And so India came to know about stand-up

In the last few days we have seen a splurge in the specials from Indian comics and I am sure, its not just the Amazon Prime Video that’s to be credited.

Indian stand-up comedy scene has seen a tremendous growth in the last 5 years. Although some of the veterans started their career around 10 years ago, its been only half a decade that the audience started noticing these struggling part-time comics trying to crack jokes at a handful of open mic nights. All of this though did not happen over night.

Before most of us were born, a prevalent platform used by artists in India to make their audience laugh was through mimicry or setting up short plays, popularly known as “Nautankis”. Most of the rural and urban India would enjoy these dramatic displays of humor. This is still, in my opinion, the sort of comedy most of the Indian households have known growing up and connect to. (Reason why Kapil Sharma show has an audience)

However in the last decade, a new form of comedy started entering urban hubs with the likes of Vir Das organising open-mic nights. It was here that the present comics were being prepared to do the style of comedy famous in the US and UK. The ones opting for this new form of comedy were a mix of kids who grew up knowing Richard Pryor and George Carlin, and just generally funny individuals.

It was thanks to the launch of the first stand-up comedy show on TV that the two parallel universes collided. In 2005, a new comedy show called ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’ got a bunch of mimicry artists and little known comedians to regular households. The one hour long show made many households laugh as brilliant comics like Raju Srivastav narrated funny observations from everyday lives. The transition was quite smooth as the comics relied mostly on their mimicry skills and the narrative style of a ‘nautanki’ to relate to the audience. The show thereby prepared an audience for the comics being primed at the open-mic nights.


The comedy scene in India was finally more than just a break between the dance performances and a side kick in the Bollywood tours. There was a visible increase in the demand for stand-up specials as a wider audience was exposed to this art form at their favourite pub or at their nearest theatre.

The final stroke to this rising fame was when an American online video sharing website called Youtube entered India. The stand-up videos from across the globe introduced comedy to many more school and college students. Particularly to a second generation NRI, Russel Peters who based his comedy on ethnic stereotypes and gained instant popularity with the Indian crowd.

Stand-up comedy hasn’t looked back since. In the last decade these parallel events led to the rise of stand-up in India, with a larger number of comics filling up performance spaces and gaining Youtube following. Finally bringing us to this point where we now have Indian comics doing comedy across continents and releasing specials online. Meanwhile, the kids who saw comics perform at ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’ are now working adults paying to watch their favourite comics perform live.