Not too long ago, comedy in India was restricted to hero's side-kicks in Bollywood films. But thanks to comedians like Abish Mathew, comedy has managed to transcend the stereotypes and has attained a stature of "respectable career choice" in India.
Abish and his peers started sharing jokes on a stage long before it was considered cool. So what is it that made this Delhi-bred Malayali get into the tumultuous journey of becoming a stand-up comedian? IB Times India got a chance to pick the brain of one of the smartest and wittiest funnymen on matters ranging from his early days as a radio jockey to his current flourishing career as a stand-up comedian.
Abish, who was an RJ, got his first taste of stand-up with an open mic in Delhi, where he performed for his friends and family at a joint in Defence Colony. And as he puts it, the people closest to you are your toughest audience and the most genuine critics of your work, and once you perform for them, it can only get better.
And that was the attitude the young comedian had towards his struggling days as well. While many people complain about how difficult it was to make a mark in the beginning, Abish sees it as an exciting time. "The struggles make the journey interesting," he says.
However, it is still great to see the evolution of comedy from those days. "While most people used to sit through stand-ups when they visited bars in those days, many pay for tickets to attend comedy shows today," says the comedian who recently performed at the Comedy Wagon Bengaluru Comedy Festival at UB City last weekend.
Regardless of its popularity, there are still those who are quick to take offence to what these comedians have to say; take AIB's roast of Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor for example. Abish, who also took part in the roast, has no qualms with regards to these unwarranted criticisms though.
"No matter what you do, there will always be people criticising it, and in this case, it is an inherent flaw of the profession. The way I see it, I am here to make jokes that people laugh at... not to save the world. If that happens, that would be great. But really, it is just a joke," Abish explains, adding that comedians are the easiest targets when it comes to taking offence to what they say and do.
Rest assured, no hate comments and trolling is going to stop this comedian from reaching his goal of becoming the host of "The Tonight Show", or something equivalent, in India. But, do we have a space for something like that in the Indian entertainment industry? Shows like "Oye! It's Friday" and "Tere Mere Beech Mein", which came remotely close to the "Tonight Show" format tanked miserably and got cancelled way too soon.
Abish reminds us that his Youtube show "Son of Abish" more or less follows the pattern of monologue and interview and has managed to get good numbers. "No offence, but then you should hire comedians to do comedians' job. Actors [that hosted talk-shows] are great at acting, but no one can deliver a joke like a comedian can."
The comedian also spoke about his recent engagement and impending wedding to Malayalam film star Archana Kavi. Happy as he is with the match, he doesn't think a career as a Malayali hero is in the cards any time soon. "I don't think I can act like the brilliant actors in Malayalam industry," he says.
When questioned on his "Malluness", Abish defends himself by saying that he is an avid follower of films from Mollywood. "I love the classics like 'Kilukkam' and 'Akashadoothu', but is also in awe of the new generation movies." A fan of Mohanlal, Abish also says he was blown away by "Drishyam".
Abish's next big gig will be at the Dubai Comedy Festival (15 – 24 October), where he will perform along with Indian comedians like Nitin Mirani, Atul Khatri, Kenneth Sebastian and Neeti Palta as part of the Desi Invasion.