It’s hard to look back at the last 10 years and not feel like the whole decade was just one long, dark joke by the universe. It started out so brightly, with the global economy finally in recovery and—closer to home—the rapidly expanding online economy that provided space for a bunch of upstart creatives who wanted to upend the traditional culture industries. Indie music, film and comedy all went from tiny scenes to cultural mainstays, pushing the mainstream in a more progressive and liberal direction. And just when we settled in for a smooth ride—in the comedy scene, if not in the nation at large—we got sucker-punched by COVID-19 and censorship-by-mob. Hilarious.
No comedian can really compete with that joke, if only because they usually don’t get afforded a decade’s worth of setup time. But Indian comics gave it a real go over the 2010s, with bits that have become popular reference points, punchlines that became national headlines, and yes, there was the roast. To celebrate a decade of Indian comedy, we put together a list of some of the most iconic jokes (available on YouTube) of the 2010s. It’s not a comprehensive list by any means, so we’d love to hear your picks! Here we go, in no particular order:
1. Kunal Kamra – Mere Ghar Ke Bahar Goo Hai
It’s hard to remember a time when Kunal Kamra wasn’t public enemy number one for a certain section of the Twitter population. This video, released three years ago, is where it all started. Kamra’s 8-minute set is full of fantastic zingers aimed at patriotism, demonetisation and Arnab Goswami, but it’s the line poking fun at the absurdity of the histrionics aimed at JNU students that really stands out.
2. Biswa Kalyan Rath – Bananas and Pomegranates
How much thought do you put into your fruit choices? We bet you’ve never gone as deep as Biswa Kalyan Rath does in this bit where he analyses the difference between bananas and pomegranates when it comes to bachelor convenience, market positioning and Freudian psychoanalysis. Judging by the comments, fans were almost as grateful for the banana joke he didn’t crack (you know which one) as the clever material on display.
3. Karunesh Talwar – Main Padha Rehta Hun
The comedy version of a slacker anthem, this bit by Karunesh Talwar channels his inner ne’er-do-well as he takes on everyone’s favourite munchies show—Masterchef. But what really sells it is the deadpan pride with which he says “main padha rehta hun, meri hobby hai life mein”, with all the smooth nonchalance of a Richard Linklater character.
4. Kenny Sebastian – Taking A Bucket Bath In India
The king of #relatable comedy Kenny Sebastian struck a nerve with India’s middle millions with this bit about bucket baths. We’ve all been in the situations he’s talking about (and if you haven’t, check your privilege), and Sebastian uses that shared experience to evoke bellyfuls of nostalgic laughter. To quote YouTube commenter Maria Ansari, “Lol this guy relates to you like he’s your cousin.”
5. Kanan Gill – The First Child Is The Project
Given our joint family system and the sheer number of children in this country, it’s no wonder that siblings are a ripe subject for art—and a favourite crutch for Ekta Kapoor’s writers room. So, even though Kanan isn’t exactly breaking ground with this bit on the difference between how parents approach their first, second and third kids, he manages to find a fresh and hilarious perspective on India’s favourite family dynamic.
6. Aditi Mittal – Science In Your Chaddis
I must admit that it took me inordinately long to figure out why sanitary napkin ads used that blue fluid. But then again, who could you ask? Over the last few years, comics like Aditi Mittal have dragged these previously—and illogically—taboo topics into the limelight and added to the conversations that all of us should be having about our bodies and sexual health. But that’s not what makes this joke an iconic one. The credit for that goes to the straightfaced conviction with which Mittal declares “ladies, once a month there’s science in your chaddi.”
7. Zakir Khan – Sakht Launda
The joke that took on a life of its own. When Zakir Khan first started performing the ‘Sakht Launda’ bit, it was obvious that it resonated with an audience wider than your usual open mic night. But I don’t think that even Khan expected it would become so synonymous with him that it’s almost an alias. Sure, it’s problematic in parts, and his comedy has become much more sophisticated over the years. But love it or hate it, Khan will always be the ‘sakht launda’ to his fans.
8. Rahul Subramanian – DJs
Have you ever wondered what would happen if the DJ at your favourite club had to deal with one terrible song request too many? Hopefully you won’t get beaten up by a mob of angry David Guetta wannabes, as almost happened to Rahul Subramanian after he performed this bit about DJs at a gig in Gurgaon. Chill out guys, just learn to have a laugh at yourself. PS: can you please play DJ Waley Babu again?
9. Rahul Dua – Jeans
It was a close call between this and ‘Aunty Bahut High Hai’, but Dua’s debut rant on class conflict at a house-warming party wins out. What does class conflict have to do with parties or jeans? Let Dua tell you in his own words.
10. Abijit Ganguly – Ladke Dost
We all have that one friend who always brings out the worst in you, urging you to act on your stupidest ideas. For Abijit Ganguly, the problem is having guys as friends. In this infinitely relatable bit, Ganguly breaks down exactly why guy friends are your kryptonite. And the cherry on the top is that “kar le, kar le, kar le”. You’ve seen the meme, you know what I mean.
11. Aravind SA – Chapathi Song
When Yo Yo Honey Singh released Lungi Dance in 2013, he earned the ire of many Rajinikanth fans with the song’s stereotypical—and often inaccurate—portrayal of both the Tamil film icon and South Indians in general. So when Aravind SA went on tour with a show titled Madrasi Da, you just knew that he was going to clap back. This epic Lungi Dance parody is mostly in Tamil, but there’s enough context for non-Tamil speakers to get the joke (and in the case of some jobless fellows, get offended). Watch this once, and you’ll never hear Lungi Dance the same ever again.
12. Varun Grover – Padmavat & The Parrot
Remember the Padmavat controversy? Here’s Varun Grover’s take on the divergence between history and fiction in the film, the reason for the outrage, and the parrot that brought down a kingdom. Bonus points for the slightly prophetic jewellery ad joke (hello, Tanishq!).
13. Abhishek Upmanyu – Delhi, Mumbai and Rich People
When it comes to subtle, subversive comedy, there’s nobody better than Abhishek Upmanyu. A great example is the first half of this video, where he tackles the differences in public disposition between people in Mumbai and Delhi. All goes predictably until the bit makes a sharp right turn into absurdity with the simple words “to maine usse kiss kar diya.” Rumour has it, the audience is still suffering from whiplash.
14. Urooj Ashfaq – Uber Driver and Grandmother
The increasing polarisation of Indian society is often touched upon by Indian comics, with a large section of the scene coming out against rising Islamophobia. But Urooj Ashfaq’s Uber Driver and Grandmother sketch offers a rare intimate insight into the young Indian Muslim experience—the daily reckoning with casual bigotry, as well as the conservative ideas of their own elders. Protip: it’s also a great example of how to engage with religion in your sets without triggering the trolls.
15. Prashasti Singh – Self Respect Ki Dhajiyaan
A contestant on the first season of Comicstaan, Prashasti Singh catapulted to national attention thanks to a handful of signature jokes from the show. But the one that really hit home—partly thanks to the provocative title of this video—was this joke about being a small town girl who gamely jumps into the deep end of the big city
meat market dating scene with the battle cry “bigair beizzati kaisa pyaar?”
16. Karthik Kumar – Xerox Engineers
Anyone who’s studied on an Indian college campus knows that the most popular spot on campus during exam time is not the library or the classroom but the campus Xerox shop. In this clip, Karthik Kumar uses that universal point of reference to weave an ethnographic narrative about the ‘South Indian engineer’—and by extension—the Indian approach to engineering in general. In an engineering-mad country like India, the jokes are #totesrelatable.
17. Anirban Dasgupta – Afreen Afreen
Bollywood has given a lot of material to Indian comics over the years, but Anirban Dasgupta’s dissection of Afreen Afreen stands out from the crowd. Between riffing on Urdu poetry’s tendency to repeat words, and its propensity to hyperbole, he also makes an important point about the lack of female perspectives in our love songs. An educational roast of romantic Bollywood pop, what else can you ask for? (Well, besides a petition to nationalise Dasgupta’s favourite swear word, bokachoda.)
18. Vir Das – Indians Are Racist-ish
What this Vir Das joke lacks in historical and sociological accuracy, it makes up for in its reckoning with the many complications of race relations—both at home and abroad. And Das makes an important point about acknowledging difference without racism.
19. Gaurav Kapoor – Cool Guys & Bullets
Growing up in the 1990s, the Royal Enfield Bullet was an institution of cool. Its deafening rumble (especially since everyone liked to remove the silencer) evoked scenes from an (imaginary) North Indian remake of The Wild One. So when Gaurav Kapoor calmly eviscerated the Bullet-riding ‘cool boys’ in this video, he should have expected the trolling and backlash that it got. Controversy aside, this clip is iconic for Kapoor’s hilarious jabs at the sacred symbols of Indian machismo and masculinity.
20. Anubhav Singh Bassi – Cheating
In 2019, Anubhav Singh Bassi tore through the internet with his first ever standup clip on YouTube, Cheating. It’s a showcase of Bassi’s storytelling skills, centred around his relatable af experiences with cheating during college exams, but he had everyone at the opening line: “Pehle toh mein college paunch, mujhe ganja mil gaya… Maine phoonka, semester khatam ho gaya.” The 12-minute video is often quoted even by fellow comedians as the one clip they’ve rewatched several times.
21. Vipul Goyal – Modiji & Taxes
How do you write a five minute comedy piece about the shift from service tax to GST? Ask Vipul Goyal. In this uproarious bit, Goyal throws velvet-gloved punches at Prime Minister Modi and the succession of tax cesses introduced by his government. Even the PM’s most ardent fans have to laugh at the description of him as “tax ke crime-master Gogo.” One has to salute such mastery of the back-handed compliment.