Comedy has always been present in Indian cinema. But that has always been restricted to comedy movies, slapstick comedies and the works. However, a space for a traditional stand-up comedy where aspiring comics could come and perform a set was always missing from the Indian set up. It is precisely this void that the Great Indian Laughter channel managed to fill perfectly.
The Great Indian Laughter Challenge was an Indian reality stand-up comedy series produced by Endemol India. The show first premiered on June 2005, and successfully ran for 4 seasons till September 2008.
The show was based on a simple format. There was a live studio audience, and contestants were expected to get on stage and entertain both the judges and the audience, tickling their funny bone. While the format of the show was simple and had been seen before, what it did for the comedy scene in India was unparalleled. It offered Indian comics a platform to perform, helping them showcase their talents to the Indian audience in a way that just wasn’t possible before.
The show, over its first 4 seasons helped established some of the pioneers of Indian comedy. Sunil Pal, Ahsaan Qureshi, Raju Srivastava, Rajeev Nigam, All of them shot to fame by either winning or finishing in the top 3 of the laughter challenge. The show helped set their comedy careers in motion, with the successful contestants even finding themselves being offered comic roles in Indian movies!
The most famous success story of the Great Indian Laughter belongs to someone else though. The winner of the show in season 3 was none other than Kapil Sharma. Coming from a small district of Amritsar, the Punjabi comedian won the show, and used it as a launchpad to propel himself to greater heights in the world of comedy. After gaining popularity from the show, he set up his own TV Show titled “ Comedy Nights With Kapil” which eventually became one of the highly-rated shows of the Sony Network and helped establish Sharma as the King of Comedy.
What the show did for the Indian comedy scene was much much more than just bringing the next line of comics into the limelight.
Earlier, Johnny Lever was the sole household name in the Indian comedy circuit. He was the first to start doing solo shows, and also released audio cassettes of his sets. However after the show gained popularity, it took Indian comedy to a national scale and brought forward a variety of stand up comedy formats.
It introduced the Indian audience to a new art form, which they hadn’t experienced before. Curated for the masses, the stand-up comedy scene started flourishing in India, with Comedy Store opening their first club in Mumbai in 2010, 2 years after the success of the Laughter Challenge. The success of the show gave a boost to the Indian Industry, and the popularity of the comedians and their shows spread like wildfire.
Starting in 2010, there was a rise in the live comedy culture as the art form became mainstream. Comedy Open mics started happening in the metros at multiple places. Comedy suddenly became more accessible.
With that, the Internet was the next place the Indian Comedy scene was looking to take over. And take over it did. The audience and engagement offered by YouTube led to the establishment of many comic groups in India. Some of the most popular ones were All India Bakchod, SNG Comedy and East India Comedy. These groups created content that was never seen before by the Indian audience. Podcasts, Sketches, Stand up clips and satirical songs, these groups led by young comedians became successes overnight.
Comedians such as Biswa Kalyan Rath, Kenny Sebastian, Kanan Gill, Tanmay Bhatt became so popular online that even the OTT platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video clamoured to sign exclusive deals with them. Whether it was deals for streaming of their stand up specials or the exclusive rights to web series’ written by them, all content coming out of the Indian comic scene was selling like hotcakes.
The contribution of the show was so huge that even the new age comics, whether it is Tanmay Bhat, Ashish Shakya or even Zakir Khan, have credited the show for inspiring them to take up comedy as a career.
So the next time you catch your favourite comic’s show live or see their clip on Youtube, you know that there’s a high chance that a specific show challenge may have inspired them to get on stage, entertain and make you laugh out loud! And for that, you have the Great Indian Laughter Challenge to thank for!