Top Ten: Comedians with Indian Links

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Indian origin comedians who can laugh at themselves are hitting a home run with audiences globally

It takes a stroke of genius to be able to state the obvious in a manner that is side splittingly funny. Take this one liner for instance, ‘I started out with nothing and I still have most of it,’ or ‘I can handle pain until it hurts.’Michael Caine once said, “I enjoy making people laugh. The trick is to tell them jokes against yourself. If you praise yourself, your stories aren’t funny”.

To be able to laugh at yourself requires courage and confidence and Indians have mastered this art of making people laugh. They are achieving great success in the field of comedy doing just that and much more. Here is our round-up of Indian origin comedians making a splash on the global entertainment scene.

10. Paul Varghese, USA

This Indian American comedian resides in Dallas and has often been dubbed the funniest stand-up comic in Dallas. His acts revolve around his observations on being an Indian. He has performed in the Just For Laughs festival in Canada, Last Comic Standing and the HBO comedy festival.

9. Dan Nainan, USA

Dan Nainan is half Indian, half Japanese and usually bases his stand-up comedy performances on his personal ethnic experiences. He is an American comedian with a mission, in 2007 Nainan opened the Bethesda Comedy Club in Washington DC with the aim of promoting clean comedy. His book How to become a full time stand-up comedian was published in 2012. Nainan has performed in countries all over the world including Australia, UAE, India and Ireland.

8. Aziz Ansari, USA

According to the Hollywood Reporter Aziz Ansari is one of the most prolific writers and performers on the comedy scene in recent years. Born in America to Indian parents, Aziz started his career as a stand-up comedian in 2000. He went on to create and star in MTV’s critically acclaimed comedy show Human Giant. He is well known for his role as Tom Haverford in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Aziz released his first CD/DVD on Comedy Central in 2010 and continues to tour as a stand-up comedian.

7. Meera Syal, UK

Married to comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar since 2005, theirs is a match made in comedy heaven. Hailing from a Punjabi Indian background Meera Syal is a well-known British comedian, actor, singer, producer and writer who sent audience in stiches with her performance as hubby Sanjeev’s grandmother in The Kumars at No. 42. She was awarded the MBE in 1997, has written two novels, as well as numerous scripts and screenplays.

6. Aasif Mandvi, USA

He may be best known for his performances on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, but Aasif Mandvi’s career as an actor, comedian and writer is much more illustrious. Mumbai born Mandvi has appeared in numerous films and television shows including Merchant-Ivory’s Mystic Masseur, Sex and the City, Law and Order and Miami Vice, to name just a few. He even has an Obie award under his belt for his hilarious play Sakina’s Restaurant, which looks at the Indian American immigrant experience.

5. Lilly Singh (Superwoman), Canada

With three million subscribers to her YouTube channel Lilly Singh, aka Superwoman, is an internet star on the rise. Her vlogs, skits and stand-up acts present comical takes on various everyday issues. Born to Punjabi parents this 25-year-old Canadian entertainer remains true and proud of her Indian roots. In her work she aims to showcase Indian culture and characters inspired by her Punjabi heritage.

4. Mindy Kaling, USA

Identified as ‘One of the 100 most influential people in the world’ by Time magazine, Mindy Kaling is often referred to as the new queen of comedy in America. She is best known as Kelly Kapoor on NBC’s sitcom The Office. Born to Indian parents the talented actor, comedian, writer, producer and director has been nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series as a producer of The Office five times in a row. In 2011 her witty memoir Is everyone hanging out without me? And other concerns was well received by the critics.


3. Sanjeev Bhaskar, UK

As the host of the The Kumars at No. 42, Sanjeev Bhaskar’s is a face recognised universally. The British Indian comedian, actor and broadcaster was awarded an O.B.E for his services to drama in 2005. He has starred in BBC Two comedy series Goodness Gracious Me and in British films including Anita and Me and The Guru. He was recognised as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy by The Observer in 2003.

2. Arj Barker, USA

This American stand-up comedian and actor of Indian European descent admits he loves Australia, and partially lives here where his biggest fan base is. Arjan Singh started his career as a comedian in 1989 and adopted the stage name – Arj Barker. He appears frequently in Australian comedy festivals, has performed in Thank God you’re here and hosted Comedy Central presents twice. His other claim to fame is his stand-up comedy inspired web series Arj and Poopy about himself and an animated cat.

1. Russell Peters, Canada

Russell Peters was born in Toronto with an Anglo Indian ancestry and started his journey as a comedian in 1989. His achievements include winning a Gemini Award in 2008, appearances at various comedy festivals like Just For Laughs and David Frost Comedy Festival Special and talk shows on BBC TV. His quick wit and improvisation skills have made his shows sell out in many countries around the world. Russell is known for keeping his audience engaged with his humorous observations of different races and cultures including the Indian society.

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Farzana Ahmad
Farzana Ahmad
Farzana is a freelance writer, artist and children's author

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