I don’t want to wait for people to write content for me. Social media has allowed me step out of the ‘mom-zone’ says Sumukhi Suresh, a pioneering Youtuber and stand-up comedian from India

Sumukhi explains how social media helps her experiment with voice and content to shatter stereotypes and discover new audiences. Click here to attend the free Digital Identities seminars for journalists in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Oslo on 26 April, where she will be speaking. These seminars are powered by Google News Lab

Sumukhi Suresh / Photo credit: Subrahmanyam Sai Teja of Focus Frames

Sumukhi tell us a bit about yourself
I am a standup comedian, a performer and artist. At the moment I divide my time between Bangalore and Mumbai. When I first started, a lot of people said I wouldn’t make it. To some extent, it’s my desire to prove them wrong that drives me. This is why I use social media to find my own voice and challenge stereotypes.

What do you mean by finding your voice?
There’s an interesting relationship between the characters I portray offline and online. They often influence and inspire each other. I use social media to explore this relationship. It’s a playful, intense and unpredictable process, one that I enjoy sharing with the audience as well as my peers online.

Behti Naak, a web-series created by Sumukhi Suresh

How do you balance this process with generating revenue?
Putting revenue first is quite limiting. For me, social media is about voice, collaboration, reputation and boundaries. Take Behti Naak, a web-series where I portray a 10-year old who enjoys destroying people with cutting remarks. Behti is a work in progress that has evolved through my collaboration with other comedians. Through this process I have been able to refine the character as well as increase her visibility to the point where Behti is recognised by a large audience online. Now if there’s a brand that’s interested in working with Behti, I am happy to have a chat.

So you present a voice and expect brands to find you?
Yes, that’s correct. The thing is, I can’t pander to stereotypes. Such an approach might might be lucrative in the short-term, but I’ll be creatively frustrated in no time. I want to remain true to myself. My digital identity is very close to who I am offline, but it is not a literal representation. I believe this approach will give me longevity and a sense of control. I also attach a different purpose to each channel. For instance, YouTube is more about story building and episodic content, whereas I am much more spontaneous on Snapchat.

How do you approach commercial partnerships?
I don’t say yes to fat girl sketches. The moment I say yes to one, it will be the only thing I do. Many male content writers tend to include women in roles they are most familiar with — the girlfriend, the wife, the maid or the mother. I’m not keen on playing them all the time either. I can be the voice of a hundred different campaigns, as long as they chime with my beliefs and offer creative freedom. But I’m not just the voice, I want to live by example as well. As for sponsored content, it’s very obvious when I do sponsored content. Just take a look at any of my social media feeds.

What about trolling?
It’s usually my weight. The thing is, my time is valuable and I don’t want to waste it on the trolls. I’m happy to have a discussion, but I’m careful about who I engage with, because every time I have a debate with someone, I also put them in the spotlight.

And the pressure to go viral?
The viral game can be toxic. I don’t have any pressure to go viral. If I have two million subscribers and I still get seven hundred views on a video, then I’ll be worried. My goal is to be consistent, I think that’s a much better way of capturing digital attention. Besides, each video I produce is part of a process of developing a character. I want my audience to know that. Like I said, I’m constantly experimenting with my voice and content, so what I say and do on social media will be a response to my ongoing dialogue with my audiences online.

Digital Identities powered by Google News Lab is a free programme open to journalists. After a successful pilot in Sweden we’re running seminars in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo and Delhi this year. Click here to learn more.

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