‘’It took reconditioning everything in my head”: Sunanda on her journey to loving Britney

A few days ago, the SAARI crew made their way through a busy but lively Lonsdale Street, heading into the Melbourne-loved fairy-themed Storyville. In addition to butter beers, flaming glasses and impeccable vibes, what was also served was a packed hour of heartful laughter and witty anecdotes on race, sexuality and identity. We’re talking about Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Sunanda Loves Britney – an unmissable hour for anyone looking to laugh it up. What drove the show was the heart of it all – Sunanda.

With a big smile and an even bigger personality, Sunanda is a global comedian who moved to Australia “for the love of her life”. They were “created in New Delhi, curated in Bangkok, came out in New York, and came out (again... as a comedian) in Los Angeles”. They regularly perform sketch, stand-up, improv and act, and have previously worked in the US with the likes of Reggie Watts, SNL’s Micheal Che and Broad City’s Ilana Glazer. They’ve recently starred in a web series, PIVOT, and have been selected for AFTRS Talent Camp 2022 where they will be developing their own web series, FalamitySunanda Loves Britney is their Melbourne International Comedy Festival debut show and so far, every night has been sold out.

So, let’s meet the artist and get to know more about their journey into it all.

 

How did you get started in comedy? 

I started performing comedy probably six years ago now. I grew up in Bangkok - my family is Punjabi and Thai, and I am a third-generation Punjabi Thai, so there is a lot to unpack there. Before doing what I do now, I was a producer. If you want to measure success the way my uncles do, I was the most successful then, as I made the most money then. And what happened was, I was producing for a photographer friend, and I was giving her unasked creative suggestions, trying to make the sets and photographs funnier. One day, she said "hey, clearly you can't stop giving me creative inputs, you should go find your own creative outlet” and encouraged me to take improv classes. And that was the spark. Once I started taking the classes, I could not stop. Six months in, I went home to visit my family and happened to find myself at a stand-up competition. I knew the person organising it, who told me I should enter. I didn’t know anything about comedy at this point, but asked him for tips and entered. The next thing I knew was I won the competition, and the rest is history.

 

What is it like for you, as a Punjabi Thai artist, to work in comedy? I noticed race and identity are themes some of the key themes even in your show. 

Growing up South Asian in a very tight-knit Punjabi community where things and roles are very gendered, we limit the professions in our community so much. Growing up, almost every family I knew had someone working in textiles, and then almost every woman was teaching. So the concept of working as a freelancer performing was…you just don’t do that.

(laughing) A huge thought during the pandemic was ‘should I just go and study computer programming now?’ – it is certainly a process for me to do what I want to do and be secure in it, which is also because of the nature of the work. I don't think those doubts ever really go away, they might just, hopefully, minimise and get quieter.

 Choosing to work in this industry took reconditioning everything in my head. A lot of my comedy is rooted in my personal experiences, so as a brown person and as somebody who is moving towards being gender non-binary, and finding that that definition resonates with me and maybe explains a lot of how I've gone through life, and also being somebody foreign who is adopted, my personal experiences drive a lot of my work in a hopefully funny way. And when somebody just lets me know that it resonates with them, even if it's just the one person, I know that sounds so cheesy, but that's so motivating.

I think with each thing that you dare to do, your build your courage up to do more.

 

 What’s the Australian comedy landscape like so far?

I’ve found comedy everywhere to be generally straight white men. If you're a white woman that's already diverse. And if you're a woman or you're a queer white person, that's even more diverse. If you are brown, then that’s like breaking the norm. Here, in Australia, there are a couple of us, but not nearly enough. There need to be way more voices. All our comedic styles are different, and we’re all really different people with different perspectives to offer.

The more I'm speaking to other comedians of colour and other female comedians of colour, I’m realising that we are all sick of being interchangeable on a line-up.

 

What would be your little nugget of wisdom for other South Asian folks looking to get into comedy?

Reach out and find out about open mic nights, watch comedy, and just start writing down your experiences. Sharing through comedy is such a great way to pretend that it's not painful (laughs).  


Sunanda’s show, Sunanda Loves Britney run every night from April 12 to 24 at Storyville (as a part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival). Sunanda asks - who else could a queer Indian kid living in Thailand turn to in the late 90s for refuge but the Princess of Pop? For tickets, visit https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2022/shows/relatable.


Pranjali Sehgal is a writer and journalist based in Melbourne. She is a member of SAARI's Editorial Team and can be contacted via email. You can connect with her via LinkedIn or Instagram.