Humour and the Margins: Stand-Up Comedy and Caste in India

Author: Madhavi Shivaprasad, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India
Published: September 14, 2020

Citation: Shivaprasad, T. (2020). Humour and the Margins: Stand-Up Comedy and Caste in India. IAFOR Journal of Media, Communication & Film, 7(2).


Stand-up comedy as an art form has been known as one of the most powerful forms of expression to speak truth to power. In India, political satire as stand-up is highly popular. However, there is a serious gap in recognising and critiquing social hierarchies, particularly the Indian caste system. Most comedians, including the women who are known as strong critics of patriarchal structures within Indian society and the comedy industry in India, do not see the lack of representation of a Dalit voice in the industry as a structural problem. When caste is specifically named in the routines performed by them, all of them incidentally are a reference to their upper-caste identities in a non-ironical manner. Through critical discourse analysis, the article analyses stand-up comedy videos by these comedians online videos, as well as other non-humorous critiques they have offered on other platforms such as social media in order to understand the implications of these references. The article argues that these narratives reflect the general dominant caste discourse that the upper-caste comedians are a part of and also reconstitute the same by reiterating their own locations within the caste system. Finally it reflects on the significance of humour and particularly stand-up comedy to effect change. Recognising that humour and laughter are social activities also means to acknowledge that they hold potential to break existing stereotypes. How and under what conditions would that become possible?


caste hierarchy, caste system, Dalit humour, humour, India, stand-up comedy