Kunal Kamra’s most famous joke is probably the one about the ATM-line grouch who keeps chanting the line, “Siachen mein hamare jawaan lad rahe hain!” By now it’s been repeated so often that it’s become more of a meme than a joke. You’d be forgiven for not being able to tell anymore if it’s particularly funny, or just an efficient takedown of mindless, chest-thumping nationalists.
To watch Kamra’s live show Fresh Thoughts is to realise that he isn’t just churning out catchphrases: he’s a consummate performer in great control of his craft, and he’s bloody hilarious. He’s been performing it for a couple of years now, but there’s no trace of fatigue or boredom; instead he just looks like he’s fine-tuned every note of the show.
It isn’t that his subjects are vastly different from what he’s tackled in his standup videos online or on social media. The targets are essentially the same: the government, the pathetically pliable media and the corporate powers that control them both. Specifically, he subjects Narendra Modi, Mukesh Ambani and Arnab Goswami to the most sustained comedic whipping they have perhaps ever received.
Because his tone is so easy, and because he’s more likely to use flattery, sarcasm and understatement as his weapons than aggression, Kamra comes across like a national jester that India desperately needs.
But what’s not fully apparent in Kamra’s YouTube clips is just how finely honed his onstage persona is. Though he is an unimposing presence on stage, Kamra delivers devastating critiques of the powers-that-be in a calm, laidback style, regularly slipping into silly, cartoony voices. Because his tone is so easy, and because he’s more likely to use flattery, sarcasm and understatement as his weapons than aggression, Kamra comes across like a national jester that India desperately needs. It’s funnier and more powerful than any Indian standup comedy you can find online.
It is often said that nothing punctures power more effectively than ridicule. And indeed, Kamra slices through the toxic hypocrisy and hate that has dominated the national discourse over the past few years, showing just how closely linked art and dissent can be.
In a time when much of the media has abdicated its responsibility to hold those in power accountable, comedians like Kamra are creating spaces for audiences to hear and share in truths that public figures rarely acknowledge today—such as about how virulent Hindutva discourse is becoming increasingly mainstream. To be in an auditorium rocked with laughter at Kamra’s barrage of subversive jokes is to realise that there is no greater leveller than humour—after all, the country’s most powerful are as vulnerable to mockery as any other citizens. And to watch audience members from all religions raise their hands and applaud jokes in which Kamra tears into the temple-building obsession of the Sangh’s many limbs, is to participate in nothing less than comedy as social catharsis.
Visit kunalkamra.in for tickets and gig updates.
Dead Ant review policy: 1) We pay for shows that we review. 2) When we review live shows of any kind, we might mention subjects that are dealt with, but will avoid more detailed discussion of premises or jokes. 3) When we review or discuss YouTube videos and OTT specials, since they are already accessible across locations, we may get into more details discussions of the material. These reviews aim to foster closer conversations about comedy, and hence are for people who have already watched the videos, or don’t mind knowing details of it beforehand.