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Nepali Woman Who Once Conquered Mount Everest Is Now Making New York Laugh

As an announcer called Shailee Basnet on the stage, the audience welcomed her with such a loud noise that it just felt like whole New York City was waiting for her to perform. As Basnet, 34, slowly walked up to the stage and held her mic, history was made -  a Nepali woman debuted at New York City’s famous Gotham Comedy Club on September 20. The club is a popular platform for stand-up comedians. It has hosted many comedians, but this time it hosted a Nepali girl for the first time. “Hello, I am short,” she started her act and poked fun at her own height. As she continued making fun of herself, the audience was gripped with her wits. She did not spare anyone with her jokes. One of her slam-dunks referring to Nepali culture of eating and relieving: “I eat with my hands because in my culture it is important to touch the food, feel the texture, both going in and coming out.”Almost 80 percent of the audience were Nepali. They were excited to see a Nepali girl cracking jokes in English. 

“It’s an amazing story,” said Anil Jung Shahi, a Nepali native, who has been living in the city for 27 years. “To see someone from Nepal performing in this prestigious stage, this is just awesome.” Majority of them echoed Shahi. Durga Bhurtel, a Nepalese attorney based in New York said, “This is really surprising for us (Nepali) to see her perform here. I am so glad.” This news of Basnet created a stir among Nepali living here, who were engrossed in her humor because they could relate to it.

Basnet has an interesting career. She started her career as a journalist in Nepal’s popular media outlet, HimalKhabar Patrika in 2005. During one of her reporting stints in July 2007, she came to know about first Inclusive Women's Sagarmatha Expedition planned by the Climbers Club for the following spring. Basnet thought she could be part of it so she reached out to the organizer and that’s how her path to mountaineering began. Basnet also became the leader of the “Seven Summits Women Team,” a team of Nepali women who climbed the seven highest peaks of seven continents. Basnet recalls the time when she conquered Mount Everest on 24th May 2008.

She has conquered three other peaks on three continents. Her team has become the first female team in the world to climb the highest peaks on each continent. Their last climb was of Mount Vinson Massif in Antarctica in December 2014.Her stand-up career started as she was still in her mountaineering career. It was the year 2011, when she performed her stand-up for the first time. The show was called ‘Thadai Thatta’ which loosely translates to ‘Direct Jokes,’ in Nepali. 

“Manoj Gajurel really loved my show,” Basnet said. Gajurel is one of the famous stand-up Nepali comedians, who recently made international headlines as he caricatured Donald Trump. Basnet gradually shifted to perform English language stand-ups in Nepal. “My interest in stand-up comedy was loved by veteran comedians and journalists of Nepal, which encouraged me,” she said. In the course of her expedition, she also met her soulmate, Tyler McMahon, an American citizen who she tied the knot in November 2010. 

After her marriage, she spent sometimes in Colorado, U.S. in 2013 with her husband. During that stay, she got an opportunity to perform at the Bohemian Biergarten in Boulder. The show was called the Boulder Comedy Show. “People were really excited to watch me perform,” she said. “They were really surprised that a Mount Everest Climber like me was doing a stand-up.”Then she took a brief break in her comic career. “Our team’s mission of climbing the highest peaks of seven continents was in full swing in 2014,” she said. “We were committed to fulfilling our mission so I only focused on that then.”

She continued her stand-up career as the mission was complete. She started performing again. Last April she performed with Indian artist Vasu Primlani, which she said was well received.She then decided to come to New York. 

Shailee shares about her New York journey with journalist Anuz Thapa: “I really wanted to go beyond my country in my stand-up career so I decided to come here,” she said. Last June, she completed a six-week comedy course at Manhattan Comedy School. There, she met Andy Engel, the founder of the school. “When I met him, I told him that I had performed in Nepal and Colorado,” she said. “He was impressed with me and loved my journey.”Engel, who is one of the producers at Gotham Comedy Club, offered her to perform there. What more could she ask for? “It was something surreal,” she said. On her debut night, I asked Engel of how he found her.“She found me,” said Engel. “There are people from all over the world that are finding Manhattan comedy school … I think any kind of New York connection is very powerful and I was very grateful that Shailee found me.”“I am blessed to get this opportunity,” she said.