Transgender performer Krishna Istha brings ‘Beast’ to Fringe World

Krishna Istha is an acclaimed performance artist who began adding elements of stand-up comedy to his work. With the help of some well known Australian comedians, the British artist developed his latest show Beast.

Istha spoke to Graeme Watson on RTRFM’s All Things Queer. 

You’re bringing your show Beast to Fringe World, where did the ideas for this show begin?

I had a couple of ideas going, and the first seed was planted when I got a culture lab grant at Arts House in Melbourne. I was sort of exploring a queer version of Beauty and the Beast, and how the beast is sort of portrayed as aggressive and violent, and a very specific sort of masculine character – but only have he transitions into this sort of hairy brown creature.

I was looking at the beast as someone with similar experiences to a trans brown person, for example.

At the same time I was getting more into stand-up and I was in New York at that point, and I went to Hannah Gadsby, who has since blown up, to learn about this form and how it works. It’s sort of a mash of both of those ideas together.

So it’s a show about my experience of being a trans person of colour, but its also an exploration of the form of stand up comedy. So the form is part stand up comedy, and part performance art.

Do you have permission to make fun about, and highlight the comedy of thinhs like being trans, and being a person of colour, if that’s who you are; do you have more leeway on what you’re allowed to can say?

In a way, yes. I’ve got an entire world of jokes that are untapped, because you don’t often see trans comedians, or trans comedian of colour. So there’s this entire world that is untapped so that gives me some sort of leverage to go there.

At the same time there are heaps comedians like Louis C.K, Dave Chappelle, all the big comedians, are doing transphobic jokes, they are doing trans jokes, but it’s transphobia. I get a lot of pleasure from turning that around and being the person making these trans jokers, but not in a negative light.

You’ve had a successful performance career, what was it that attracted you about moving into stand up as a form of performance, what was the appeal? 

I realised that I’d been making work for so many years, and it was comedy. People came to these shows and they did laugh. But I realised that I didn;t ever called stand up comedy, I never went into that world because I was never able to see someone like me doing stand up comedy.

I didn’t realise it was something I could even do, It wasn’t too far out of my depth, but I think I started getting very interest in stand up as a form in itself when I started seeing other queer comedians like Hannah [Gadsby] or Zoe Coombs-Marr, who’s the director of Beast, it sort of changed my perspective of what stand up was, and who it is for.

I think it’s the blast and release that you get from it that I think it very important for marginalised people.  

Get tickets to see Beast at The Blue Room via Fringe World. Take a listen to the whole chat with Krishna Istha. 

Graeme Watson, team members at OUTinPerth volunteer at community radio station RTRFM to help create the weekly program All Things Queer.