Indian stand-up comedy continues to gain popularity in India and worldwide as local and NRI audiences realize TV shows aren’t keeping up with what the modern country wants.
From just 15 comedians in 2010 to well over 200 in 2019, it seems everybody you know is changing their DP into a picture of them holding a microphone at the open mic.
Thanks to Facebook and YouTube and insanely priced internet access, Indian stand up comedy is also at the forefront of entertainment.
Amazon Prime and Netflix are also looking at comedy closely as a way to continue to buy market share of the middle-class Indian consumer. It’s insanely cheap to spend on a Amazon Prime comedy special that produce a web series or a movie.
But how do you decide who to watch and what flavor is right for you? Which one is the funniest Indian comedian?
In a country as diverse as India where Hindi is king, the numbers clearly favor the Hindi comics. However, in years to come, we will continue to see a diversification of comedy in English, Tamil, Kannada, Punjabi and who knows what else.
But in the meantime, since YouTube doesn’t really allow you to sort the biggest videos, here’s a quick list of the most viewed Indian stand up comedians I know from being in the scene.
Best Indian Stand Up Comedians In Hindi
The list below is based on the videos/artists I know of in the comedy space by YouTube views. If I missed anybody let me know. They’re plenty of other great Indian comedians in English, Tamil, Kannada and more.
Updated View counts: October 2019
So who are the best Hindi stand up comedians in India?
1. Zakir Khan
This video from the AIB Diwas festival in Mumbai arguably launched Zakir Khan into the mainstream.
Although it was hardly an overnight success and Zakir had been at it for years, the timing of his talent and exposure lined up nicely from this point onwards.
It’s easy to see why Zakir and Abhishek continue to be thought of as the best Indian stand up comedians because wow, they’re blowing the numbers out of the water. You probably also know Zakir from his Amazon Prime Haq Se Single special.
Continuing his hot streak from the same show, Zakir follows up by giving his fans more of what they wanted. Girls check, exams and studies check. Middle class comedy has never been so relatable to the Indian audiences.
Zakir eventually used these videos as a way to launch into the Great Indian Laughter challenge. He also used the phrase Sakth Launda which means to be a kind of flirtatious, non committing guy.
Taking home the gold, silver, and bronze in most viewed Hindi stand up comedian, Zakir keeps at it in this clip from Canvas laugh club in Mumbai.
Speaking of Canvas Laugh Club, the largest comedy club in India also launched the careers of many of the comics on this list. Unfortunately it shut down but hopefully, it opens soon, because of the number of views featuring its branding is insane.
One such name you probably know is Abhishek Upmanyu who along with Zakir probably has the most views of any Hindi stand up artist across the world.
How many of you knew Abhishek also worked at Bain and quit that to enter the comedy world? How much talent and luck can one person have!
Respecting elders, questioning Indian middle-class society and more is all great in this clip from Canvas yet again.
India loves it’s YouTube, and there is one other Tube that probably gets most of its traffic from the subcontinent. Abhishek gives us insights into both.
Anybody who’s stepped outside in India knows the beauty of dealing with strangers.
Now that both Canvas comedy clubs have shut, the new big player with a very recognizable backdrop is the Indie Habitat in Mumbai.
Another very popular cultural reference in India is about the TV shows we all watch, and Abhishek continues to reference the right topics with the right jokes.
The comedy club is a great space to record and has probably taken over the Indian YouTube’s stand up comedy subconscious with its instantly recognizable backdrop. If you see a thumbnail from here, you will assume the quality is fairly decent.
The craziest thing about stand up comedy in India is that nobody has a linear career.
This is not like engineering or medicine where the longer you work, the higher you are. Thanks to YouTube and proper timing, this video from a guy I never heard of (at the time) shows if you work hard on your sets for a few years and then time it right, good things can happen.
But they’re no short cuts, and I’m sure he’s also a gifted storyteller or communicator. But this funny video on exams and cheating and so on shows you also have to hit the right notes for Indian audiences (e.g. school, girls, middle-class life, etc..).
In comedy having a unique voice also helps. The term is often overused, but basically some comedians (ahem) take years to find their style, while others seem to have it naturally. In Bassi’s case it seems to the be the second. Well done!
4. Manik Mahna
Similar to Bassi above, if you hit the right notes, have good jokes, a good audience and get a good recording with good audio, good things can happen.
Manik Mahna is another name who has nearly 400K subscribers with just two videos. In stand up comedy talking about school, classmates, engineering, girls, families and much more can be considered evergreen content, and I’m sure these videos will keep the fans coming for years to come.
Another great success that shows the democracy of talent in the age of YouTube.
5. Kunal Kamra
Speaking of democracy, Kunal Kamra burst onto the scene by giving Habitat its first big viral video as well as himself with Patriotism and Government.
He had been performing at Canvas Laugh Club in Mumbai for years before then.
He continues to troll the Modi supporters, mainstream media and pretty much anyone in government with his comedy and has a very popular Instagram page.
While I personally am looking for Kunal to talk about dating or his personal challenges (weight loss maybe?) his success proves that sometimes doubling down on a niche (family, dating, politics, Indian society, engineering) might be a good way to craft your space in an increasingly crowded Indian comedy world.
6. Amit Tandon
Amit Tandon is one of the few folks on this list who has been doing stand up comedy since 2010. Lucky for him Facebook has been a huge boom and being a personal friend of mine, I have no bias noting him down here. This video on Facebook currently has 18M views and gets traction daily.
Amit likes to discuss clean comedy topics related to family and kids. You’re not going to see him ripping a joke on Modi or Rahul Gandhi, but more so on middle class nuances and family dynamics. He’s one of the best Indian stand up comedians from Delhi and in India generally, and also one of the highest paid corporate comics.
Clean comedy pays off folks!
7. Nishant Tanwar aka Joke Singh
Unliked the clean comedic stylings of Mr. Tandon, Nishant Tanwar is quite the opposite. His Amazon special is called “I’m from Delhi Mother FU****” and you can guess what those asterisks spell out.
Regardless, Joke Singh deserves much of his recent success.
He is one of the hardest working guys in the scene, who has traveled the world trying to figure out his comedy zone.
Thanks to a switch to Hindi and consistent uploads, he’s hit it big by focusing on quick comedy content and catering to his audience.
Nishant is proof that you don’t need to have crazy camera quality to get popular in the Indian stand up comedy scene, as his earlier viral clips were shot simply on an iPhone.
Amazon Prime Indian Stand Up Comedy Specials
Most Indian stand up comedy in the future will focus on Hindi and Tamil as the streaming platforms look at what’s working on YouTube.
While we don’t know the numbers from Amazon or Netflix, or even comments to see what the audiences are enjoying, you can easily determine that based on promotions and what’s happening on the Prime Video home screen.
If you’d like us to list out the most well known Amazon Prime Indian stand up comedy specials do comment and we’ll throw in our recommendations.
Did I miss any on this list?
I hope we see more diversity both from male/female perspective as well as a language perspective, but it’s no secret that just like Bollywood, India loves its Hindi comedy.
What are your favorites?
Any other stand up comedians or funny Hindi videos (that would qualify as stand up) missing?
Sanjay Manaktala is one of the top (ENGLISH) stand up comedians in India who started building the comedy community in the country back in 2010. Since then his stand up comedy videos and podcasts have helped millions laugh or get motivated. His latest effort is the Birdy Num Num podcast, helping you learn creativity in life after engineering. You can learn about Sanjay here or check out his YouTube channel here.