Indian comedy on YouTube used to be dominated by Bollywood and established TV show stars. But a new breed of comics have begun producing original content, creating some of the most viral videos around with witty sketches and standup takes on everything from Bollywood clichés and melodramatic soaps to Indian politics and hyper-aggressive television news.
Yet, India’s comics walk a razor-thin line between amusing and offending. In February this year, the producers of the wildly popular All India Bakchod was forced to pull down AIB Knockout, a filmed roast of Bollywood actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, after protests and a state government investigation over the allegedly vulgar nature of the content. By then, though, the video had got over eight million views and AIB had become a household name.
We spoke to some of the people behind the most-loved comedy channels on YouTube to find out how far they can go and what makes Indians laugh.
The Viral Fever Videos
The way Viral Fever founder Arunabh Kumar sees it, “India is a very funny country without a sense of humor.” Founded in 2010, TVF features mock news shows and spoofs on television, Bollywood and popular culture. Unlike others on this list, TVF is a purely online content creator, and its repertoire extends beyond comedy to include fictional web series and branded content. “We are mostly storytellers, " Kumar told Mashable. “We would want to stick to telling better stories even with our comedy content.”
TVF’s early success came with Rowdies, which lampooned the adventure-reality TV contest MTV Roadies. The Barely Speaking series, a parody of the aggressive presentation style of Indian television news anchor Arnab Goswami, was wildly popular and has featured Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
“Over last three years, some of the successes have opened up the audience and they embraced this kind of humor, ” Kumar said. What makes Indians laugh the hardest? “Indian audience isn't looking for old Bollywood slapstick humor, " Kumar said. Kumar said. "Indians want to see more of themselves...They want to laugh at everyday things.”
Kanan Gill and Biswa Kalyan Rath
Bengaluru-based comics Gill and Rath give film criticism a hilarious spin with their Pretentious Movie Reviews of some of the trashiest Hindi movies from the last few decades. “Bollywood has made a ton of questionable movies in the past, so there is a limitless repository of hilariously terrible films, ” says Gill.
While this is a golden age for Indian comedy on YouTube, he says there are limits to how far you can take certain subjects. "The content tends to be safe in terms of doing anything that might be too explicit, " he says, adding that “there is a giant, gloomy behemoth of censorship that makes a lot of people think twice about what they say online."
What makes India laugh the hardest? “Right now most people are just laughing at how we are, and the things we do. There really is an audience for all kinds of humor. But the big hits are politics and Bollywood."
East India Comedy
East India Comedy, a group of seven stand-up comedians, combines live shows with original YouTube productions, producing sketches, gags, musical spoofs and a topical news comedy called The Bottom Line which has tackled everything from the recent spate of bans in India to the Sheena Bora murder case.
"Yes, we tone down some stuff because we want to continue doing comedy but, " said Sorabh Pant, one of the founders, "Indian comedy online is far from 'safe.'"
What makes India laugh the hardest? "Bollywood, current affairs, social issues and news topics are of course top of the pile on things Indians love. No prizes for guessing that, ” Pant said. “The slow shift that's happening now is that everyone is politically aware and that makes a difference to content as well.”