Over the years, even as the Indian standup scene has exploded, a number of comics of South Asian descent have also made their mark in other parts of the world. And when comics talk about family, religion, conservatism, love and brownness, it doesn’t particularly seem to matter whether they’re of Pakistani, Indian or Sri Lankan descent.
This summer, Aziz Ansari hits New Delhi and Mumbai in May with his special Road to Nowhere, and Russell Peters is bringing his Deported World Tour to Mumbai in June. Since it looks like the universe is taking requests, here are seven other comics of South Asian descent that we’d love to see perform live on our home turf.
1. Aparna Nancherla
Nancherla, an American comic whose parents immigrated to the United States from Hyderabad, has a wry, deadpan voice that she uses largely to examine her own vulnerabilities. She comes across as a subdued kind of performer, but behind that persona masks a crackling wit and a strong writerly craft.
In this appearance on The Late Late Show With James Corden, she talks about her protesting babies, her own body, and suffering from FOMI as opposed to FOMO.
Nancherla has appeared on the Netflix comedy series The Standups, with a half-hour that included a PowerPoint presentation. She’s also worth following on Twitter, as one of the few comics who’s adapted brilliantly to the form.
2. Romesh Ranganathan
Ranganathan is a British comic of Sri Lankan descent who is known for his bleak, unflinching humour. On stage, he is a brooding, unsmiling presence, and in fact has even described himself as “a grumpy prick”. But this grumpiness only serves to accentuate the biting wit that underlies his material.
In this appearanceat the Apollo, he looks at subjects that range from family life to racism in the United Kingdom.
3. Hari Kondabolu
Kondabolu is an American comic whose parents migrated to the US from Andhra Pradesh. Kondabolu’s work is testament to the fact that sometimes the best comedy is inextricably linked to the comedian’s identity. Racism, south Asian identity and the immigrant experience have long formed the basis of Kondabalu’s work. This was only underscored after he made the documentary The Problem With Apu, which investigated the origins of the Indian character, Apu, on The Simpsons, and the ramifications to south Asians of a cliché occupying such a prominent cultural space. Kondabolu has earned a well-deserved reach and following, and is now one of the most prominent comics of south Asian origin in the US.
4. Arj Barker
Arj Barker is an American comic who now lives and works in Australia, after having attained fame through the television show Flight of the Conchords. His father is of Sikh descent, but Barker’s material doesn’t tackle issues specific to South Asia. Instead, Barker takes on a variety of subjects, ranging from exercise to relationships. His dude-bro exterior belies a verbal eloquence and a uniquely weird worldview. And he’s one of the rare shouty comedians whose voice and mic control are so deft that they’re actually enjoyable to listen to when they start yelling.
5. Hasan Minhaj
With multiple late show appearances, an acclaimed Netflix special and a new weekly show, Patriot Act, Minhaj is now a global superstar. He is a sharp, political voice who shines in stand-up, as well as in the style of political commentary that draws from the work of comics like Stephen Colbert and John Oliver. (But maybe he’d be safest visiting after the General Elections this year.)
6. Kumail Nanjiani
With a booming career in film and television, Nanjiani’s fans haven’t of late seen as much standup from him as they might have liked. Which is a pity because Nanjiani, who is of Pakistani descent, is a delightful stage performer, whose ironic and often self-deprecating material offers insights into the most unexpected of subjects. A great example is his classic two minutes on a new drug called “cheese”.
7. Alingon Mitra
On stage, Mitra, who is of Bengali descent, is a slight, comforting presence who lulls you into a sense of trust but whose jokes can take sudden, twisted turns. In this brief, brilliant set on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, Mitra delivers a cracking five minutes, without one false step. His end is particularly instructive for Indian comedians, who rely far too heavily on predictable callbacks to structure their sets—Mitra’s is the perfect callback finish, unpredictable and hilarious.