“Apparently I’m not allowed to do this motion during my shows,” says Kunal Kamra, as he mimics masturbation on stage. The crowd grows uneasy. You hear a rumble of disapproval and some people make their way to the exit. “If I do it it’s vulgar but if a man does it to roll a dice and make a woman his property, its mythology?” he questions. That’s Kunal Kamra’s comedy in a nutshell – biting socio-political and religious commentary hidden under crude setups. His YouTube Channel has close to 550,000 subscribers and each stand-up clip has millions of views (just don’t scroll down to the comments).
We’re at his show Fresh Thoughts at the Classic Rock Café Co. in Pune. The open-aired venue is packed with over 400 people fighting for every inch of space. It’s primarily young folk in attendance –a demographic that seems to echo Kamra’s disillusionment with the government. His indictment of religion and jingoism in India are what brought him into recognition in the first place. It all started with an 8-minute clip on YouTube where he coined the viral punchline Siachen mein hamare jawaan lad rahein hain – a dig at the hyper-nationalism that pervades the country. He reiterates this line during his performance, like a musician playing his greatest hit. He grins sheepishly, waiting for the applause to die down. “I think you’ll are just starting to realise why I don’t have an Amazon special,” he says.
His writing is also unabashedly coloured with profanity, another point of contention for his dedicated haters. “People pay attention to you if you swear,” he says with mock indignation. “If Nehru in his Independence Day speech, instead of all that tryst with destiny shit, said bhaga diya bho^%i waalon ko – he might have got elected for a second term”. Kamra’s been trolled incessantly online, received death threats and was even evicted from his apartment. The greatest comedy, they say, comes from personal strife and his breezy 55-minute set is a testament to that. He could have gone another hour and people would have lapped it up.