big struggle until now. Things should have been better for the queer community.
I grew up in a conservative Roman Catholic household, but I was able to earn respect. You have to come out to yourself before you can come out to the world. I had no context for queer romance when I was growing up, but things are getting better post-377.
When you do shows, you tell your audience to ask you if they don’t understand a term or if they have any other queries. Tell us about any interesting or funny query that stands out in your memory…
Last week, I did a show for a company. At one point, I said that a certain person was ‘ultra gay’. Someone from the office very genuinely asked me what the difference between ‘regular gay’ and ‘ultra gay’ is, and it made me laugh for a good five minutes. No one had ever asked me something like this. It was really funny.
What’s your take on queer representation in films and web series?
Since OTT has scope for people to be open with the idea of showing queer people, there are full-on queer arcs and stories. There is good, genuine representation from the community. Stories that are written by, for, and starring queer people. And I think that it’s beautiful.
Tell us more about Queer Rated Comedy that had multiple sold out shows…
It was a desire of mine to not be the only queer comic in India. I have worked as a comedy curator and know how to make a show happen. And I’m a good host in general. Nick Pillow, a British comic, and I did a show called A Homos Odyssey, which was basically comedy between us and some sketches. After the pandemic, he had to move back, so I was looking for more queer comics.
I had open mics, did Zoom shows, and eventually raised funds to do a YouTube recording. Now, I can proudly say that there are 20 comics in that group from across India. But they are not just handed a platform because they are queer. Everyone has to go through the grind and do an open mic. I am proud that I got to be a part of their journey, and I know that they will all do well.
I chose to do this on YouTube because I want people in smaller towns to get access to it. There is only one ad at the end of the show, and it’s a pay-as-you-can model. My special is an ode to the fact that no matter how much life throws at you, you can be fine.
You’ve done some work on OTT as well, correct?
Yes, I have written a show that will be out soon on a major OTT platform. It is my first foray into something long-form. It is a docuseries around queer stories, for which I spent two years following some queer people. It’s about how they live, laugh, and love, and it should be out in September.