Who are the people who manage to get us laughing in these grim times?

There’s tons of good content on TikTok and not just mindless lip-syncs
A girl whom I had a major crush on once told me that she envied my long, silky hair after spotting me on my terrace on a Sunday afternoon. It was an unlikely compliment for a 13-year-old Sikh boy. I blushed. It was embarrassing.

Sixteen years later and with much shorter hair, anecdotes from my miserable teenage years make for endearing jokes today. But you know what’s better than a Sardar joke? A Sardar joke illustration. Dalbir Singh (@sikhpark on Instagram) is terribly good at visualising our collective misfortunes. He started the handle after 9/11 to inform his fellow Americans that Sikhs and Al-Qaeda members were actually two different sets of people. And the current pandemic has only made his wit sharper. It’s like he’s on a mission to completely expose our kind.

Another Sardar at the top of his game is singer-actor Diljit Dosanjh. He delivers seemingly unscripted commentary in his Instagram stories (@diljitdosanjh) to lighten up his daily cooking. His Hindi is mostly mangled Punjabi: “hing is called asafoetida in English. You have to hear him take a go at the pronunciation. And yet, he’s more influential than most top chefs these days. Everything he cooks starts trending with the hashtag #INeedMySpoon, something he randomly came up with one day. It doesn’t even make any sense. But that’s the beauty of his jocularity. And like he did with pictures of Ivanka Trump at the Taj Mahal, he still plants himself in other people’s pictures. Most recently, he morphed his face on the body of a man slung out of a window holding a sign “Stop posting your home workouts”.

That guy is Seth Phillips. The world knows him as @dudewithsign on Instagram. He is known to pop up in a crowd holding signs that say things people would rather not say. Like when he stood in tony SoHo in Lower Manhattan with a sign that read, “Charging $15 for a bowl of lettuce should be illegal”. There were other gems such as “Middle seat gets the armrest” and “Stop wearing t-shirts of bands you don’t listen to”. But staying at home hasn’t made him sluggish. His latest is, “I can’t wait to never use Zoom again.” His Indian spin-offs don’t do him justice. It’s a terrible time for New Yorkers and Phillips’ mournful face with the sign, “Ok, Covid, wrap it up”, might just help soften the blow.

(Clockwise from top) Seth Phillips is known to pop up in a crowd holding signs that say things people would rather not say; Dalbir Singh started his handle to inform his fellow Americans that Sikhs and Al-Qaeda are actually two different sets of people; and Jeremy Cohen on a date with his Quarantine-Cutie in a zorbing ball

Another New Yorker you should know of is photographer Jeremy Cohen (@jermcohen). Cohen was documenting the rooftop culture in the city when he saw a girl dancing on a terrace across the street. He named her Quarantine-Cutie and made a whole series on Instagram about their social-distancing rendezvous: from sending a drone with a camera to get her number to meeting her in a zorbing ball. It’s ingenious.

Stand-up Vir Das, too, did a show for New York recently from his makeshift home studio. He is perhaps the sharpest among a long list of homegrown comedians and has a special knack for riling a certain category of people fondly referred to as “bhakts”. He’s most quick-witted and brutal on Twitter (@thevirdas) and most entertaining on YouTube with his “trying to stay relevant” videos. He’s also made a very palatable coronavirus song called “Cornonavirus Blues” among a few others, while quietly leaving the stand-up mainstay of imitation, mimicry and exaggeration for some naturally gifted individuals. One such person is Saloni Gaur aka Nazma Aapi (@salonayyy on Instagram). Please watch her “Kangana Runout Reviews Money Heist” for a thoroughly entertaining rant.

And then there’s Kusha Kapila (Instagram), whose recent videos are an excellent exaggeration of life in quarantine. It’s different, of course, for moms, fu*kbois and whoever else she observes and imitates. Her “Kavita ki kavita” is tactfully crude at explaining why some men don’t get consent. And her “Behensplaining” and “South Delhi Girls” accents don’t spare women either.

More on accents, Aporup Acharya’s (YouTube) sketch, Mr Manju, a corrupt Karnataka politician, has been talking about the “macha”.

Akshar Pathak, the Zomato art director who was a top trend on Twitter for his outdoor advertisement for the brand, “Nation wants to know ladka nikla kya? Get live delivery updates”, and who got trolled for “M.C. (mac and cheese), B.C. (butter chicken) we’ve got it all” is a full-time meme illustrator on Instagram these days. Here’s one of his relatable observations: “These lockdown extensions are eerily reminiscent of the famous ‘Zindagi kab butterscotch se scotch neat se scotch brite hui, pata hi nahi chala.”

And finally, weighing in on the YouTube vs TikTok debate, Adam Waheed, the 27-year-old Texas comedian who failed as a stand-up in Los Angeles only to make millions through social media, seems to have abandoned YouTube in favour of TikTok (@adamw). There’s tons of good content on TikTok and not just mindless lip-syncs. Waheed’s staged videos made with a full production crew are completely bonkers. It’s like America’s Funniest Home Videos but topical and in high-definition. He has reportedly raised enough money to open a school in Bali.

Speaking of schools and the times I don’t like to talk about very much, my hair is growing back rapidly. My mother is starting to entertain the hope that I won’t cut it this time and wear a turban. And she can be very persuasive. I just hope the salons open before life comes full circle.


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