In this Zoë Coombs Marr-directed WA premiere, UK based comedian Krishna Istha delivers a strapping reformation of the stand-up genre in gloriously self-realised gender traitor fashion. Hailing from a performance art background, Istha welcomes their audience with an offbeat and dramatic uncovering of the looming form of the standard stand-up set. What is revealed as the unassuming arrangement of “mic, set list, stool, and bottle of water” is quickly reclaimed as Istha’s set. And from Istha’s set, trans and brown humour is the norm from which everything else deviates. People of colour and trans folks are the authorities on their own cultures, and cis white people are welcome to be a part of this culture for an hour but really shouldn’t expect to be spoon-fed (I understand this is how a lot of you feel like you need to learn, but please, grow up).
On the particular night I attended Beast, I was the only queer presenting and brown person in the room, and probably the person who enjoyed themselves the most. As wave after wave of solid gold humour was lavishly and skilfully decked out to the audience, I found myself at times being the only person laughing my head off while the rest of the audience shifted in their seats with awkward smiles of abashment. Through the slamming of arbitrary and old-school cissexism, gender binary, and colonial narratives, Istha mastered a stage wherein their brown nonbinary misandrist realness held the balance of power, and from my rung on the social ladder, I could get quality relatable humour have me in stitches, and everyone above me could reassess their slender definitions of normal through accessible and witty comedy. It was a multi-layered and magnificent experience of subversion via smack down.
Key to achieving this subversion is Istha’s own ease of comfort with their material. Unlike many unfortunate artists caught in the bind of pandering to privileged people for money, Istha consistently normalises and humanises themself as the centre of their world and doesn’t give two hoots about what’s expected of them as a brown transmasculine artist in this industry. Not once did they yield to the merciless tokenisation and fetishisation of being a racialised and queered body onstage before a sea of cis white people; they just did their thing and expected you to be the one to do the work. They are deliberate and thorough in what they do and do not give of themself to their audience, and this agency of artistic decision is a vital and frequently dismissed part of putting underrepresented stories, ideas, and identities onstage. This is a show about brownness and transness which brown and trans people will not be disappointed by.
And through this radical self-definition and commitment to agency, it was not only Istha’s side of the room which became a deliberate site of brown and queer power. I was empowered to laugh at the discomfort of white people sitting through colonialism jokes, to be that masochist sub hollering at the kink jokes, to also have half the audience turn their heads to look at me when I verbally answered a rhetorical question Istha put to their audience about a very specific and deeply relatable queer conundrum (seriously, too many trans men call themselves Noah and Gryffin and it’s a problem but also a valued part of transmasc culture which queers will nonetheless always lovingly put up with even though all of us are fed up about it smh). This show sets out to subvert expectations, normalities, and dominant narratives, and clearly achieves this in a rigorous and all the while light-hearted fashion. Whether you are one of the raucously comfortable people in the room or someone resolving to sit with your discomfort and learn through it, this incontestable shaking up of the theatre is in my books the mark of a successful work. Krishna Istha’s Beast is a distinguished conquering of the stand-up craft and an essential experience of renegade comedy for all prepared to relinquish their privilege for the duration of an explosively clever sixty-minute show.
Beast is on at the main stage at the Blue Room Theatre from the 21st-25th of January. Tickets are $32 and you can get them here.
5 caramel dildos out of 5
Patrick Gunasekera is the brown bombshell Perth needs and doesn’t deserve, and a queercrip Sinhala interdisciplinary artist working across writing, visual media, and performance.
Image courtesy of Bryony Jackson
Woodside Petroleum is a principal sponsor of FRINGE WORLD Festival. Pelican has been a long-time supporter of the Festival, and will continue to show its support. However, the Magazine feels it is unethical for Woodside Petroleum to remain a principal sponsor of FRINGE WORLD, given the current climate emergency, and Woodside’s ongoing contribution to climate change.
Other Festivals have demonstrated that ethical sources of funding are possible – you can read more, and sign the petition, here: https://www.change.org/p/fringeworld-side-with-the-climate-and-drop-woodside-petroleum // #fossilfreefringe #fossilfreearts // Arts and Cultural Workers for Climate Action