American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Spaces of Laughter: Stand-up Comedy in Mumbai as a Site of Struggle Over Globalization and National Identity

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Clayton Rosati (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Brigid Burke (Other)

Third Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kristen Rudisill (Committee Member)


Stand-up comedy in Mumbai, India, has been at the centre of cultural struggles this decade, with controversies focusing on its appropriateness and the image of Indian-ness it creates. In the context of rising right-wing nationalism in an era of globalization in India, stand-up comedy is a site for contestation over globalization and national identity. This dissertation argues that such contestations are a result of how stand-up comedy uses places and media infrastructure in world-class Mumbai. Relying on ethnographic observations of performances, locations, and production process, interviews with venue owners, event organizers, performers, and production workers, as well as analysing trade literature and newspaper reports, this dissertation explores how stand-up comedy in Mumbai is facilitated by the reorganization of the city in order to make it world-class. Through its role in producing Mumbai as a world-class city, stand-up comedy allows its new middle class producers and consumers to construct a “global Indian-ness”. The controversies surrounding stand-up comedy focus on the appropriateness of this identity.

The use of places and media infrastructure illuminate various social relations that organize the stand-up comedy scene. The management of venues creates a desirable urban “experience” that contributes to the image of world-class Mumbai. The production practices that create these experiences are determined by stand-up comedy’s place within commodity flows in and through Mumbai. The social identities created through the stand-up scene, including what it means to belong to the new middle class, are informed by these flows of media. Social relationships of gender and caste are central to how new middle class-ness and global Indian-ness is understood. A series of sexual harassment allegations that surfaced in the scene in October 2018 illustrate the organizing power of these relations. Specifically, these allegations enable us to see how the places of stand-up comedy are “engendered”, and how these spaces produce mediatized social activism. By exploring these inter-related topics in the Mumbai stand-up comedy scene, this dissertation shows how the production of world-class city and media flows intersect to make stand-up comedy a site of struggle over globalization and national identity.