Kunal Kamra and the Brown Laugh

The dissenter-in-chief reaches for India’s hinterlands through comedy.

Meghna Rao

November 8, 2019

Kunal Kamra and the Brown Laugh
(Kunal Kamra)

On a bright yellow poster, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi is playing the drums, his figure peering out of the flat blue silhouette of a face, galactic shapes floating around his periphery. Save for the stiff vest, the perfectly coiffed hair, and the thick glasses, Modi could be the drummer in an indie band. “NH7 is going to be crazy this year,” comedian Kunal Kamra captioned.

NH7 is India’s Coachella, and, with the fantastical gig, Modi is supposedly putting on yet another gimmick to convince the nation’s young to support him and his Hindutva party. But I shouldn’t have to explain that joke. Kamra certainly wouldn’t. He’s aiming for the brown laugh. 

“In India, we have a colonial hangover,” he said to me. “We think a white laugh is a bigger, better laugh than a brown laugh.” That hangover, explains Kamra, who was born and brought up in Mumbai, has had a wide-ranging effect. Some Indian comedians even believe that their real audience is in the U.S., where people understand them “better.”