Nothing is sacrosanct for young Indian comedians anymore—be it politicians, Bollywood, media (TV journalist Arnab Goswami being a clear favorite), foreign relations, arranged marriage, overpopulation, sex education, homophobia or even Hindu gods.
But back in the day, things were different. When The Comedy Store, the first comedy club in India, was founded in 2009, humour typically knew only two forms—mimicry and slapstick. The concept of comedy being satirical, intelligent, and authentic was rare.
Those sensibilities have evolved, as has the medium: For India’s new age comedians, television is no longer the preferred platform. Instead, it is YouTube.
This year, India saw a string of viral online content and live shows by a mixed bag of satirists, comedians and improvisers. Quartz brings you the funniest and the craziest of them all.
All India Bakchod
The four-man comedy collective is India’s foremost YouTube channel for funny online videos. Two friends, Gursimran Khamba and Tanmay Bhat, started by producing popular podcasts. Eventually, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya came on board—and a year ago, they finally started doling out content on YouTube.
“We totally take credit for that,” Bhat told Quartz in an earlier interview. “In the comedy scene, no one was thinking about doing this, till we started it.”
The name All India Bakchod (bakchod is a Hindi slang for a person who talks rubbish) is a play on the state-run All India Radio. In the past year, they have produced a string of viral videos.
Lampooning the sorry state of the Congress party in the run-up to the general elections earlier this year, these funny guys played out a funeral send-off to thank the party and its members for being every comedian’s inspiration.
They followed that up by lampooning Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal in this brilliant video.
However, their most popular video was called Genius of the Year, in which Bollywood actor Alia Bhatt appeared in a bold self-parody. The video has been viewed over seven million times.
The Viral Fever
Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan approached The Viral Fever (TVF) to promote his film Happy New Year in October. The video TVF shot with Khan went viral with two million hits on YouTube. It parodies not only India’s argumentative journalist Arnab Goswami (the host), but also Khan himself.
The comedy outfit was started in 2010 by 31-year-old Arunabh Kumar because his concepts for TV shows were rejected by mainstream channels, including MTV. Today, his channel employs 25 people.
In April, they produced a web feature titled A 200-Crore Film (Bhai Ho!). The video redicules everything wrong with Bollywood—formulaic filmmaking, their obsession with the Rs100-crore mark, bad acting, poor scriptwriting, and so on.
Bangalore-based Kanan Gill began by posting vox-pop interviews around the city on his YouTube channel. The 25-year-old engineer left his job at a software development company to pursue stand-up comedy full time.
A turning point was his YouTube series Pretentious Movie Reviews, where he reviews and makes fun of Bollywood films from the nineties. He co-hosts the web show—that began in March this year with a review of a B-grade 1998 film Gunda—with his comedian friend, Biswa Kalyan Rath.
In this video, they review another critically panned Bollywood film Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon.
Comedy Nights With Kapil
Kapil Sharma became a prominent celebrity in India’s comedy scene, albeit through television, this year. First aired in June 2013, the celebrated comedy show has emerged as one of the most watched shows on Indian television. In fact, it has become a significant channel for promotion and marketing of Bollywood films. Now the stand-up comedian is ready to launch himself in films with Abbas-Mustan’s upcoming Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon.
However, the stand-up artist has time and again been accused of relying on sexism. For instance, in January, he landed in trouble with women activist groups for mocking and insulting pregnant women.
East India Comedy
Standup comedians Sorabh Pant, Kunal Rao, Sapan Verma, Sahil Shah, Azeem Banatwalla and Atul Khatri created East India Comedy, a YouTube channel, in 2012.
One of their most successful videos came right after India’s health minister banned sex education in India in July this year.
Earlier in December, they created a video called The Ultimate Shaadi Playlist, which features spoofs of famous songs, including Lorde’s Royals, Psy’s Gangnam Style and Queen’s We Will Rock You.
Old Delhi Films
This YouTube channel based in India’s national capital likes to talk about politics and society.
In this video, for instance, women in Delhi were asked a hypothetical question: what if men could menstruate?
The channel is backed by a digital video company, Culture Machine.
Culture Machine’s other popular channel is Being Indian. Their online videos explore the quirky side of Indian culture and society. This video, which stereotypes a Delhi girl, has over two million views.
But it’s not all lampooning and laughs. Indian comedians do face a constant threat of censorship. Last month, the Delhi high court banned the channel Comedy Central for six days for “injuring public morality.”