The comedy industry needs all kinds of voices: Abish Mathew

Isha Arora
Abish Mathew, stand-up comedian, performer, television show host

Celebrated stand-up comedian Abish Mathew has worn several masks in his career - first as a radio jockey, then as a musician, before he finally found his calling as a comedian. Mathew recently starred in Bollywood movie Meri Pyaari Bindu as well. His English comedy talk show Son of Abish that debuted in 2015, has gained cult status among the masses for its hilarious take on news and lives of celebrities, who feature in the episodes. But Mathew remains unfazed by the stardom and competition, and continues to better his craft. "If I am true to myself, and not trying to be like someone, whatever I do will be unique. I think the comedy industry needs all kinds of comedy voices. It's like a box of chocolates - when it's assorted it's best, otherwise it becomes boring," says Mathew in an interview with Isha Arora. Edited excerpts:

You’ve come a long way from experimenting with music and radio before finally finding your calling in stand-up comedy. Over the years, how have you sought to evolve this art form?
I'm always looking at unique ways to merge one art form with another. And, that search itself is my voice in comedy.

Your craft is very different from the rest in the stand-up comedy scene… your jokes rarely have that sexual and abuse-centric tones to them, which a lot of comedians have been accused of forcefully deploying. How do you maintain your originality in this ever-changing space?
If I am true to myself and not trying to be like someone, whatever I do will be unique. I think the comedy industry needs different kinds of comedy voices. It's like a box of chocolates - when it's assorted it's best, otherwise it becomes boring.

A lot of prominent faces in stand-up comedy that we got accustomed to have been constantly under the scanner post the All India Bakchod fallout. How do you deal with it?
Keep your head down and keep writing those jokes and keep performing them.

The Indian comedy scene looks very close-knit and sort of tight at the core… where every comedian is seen cheering his/her competitor across platforms. Why is that people here do not get bogged down and bitter due to competition? Or is that just a facade?
Competition affects all of us. That is the nature of the performing arts in general. Because the circuit is not extremely big, we all eventually know each other’s stories and struggles and cannot help but empathise. But there is enough animosity which is a byproduct of growth.

Where do you think the Indian comedy scene is headed? Like it's not just plain stand-up which appeases the masses now. People enjoy experiences derived from the performances. Musical comedy, improvisation, sketch comedy are also catching up.
I think stand-up comedy got people interested in coming and watching a live show and laughing. Now there are multiple varieties or kinds of comedy shows that will start developing. Take for instance, the talk show Son of Abish. It's recorded for the camera but the audience's live experience is 300 times more than what everyone sees online.

As an artiste, there have been multiple mediums that you've experimented with. You have even ventured into acting recently. What can we expect to see from you in the times to come?
I believe we are all storytellers and we choose the medium with which we communicate. For stand-up comedians, that medium is the stage. And when we are on the stage, acting, directing, improvising, all happens at the same time. Some of us might have acting ambitions but all of us have to first create ambitions.

Being a comedian is no more a hobby or a part-time profession. People are taking it full-time as a very serious profession. What advice would you like to give to the budding comedians?
The only way to become good at what you do is if you keep doing it again and again. We face hurdles at multiple points of our careers. The first hurdle is when nothing is happening, the second hurdle comes at a time when everything has happened. But if we keep going on stage, again and again, we will become better than what we were. And that is the only advise any comedian anywhere in the world needs.