Laughter is oft-prescribed as the choicest medicine, especially for maladies of the soul. But when it comes to stand up comedy, it isn’t always just the audience that’s being medicated – sometimes, it’s a form of catharsis for the performer as well. The notion that stand-up comedy should be just for laughs and not in the pursuit of social commentary is dated. These sets prove it.

1. Vir Das – For India

One of India’s early breakout stand-up stars, Das changed things up in his 3rd Netflix special. He speaks about many of the current as well as continuing issues the country faces – our innate racism which makes people discriminate against dark skin, the political landscape that seems to be targeting minorities – a host of relevant topics are covered in this set. It might not be hold-your-sides funny, but it certainly is illuminating. 

2. Hannah Gadsby – Nanette

This set by the Australian comedian, which came out in 2017, made waves for its unique take on comedy as a whole. She recounted certain parts of her storied life, the pain and the trauma she had to go through as a lesbian woman who doesn’t conform to gender-norms. Despite tackling such a heavy topic, the show is interspersed with its own brand of humour, at times sardonic, at other times, simply for effect. This special is… special.

3. George Carlin – Jammin’ in New York

One of the most famous comedians to really tackle social rhetoric, Carlin was known for his incisive commentary on a range of issues that resonated with a large section of the population (while also rubbing others the wrong way). In this special from 1992, he goes head-first against war, being average, and how the ‘planet is fine, but the people are fucked!’. 

4. Bill Hicks – Relentless

Hicks is considered one of the greatest comic minds of all time, especially in regard to sticking it to the man. His special, Relentless, that came out in 1992, features him at his furious best – shitting on the right-wing, bemoaning society’s short-sightedness, and striking a dagger into the heart of moral hypocrisy. Sadly, he passed away in 1992 from cancer.

5. Dave Chappelle – Sticks & Stones

This special from another legend on this list released on Netflix in 2019, and immediately garnered controversy. It also won him a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. Chappelle, over the last few years, has not shied away from being a provocateur – talking about abortion laws, gun control, and the pointlessness of extreme political correctness. 

6. Kunal Kamra

After everything has happened in the recent few months,Kamra has become a sort-of comedic opposition to the goings-on in the country. His material has always been anti-establishment, criticising the ruling government and its various decisions, and generally setting himself up for target practise by the right wing.

7. Karunesh Talwar

Talwar released a short set on YouTube in 2016 about just how little most Indian men understand the feminist movement, and it blew up. He pointed out the ironies of men who make redundant arguments against giving equal rights to women. It’s hilarious, and really strips down the bizarre manner in which toxic masculinity works.

8. Sorabh Pant

Sorabh Pant is known for his high-velocity rants – sometimes, it’s about general everyday non-issues, and sometimes, it’s about problems that seem to pervade the country. In this piece, Pant takes on the problem of bans, and how governments love implementing them against anything they feel unworthy, even if its close to our hearts.

9. Abijit Ganguly

This is another comic who’s made some pretty striking observations about how nationalism seems to have overtaken common sense, as well as poking fun at the ruling government (who doesn’t?). His sets aren’t too heavy, but there’s a lot of substance in there.

As you can tell, comedy is an excellent medium not just to make people happy and give them an escape, but also to educate people about the injustices of the world – with a smile of course.