By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Standup comedian Krish Mohan wants people break out of their bubbles. That means leaving his own bubble, and venturing far into the countryside.
Mohan travels 40 weeks a year to deliver his laughter- inducing message. That meant that Saturday night, he joined a small audience in The Summit Shack, an unheated garage on the east side of Bowling Green. That the venue was unheated was acknowledged by just about everyone except the young woman dressed in a short, tight black dress to work the late shift as a bartender in a downtown establishment. Despite the concern for her comfort expressed by others, she insisted she was fine despite a considerable amount of exposed flesh.
Mohan, for his part, bundled up in a coat and gloves for his set.
This was comedy at its most basic. A stage, and a mic, and a few listeners with fellow comedians to serve as warm up acts.
So before he hit the stage, Ryan Chernock held forth with a set that concluded with a story about pancakes and blasphemy on the streets on Bowling Green.
Mark Philipp spun wild tales, including creating a sordid back story for a guy who tried to pay for a three-pack of beer with a credit card that had his daughter’s photo on it. The card was rejected. Philipp took the tale from there.
Michael Cohen, who’s been traveling with Mohan, told wild confessional tales of life on the road, including getting a ride from a surprisingly hospitable crackhead.
Mohan has been practicing his craft since he was 16 and his mother would drive him to a suburban venue outside of Pittsburgh so he could do a 10-minute set at an open mic. He continued doing standup throughout his college years at La Roche College in Pennsylvania, opening for his friends’ bands as well as performing at open mics.
When he graduated he knew what he wanted to do. So he hit the road. Terrible gigs, he said. A few people, and fewer dollars, and a long ride home so he could get up and get to work the next morning.
Mohan, 29, trained as a graphic designer, but he grew disenchanted with that. After those first couple years in comedy he decided the more DYI scene, shows in backrooms, homes, and, well, unheated garages, was the avenue to success.
“There’s a sense of community around it.,” Mohan said. “People are excited because the shows are special. … You get to build your own audience of people who want to engage with you.”
That means developing contacts with people around the country including Philipp, who arranged this gig and books the Tuesday night comedy open mic at Grumpy Dave’s.
Mohan’s “Empathy On Sale” show grew from what he observed on the road. His last show was based around mental health. That show “attracted a lot of people from both sides of the aisle,” he said. “I’ve definitely been noticing over the last couple years with the election and even during the Obama administration that there’s a lot of division among people, and nothing gets done if we’re just arguing.”
Everyone wants the same things in life, he said. They want to have good heath and be able to take care of their families.
“What we’re arguing about is the way to get there,” he said. “So how do you get people to listen?”
He’s trying humor, and for him that humor comes from a particular place. He’s an immigrant. When he was 8, he moved with his parents from India to Pittsburgh. He’s felt like an outsider. People ask him, where’s his accent. He’s not interested in playing out a media-fabricated caricature of his ethnicity, he said.
But his experience has also given him insight in how certain social pathologies spread. His father now sits and watches Fox News throughout the day, then goes to a bar. Once when his father was dropping off his daughter, Mohan’s sister, he wouldn’t get out of the car. “Black people” was his reason. She lived in a Hasidic neighborhood. Everyone was dressed in black.
Mohan recalled having to explain to his Indian grandmother whose ideas about America came from the media that the “n” word was not appropriate. She had a hard time understanding why. To her it was just a descriptor.
But as someone whose social circle tends to tilt leftward, Mohan is well aware that divisions exist across the ideological landscape. Once he brought humus to a party. It turned out he’d brought a brand of humus that is on the wrong side of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, according to a fellow partygoer. (Except if you check, the brand is a victim of mistaken identity.)
Mohan finds hope in even the slightest concession. He told about a visit to Ohio relatives of his fiancée. Everything was going well until immigration came up, and then the uncle exploded. He left the room, only to come back. India was a good country, he said. They get a lot of jobs there.
Mohan wanted to know how he knew that. Because every time I call customer service “I get a fucking Indian,” the uncle said. Rather than take offense, Mohan saw that as the uncle’s attempt to be conciliatory, and he imagined them bonding over a future Thanksgiving dinner, and joining together on the frontlines of the fight for righteousness.
The exchange was sparked by Mohan mentioning that his mother was becoming a citizen. Mohan remembered attending the ceremony, and wondering as his mother took an oath to defend the country why America would need his petite 54 year old mother to defend it. Not given its $886 billion “war budget.”
Would they send her over to confront the terrorists that America had created?
Hate, he concluded, is expensive, but empathy is always on sale.