Tuesday 6 September 2022

How being a Slave 4 Britney built Sunanda's career in comedy

In 2019, Sunanda moved to Australia and quickly set their sights on the Melbourne comedy scene. Fast forward to this year and a Best Newcomer Nominee at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Sunanda is ready to take on the Fringe Festival with their show Sunanda Loves Britney about how a decade long obsession with Britney Jean Spears led to an awakening and understanding of who they are.

Arriving with no contacts and being a queer Indian woman, Sunanda faced some initial hurdles to break the ice and make those valuable connections and introductions but she got lucky in finding her people and her audience. "I just moved here and had no network of artists to collaborate with so at first the Melbourne comedy scene felt limited and gatekeepery but I gradually met the right people and worked with different groups with different aesthetics and comedic styles which have informed and sharpened my own perspective. I’ve made friends in stand up, clown, theatre, impro, and sketch comedy. Compared to LA where I was doing lots of sketch and some impro, it’s definitely a smaller scene on the whole, but there are still artists pushing and melding genres," they tell me.

"The one thing I do miss is the diversity of artists. Melbourne comedy is overwhelmingly white and middle class which means there are so many under represented perspectives. I think it stems from a combination of who can afford to pay for tickets to shows, therefore dictating the types of shows and artists the audience and venues/programmers/producers feel they may relate to, the financial barriers to dedicating time and effort to comedy (which rarely pays), and those in positions of power not being able to relate to comics superficially very different from them," they explain. "But hopefully that will keep shifting towards not just more diverse forms of comedy but towards creating more space for comics with diverse identities and themes."

One of these “different” stories they hope people go see is Sunanda Loves Britney and once Sunanda gets started on Britney and how the pop star and gay icon changed their life, they never stop. "BRITNEY SPEARS was my EVERYTHING! I owned four copies of her Baby One More Time CD and that was when I had to save up money for two weeks from leftover lunch money to buy a CD. I think I focused so much energy on obsessing over Britney because it was a great way to distract myself from my self and my obvious-to-everyone-but-myself queerness. She was (and has the potential to rise again!) one of the most energetic, sensational, magnetic, charismatic and charming performers I've seen live," they exclaim.

"I think she is such a gay icon because she IS so 'straight' and was always pushed as an 'ideal straight cis woman' but I think when heteronormativity in gender expression is coupled with so much sexual energy and this girl-next-door image contrasts with the sex kitten vibes, it tips back into camp territory and so then feels queer. Hyper sexual heteronomativity feels camp to me," Sunanda says.

Despite this amorous affection, Sunanda Loves Britney is more than just Sunanda fanning over a celebrity. There were emotional and personal realisations had while creating this show. "I had to confront the fact that I'm still not over my first love from the sixth grade and dive into why it seemed my love and unexpressed attraction to her translated to an obsession with Britney and how to express longing for the past which I can never relive or change again," they tell me. "But it has also been and continues to be cathartic. Because in the show I also talk a lot about my upbringing, I think I came to understand that it was messed up in a lot of ways that I just took on as normal."

While she came here alone, Sunanda's work practice is very much collaborative, especially when it came to picking their director for the show, Candy Bowers, where the relationship was anything but toxic. "Candy and I really worked at trying to create very sharp turns in the dramatic storytelling portions where we inject comedy and surprise the audience," they say. "Earlier, as a comic, I think I was just concerned with making people laugh, but with this show, the focus really shifted to telling a full story, taking the audience on an emotional journey, and having it be told within a clear traditional playwriting structure."

"To have that outside eye focusing on and scrutinizing your actual life and trauma, to help you create structure from autobiographical stories, to be so vulnerable as to show someone your core and then know that you're both mining it and sharpening details for the sake of the story, that's not a smooth and easy process but it was so valuable and I feel so incredibly grateful to have someone so experienced, especially at working with autobiographical material, to have directed my show."

It would be absolutely criminal to miss seeing this crazy show so book your tickets via the link below, after all Sunanda Loves Britney was born to make you happy, and laugh, and to understand the queer experience from a different perspective.

1. If you had to name your child after a vegetable what would it be?
Courgette... sound fancy!  Also been wanting to do a dumb cover of a Prince song but titled "Little Green Courgette".
2. Which reality TV show would you most like to appear/compete on?
Indian Matchmaking!  I just find it so ridiculous, and I'd love to get someone on that show incognito and really fuck with all the heteronormative, colorist, classist bullshit Sima Taparia spouts. To be the ultimate disruptor on a show like that and then have it make the cut would be supreme!
3. How many seconds can pass before you can't eat food off the floor?
If I dropped it or even if I have a strong feeling that I dropped it (not someone else), then time's not real! I dropped it. It's mine. Get in my belly. Lemme tell you another time 'bout the time I drank a Starbucks caramel frappuccino on my table only to realize later that it was NOT my friend's but rather, left there by a stranger cuz it was hella melted already. Didn't die! So... yeah, as long as it's mine now is where the bar is set. 
4. What's a song that sums up your life?
This question is nonsensical and maddens me (ONE SONG?!?!?!?) but, I'll say Miley Cyrus' Party in the USA only because of the line "And a Britney song was on... They're playin' my song, I know I'm gonna be OK, Yeah, it's a party in the USA."
5. It just isn't a Fringe Festival experience without feeling really really really really seen by someone you've only ever been cordial with at the closing night party. Metaphorically, literally, metaphysically, take your pick.
Show Details

Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon and Victoria Sts, Carlton.
Season: 6 - 14 October | Tues - Sat 7:15pm, Sun 6:15pm
Duration: 55 minutes
$28 Full | $25 Concession
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

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