Looking for a more intellectually stimulating comedy? Have a laugh with challenging ideas from Washington, DC-based stand-up comic Krish Mohan, promoting his new album, “How Not To Fit In,” August 23 at the Ottawa Tavern. Billed as “socially conscious” and touching on complex themes of ethnicity and identity, Mohan reflects on experiences as an Indian immigrant living in the US with a politically charged set.
Stand-up is important to Mohan, an avid fan of comedy since his teen years. “When I was starting out, I always liked George Carlin and Bill Hicks,” said Mohan, referring to the socially infused, issue-driven style as “a landmark discovery.”
“My introduction to anything comedy related was The Daily Show,” recalled Mohan. “I started watching it when I was 9, I didn’t get it a whole lot.” Mohan’s family had then only recently moved to the US. Watching The Daily Show was a significant part of his initiation into American culture. “It was how I learned about politics and pop culture,” he said.
Mohan is motivated by his feeling of being outside “prototypical American culture” because of his background. “I’ve always felt like a societal outsider,” said Mohan. “I don’t quite get along with mainstream societal rules.”
Mohan also feels at odds with the traditional Indian values. “I didn’t really fit into what my immigrant culture, old-school Indian traditional values I don’t fully agree with.” This complex interplay of influences is crucial to his sensibility as a comedian.
Indian comedians, including world-famous Russell Peters, have paved the way for others in stand-up, while creating controversy with comedic portrayal of ethnic stereotypes and accents. Mohan finds Peters to be simultaneously inspiring and problematic. “I personally think it’s a disservice to (our) ethnicity,” said Mohan. But he added, “Russell is the reason I even decided to do stand-up.”
It took a while for Mohan to feel comfortable with his more aggressively issue-driven material, “to get the guts to talk about the kind of stuff on stage.” He gradually began incorporating this perspective into his act. “When you grow as a comedian, you talk about the stuff that’s important to you,” he said.
Mohan began doing more jokes poking fun of ethnic stereotypes, he remembered. “I was doing the accent a whole lot, which I don’t like doing. I’ve always had the liberal, ‘Let’s question things’ leaning.” Eventually, it became important to him to speak out about issues. “I decided I needed to start digging a little deeper about three or four years ago. A lot of what I was doing was mocking racism and mainstream religion.”
His current style came with time and development. “I wasn’t really digging deeper into the real issues. I think people are the greater issue and the lack of empathy that we have towards other perspectives. It took me like seven or eight years of stand-up to get the knowhow and the courage to go up and say ‘Hey, we’re gonna talk about some weird political stuff and I hope everybody’s cool with it.’“
Against the norm
Mohan’s shows can create a tense vibe with socially challenging and divisive subject matter. “You’re always gonna have someone who has an opposing viewpoint that they feel is more valid,” he said. However, he always tries to interject a spirit of open debate and dialogue. “If you want to differ with me, that’s fine, I welcome the difference,” said Mohan. “Come up to me after a show and have a conversation rather than screaming a racial slur.”