The world of shudh desi online humour | brunch | Hindustan Times
Today in New Delhi, India
Mar 19, 2018-Monday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

The world of shudh desi online humour

Remember the Alok Nath jokes (#I'mfeelingSanskari) that had everyone in splits? Or Alia Bhatt memes that came up post her Koffee With Karan outing? Welcome to the world of online humour.

brunch Updated: May 21, 2014 13:09 IST

"How funny are you?" If Indian Internet were to take this Buzzfeed quiz, the result would be "Wow, you are getting good" - and a dog with painted eyebrows next to it. Now, there are at least two popular Indian versions of Buzzfeed (Storypick and ScoopWhoop), hilarious indigenous meme trends (Ab Ki Baar, Sanskari Babuji), ubiquitous Bollywood and TV-show-based GIFs and punchy, political parody videos.

Earlier, online humour was confined to relentless tweets, a funny picture here, a comical video there - 2014 is clearly the year funny hit puberty in India.

And despite its awkward stage, we couldn't choose any other subject for our third annual issue on humour. Our first humour special in 2012, The ROFL Issue, featured stand-up comics (you saw them all here first, btw) poking fun at celebrities. For the Comics Special in 2013, we got the country's most popular graphic artists to draw exclusively for us.

Up until now, we were content with borrowed Nicolas Cage memes and US TV show GIFs, this year saw an explosion of local content.

There are Indian versions of popular lists (eg: 10 Things Indian Girls are Tired of Hearing) and videos (the side-splitting video spoofs on Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi changed the election entirely, turning the great Indian circus into an online reality show.)

Everyone was suddenly funny - even on Twitter timelines and Facebook newsfeeds. Witty repartee, punchy memes and reaction GIFs exploded on social media. The Internet gave us the funnies and the feels. Even chats bristled with funny stickers instead of regular responses. And when a troubled, moon-faced emoji expresses your particular state of gaucherie best, who needs them words anyway?

So, go ahead and devour our funny pieces on online humour. And before you Facebook, tweet, comment about it, yes, we fully understand the irony of presenting it to you in print.

Text by Yashica Dutt

What can you expect from this issue

At least one Chuck Norris/Rajinikanth reference

Inordinate use of the word, 'humble'. GIFs, memes, and videos - the Internet can never be highbrow.

Random references some of you may not understand. Get on the Internet already!

*(Asterisks), which give away more than they hide. Hey, everyone abuses online, even yo granny!

Salman Khan's Twitter feed. Because we are cool like that.

The Online video sandbox

By Rohan Joshi

Online comedy is democratic. You forge a joke, and then the Internet embraces it. Your joke can then be reforged and re-appropriated by people who could be thousands of miles away on a park bench in Krakow, until it takes on a life of its own. Two weeks later, it's back in your lap as a WhatsApp message, email or Facebook share.

Eight months ago, our collective, All India Bakch*d (AIB), jumped into the online video sandbox with our own YouTube channel. It's been one of the most entertaining, exhausting and, most importantly, liberating experiences we've had as comedians.

Most mass media in India is censored to the point of irrelevance. "Beef", "nipple" and "lesbian" get beeped out, so there's no hope for anything remotely edgy. More than one channel has approached us with paranoid briefs like "We want to do a weekly half-hour show about Indian politics for the election BUT you can't take the name of any politician."

The joy of a self-publishing platform like YouTube is that we don't have to work to anybody's briefs, bow to anyone's sensibilities or kowtow to anybody's prejudices. We get to make the jokes we want to make and say the things that we think need to be said, with little censorship. And if someone tries to censor us, we can just make a video about the fact that someone tried to censor us.

The refreshing thing about working online has been getting to talk about the things that matter to us, on our terms. With no client or authority to report to, there's little gap between the original idea and its execution.


On our channel, we've been able to talk about everything from violence against women to LGBT rights and the idiocy of our political masters. Censorship has made Indian humour coy and blunted its edge over the last few decades.

But on the Internet, we can call a spade a f****ng b*****d spade.

American and British sitcoms, stand-up and sketch comedy shows, and we've absorbed their tropes, styles and even their clichés. The liberating thing about online video is that it gives us the chance to replicate that idiom, but with references (pop-cultural and traditional) that are relevant to us as Indians.

Better still, this happens at a fraction of the cost a TV production would require. All it really takes to start your own YouTube channel is a camera and the Internet. Best of all, at that price, you also theoretically have a larger reach than any one TV channel can offer. A TV show airs at a specific time in a specific country/state/city. Online, our videos are available to the entire world, for free, and they're also available forever, to be viewed at your convenience.

Our favourite thing about working on videos for the Internet is the scale of the canvas. When you do a live stand-up act about Diwali for example, you ask an audience of 300 to imagine how annoying fireworks are, and the idiocy of festival shopping frenzy, and the countless boxes of dry-fruit that show up at your door.

But when AIB did a video about Diwali, we got to put those words into visuals, to act that out and add visual gags and physical comedy and tiny touches that would never work in a spoken-word piece. And why 300 people? It's a joke we've been able to share with 4,30,153 and climbing.

Rohan Joshi is a stand-up comedian and a writer.

How Twitter will let us be judged as a civilisation

by Sorabh Pant

If history is any indicator - and it usually is the best indicator - a civilisation can be summarised by sentences unearthed from its core. From hieroglyphics, we discovered that Egyptians worshipped cats, mummified their dead and really hated Brendan Fraser. From the telegrams, we unearthed the underbelly of an empire that was desperate, squalid and had orphans who couldn't find soup (or maybe I read too much Dickens). From 'words' etched on stone from the Harappan civilisation, we gathered that they knew astronomy, science and really, really loved toilets (unlike modern Indians).

Sentences from the past can tell you all you need to know about them. Which has me worried about us, because, Twitter is our resource of sentences. I'm afraid the future will think we were a generation of imbeciles who were obsessed with selfies while the world around us fell apart.

There are the genuinely funny people, there are others too who are inadvertently funny: we call these people celebrities.

The rest tend to stumble through incoherence, stupidity or just plain lack of grammatical structure. Whether it's to indicate our political bent... or our rampant dyslexia... and, of course, our flowery linguistic abilities...

That last tweet got 1,500 retweets - meaning 1,500 people shared Salman's +limited thought processes with others.

I am not one of those to rip on Twitter: it's got the funniest people on Earth. We don't need John Stewart or Shekhar Suman to mock the news, just comedians...

Or even people who aren't comedians but prove that they're almost as funny...

It's almost improved the comedic level of India. As a comedian, you can no longer rely on the easy joke. Chances are, if Arvind Kejriwal's topless photo trends on Twitter and you say, "Bro, I know you're anti-corruption but, that's taking transparency too far", about 36 people have already expressed the same sentiment. That's probably including Modi, who says something like, "I didn't know AK-49s could survive under water."

Maybe then, Twitter could have helped earlier civilisations. Maybe Hitler, failed artist and future dictator, would have found attention tweeting about his shitty paintings. It could have solved so many problems in the past. The Cold War would never have happened.

Maybe the Titanic, which couldn't connect with the outside world in time to effect a rescue, wouldn't have sunk if Rose had tweeted a selfie...

Twitter is great. It not only has humour but also drives people to watch me do my humour live. Not sure if society would consider that a positive or a negative. Either way, I'm shaping history. The Egyptian hieroglyphics can suck it.

How Facebook got funny

by Karthik Laxman

By the time you read this, the answer to the question, "Is there a Modi wave in the country?" would have been settled, and Rajdeep Sardesai would hopefully have attained a sense of closure after the 1,234,334 prime-time debates he has moderated on this very topic over the past one year.

The discussion would now have moved to the question, 'Who's responsible for this result?' One can almost picture Rajdeep hollering, "Is it Dr Manmohan Singh for his government's poor performance? Or is it Rahul Gandhi for not taking charge of this party? Or is it just Modi? That's the big question tonight!"

While the relative impact of Messrs Singh, Gandhi and Modi may be debatable, one man's contribution to the result in General Elections 2014 and, indeed, to Indian democracy is unquestionable. That man is Mark Zuckerberg.

Picture a college dropout in a nondescript town in Rajasthan hunched over a CRT monitor in a cyber-center. He logs on to Facebook to see what his friends are upto, and finds something sitting in his news feed. It's a comic featuring a prominent politician.

So, if you think you are funny and think of yourself as an amateur entertainer, go ahead and create a Facebook page. But make sure you don't resort to dubious techniques to garner Facebook fans or you'll end up with a bunch of Turkish fans like our dear former Rajasthan CM, Ashok Gehlot once did. [Editor's note: For those of you who skipped this hilarious news item last year: the BJP had, in July 2013, accused Gehlot of "buying likes" in bulk from IT firms in Istanbul for his official Facebook page.]

The young man bursts out laughing, and does something that is instinctive, automatic, almost second nature to this generation. He hits 'Like'. A few minutes later, the pic has made its way through the social network, and over a 1000 others have had a chuckle at the politician's expense.

Thanks to social media, politics is no longer about a boring bunch of crooked old men having a go at each other in a mad rush for power. Politics is now engaging, fun, sometimes rip-roaringly funny.

Humour is a great way to get initiated into politics and understand its nuances. And Facebook, with its 'Like' and 'Share' buttons and emphasis on visual media, scores over text-driven Twitter in reach and virality.

The humour explosion on Facebook could be traced back to the advent of the 'Facebook page' in 2007. Amateur humourists, who were hitherto getting their kicks out of drawing a chuckle from those in their immediate circle, suddenly discovered that they could actually build a following online and make it a business.

Powered by Facebook (and Twitter to a lesser extent), satire and humour portals such as The Unreal Times and Faking News, cartoonists such as Satish Acharya, Manoj Kureel and Manjul began to churn out gags, memes and spoofs on a daily basis, entertaining and educating hundreds of thousands, while building their own brands in the process.

The online humour revolution received a further boost in 2013, when Facebook introduced the 'Share' button which made viral posts even more viral.

Pages such as Garbage Bin added fans by the thousands every day through their enormously popular gags.

By mid-2013, election fever had well and truly settled in, providing a rich opportunity for humour of every kind to flourish - from the subtle dig to the slapstick crack.

Our netas too contributed to the fun in their own inimitable manner, with gems such as these.

Karthik Laxman is founder of The Unreal Times.

The webcomic wallahs

Adhiraj 'Adhicool' Singh and Sumit 'AWSum' Kumar

India (EEN-DEE-YAAH) is a land of many colours, spices, and arts. The art of procrastination (Vilambanshastra) is one of the few truly indigenous art forms and it is directly related to the development of the Indian webcomic.

Many of the earliest Indian webcomics were just normal comics that had been posted online.

The other is Sahil Rizwan's The Vigil Idiot. Hip kids who won't get Garbage Bin's middle-class chutkule latch on to The Vigil Idiot's lawls as it rips on latest Bollywood films by stating their inherent stupidity. The Vigil Idiot qualifies as a webcomic because the format is for web only, though it is only a film review.

Going back as far as we could, we found Fly, You Fools! - the first Indian webcomic that was truly a webcomic. Laid out especially for online viewing for an Indian audience, and made with effort and care for readers (ie, not just posted on a personal blog for friends). The webcomic was a photocomic about life and its irritations that featured images and text by creator Saad Akhtar, and showed the darker, more cynical side of people.

Sadly, Fly, You Fools! went on an indefinite hiatus a few years ago. For many, its sarcasm and tone wasn't very clear, but it was certainly the best we have seen so far. Other Indian webcomics from the time too were abandoned.

But what about the biggest webcomic? The most popular, the most profitable? First we look at Garbage Bin.

Created by artist Mohd Faisal, Garbage Bin is posted exclusively on Facebook and features the tales of a North Indian everychild Guddu, and his average, middle-class life. Dripping with '90s references, it is a sweet, safe strip that ideally belongs in a newspaper. But, it is posted on Facebook, so on a technicality it qualifies to be here.

We failed. Miserably. The one thing we did learn is that the webcomic market is unpredictable. You don't know what will work. The proper Indian webcomic is still the stuff of legend, out there somewhere, waiting to be made and shared. What works on the Internet refreshes faster than social media sites change layouts. But the oldest rule in the comic book still holds true: it's all about how you tell the story.

About Them Singh and Sumit Kumar started Aaapki Poojita in 2012 - it went from being unknown to slightly less unknown and into full coma in late 2013. After a messy divorce, they are still Facebook friends (restricted list.)

You can find Sumit's work at You can find Adhiraj at the bottom of a bottle

Memes: the new web lingo

by Suparn Pandey

The word 'meme' (rhymes with 'team') was first introduced by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976. Meme comes from the Greek word mimema (meaning 'something imitated'). Dawkins described memes as being a form of cultural propagation, a way for people to transmit social memories and cultural ideas to each other.

Well, that's what Wikipedia had to say about this anyway. But I don't think that was very helpful. So I'll tell you, and give you some perspective too.

Memes are tidbits of everyday human experiences in the form of jokes or stories. They are usually expressed through an image or video. And they are heavily shared on the Internet, usually as one picture with superimposed text that will instantly have you in splits. (A video or a GIF can be a meme as well. Those 30-second Harlem Shake videos that went viral last year? All memes!)

Many believe that the first Internet meme ever was a GIF or a video of a 3D baby dancing in his diaper, which went viral over mail networks at the time (in 1996, or so say meme geeks on the Internet).

And anything can be a meme. Different memes do different things but there are no set rules. I'm talking about Insanity Wolf (which looks scary and gives insane advice), there's Doge (a mispronounced dog, who doesn't have much of a vocabulary) and Overly Attached Girlfriend (who, to be fair, is just misunderstood).

Memes are so funny because they are relatable. A lot of us believe in crazy conspiracy theories. But these are best expressed only with the Conspiracy Keanu meme (which is a photo of Keanu Reeves's very frightened expression from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, usually captioned with some crazy conspiracy theory).


We are now used to consuming quick, bite-sized pieces of humour and quickly moving on to the next. I like to call this phenomenon 'LoLing While Scrolling'.

There's more to memes than just humour, though. Many Internet memes are also about shock value and drama, for example, Success Kid (who is smug). Other memes talk about life lessons or advice. You can count on Good Guy Greg and Actual Advice Mallard.

We love memes. They make us laugh, they make us think and make us share. But best of all, every single one of us can make one. And that, my friends, is the beauty of a meme.

We were a little slow to catch up to meme culture. Our beginnings were humble - the Rich Delhi Boy and Indian Parent memes. But once we caught up, there was no looking back. Rage Comics became even more hilarious when we started using Rage faces to talk about Indian experiences and problems. Iconic celebrities like Amrish Puri and Nana Patekar started making appearances in rip-roaringly funny Facebook comments and posts. My favourite one is where Amrish Puri is looking all serious and the text below him says, "Iski baat mein dum hai!"

We also adapted some of the more popular Western memes to suit our eccentric tastes. The Grumpy Cat meme became the BC Billa. So the picture of that perpetually morose cat who was a spoiler to anything happy started trolling Bollywood and politics with a "BC this and BC that!" More recently, the very popular Norinder Mudi meme was actually inspired by the now extinct Dolan Duck.

But in the end, it was a Twitter trend that is responsible for the explosion of the Indian meme culture. I'm talking about Alok Nath. [Check out the hilarious back page!] As tweeple across the country went nuts cracking jokes about Alok Nath, we at ScoopWhoop smelled opportunity. We took the best Nath jokes we could find and created the Sanskari Alok Nath meme.

Many others followed suit and made their own variations. Now, with over a dozen jokes and characters out there, it's raining memes.

Memes are constantly evolving, mutating and dying out. The next big thing will be Vine memes. The app lets you record upto six seconds of video and create a meme.

Whaling (people thrust their bodies backwards - almost like a whale's leap) has already taken the world by storm. Everyone loves memes. And everyone's making them. So go out there and make your own.

Suparn Pandey is the founder of

Into the hypnotic world of animated GIFs

by Sujoy Singha

From humble flashy animations on a Geocities page in the early days of the Internet, the GIF has come a long way. Thanks to Tumblr and the social wave that came with it, the humble GIF isn't humble anymore. It is more mainstream than ever, and has helped invent its own take on humour. It is inexplicable why we find it so amusing to see a cat jump in the air and land into a pool of water repeatedly. It's something that cannot be captured by a single frame, no matter how funny the caption. There is something hypnotic and simply addictive about a GIF image that encapsulates that moment in sort of a time warp. We feel, in that captured moment, that the universe is trying to show us what we exactly want to see.

And that is true of the Internet, specifically of Internet humour. We speak of how, with multiple TV channels, we are spoilt for choice, and how TV shows are at the mercy of the audience's remote. Compare that to how the Internet functions. You better be good enough to hold our attention, or you'll be clicked away and sent into the deep recesses of anonymity. If you are indeed good enough, you rise, you are liked, and shared, and become the 'front page'. Unlike traditional media, the Internet is brutally honest, profane, and yet highly encouraging if you can strike the right chord.

While the poor folks watching Indian TV are force fed daily soaps and unfunny "funny" shows (*cough* Babaji ka Thullu *cough*), our Internet brethren have taken the matter into their own hands, quite literally.

With the ever-expanding universe of social media, we are fast becoming our own content creators. I created my Tumblr page in 2009, when there was hardly any desi or Bollywood content on Tumblr, be it GIFs, memes or comic strips. A search on Tumblr now returns multiple results on even the most obscure search items: Karan Johar giggling over Salman Khan's virginity claim, a melodramatic entry by a super K-serial bahu, or the contorted face of Deepika, as she gets ready to kick SRK's butt. If you can think of it, chances are someone's already GIF-ed it.

And yet, it never seems to stop. We as a nation are never going to run out of source material. From Rahul Gandhi jokes to IPL matches, Modi fanboyism to Bollywood clashes, there's a reaction GIF to reflect every emotion and every other occasion. Sounds like a MasterCard ad. Oh, wait! we have a GIF for that too.

I remember watching The Prisoner of Azkaban, and seeing the moving mugshot of Sirius Black in the film. We live in the era where that magic is true and it is very funny. GIFF MAKER'S DAY JOB

By day, Sujoy Singha works as a business analyst in London. And by night, he attempts turning everyone into a Bollywood addict.

You can check out his rants on, his silly GIFs on and engage with his silly tweets @9e3k. He can also be found at the buffet.

This special issue was put together by Yashica Dutt and Saudamini Jain. The views expressed by the writers are personal.

From HT Brunch, May 18

Follow us on

Connect with us on