- Courtesy Of Seth Farrington
- Krish Hohan
When Krish Mohan toured through Vermont in 2017, he presented a show all about mental illness. "Comedy can help address the absurdity of what we consider normal [regarding mental illness and treatment] and how it's negatively affected us," he told Seven Days just before his Burlington performance.
Heavy social concepts are the Pittsburgh-based comedian's bread and butter. His new work, an eclectic hourlong set titled "Politely Angry," examines the intersection of war culture, immigration, wealth disparity and how the United States — hell, the world — has been corrupted by capitalism.
Mohan's latest entry to his ever-growing selection of comedy albums is 2019's Empathy on Sale. Though he deals with complicated topics, such as the military industrial complex and the United States' corrupt and unjust origins, Mohan's effervescent personality, sharp delivery and ultimately positive outlook keep things from descending too far into darkness.
Mohan performs in Vermont three times this week: Friday, February 7, at the Marquis Theater & Southwest Café in Middlebury; Saturday, February 8, at Revelry Theater in Burlington; and Monday, February 10, at the Skinny Pancake in Burlington.
Seven Days caught up with Mohan by phone.
SEVEN DAYS: Is it a coincidence that your new show is super politically charged and it's also an election year?
KRISH MOHAN: No. I've been doing politically leaning material for probably six-ish years. I first started writing political material in 2012, 2013. I've been doing it since then, and it's something I've been wanting to do since I started doing comedy when I was 16. I've always wanted to talk about these issues, especially since I've faced that sort of stuff pretty much my entire life.
SD: Would you say your political bent has amplified in the last few years?
KM: Yeah. I think it's that way for virtually everybody since the 2016 election. I think a lot more people are driven to talk about it in whatever capacity they can. I like to take it a little bit further. I like to talk about the ideas and philosophies. The running theme of my comedy is that we as people need to come together and make change for ourselves rather than be dependent on a system that clearly has no interest in creating change for the masses. The show's kind of built around how we can do that in various ways.
SD: But how do you make topics like immigration funny in the age of family separation?
KM: You talk about how absurd it is. Immigration is not about family separation, and the fact that the legislators — even going back to Bush, to Clinton, to Bush Jr., even the Obama era — they kind of led the conversation and built these things that did involve family separation. It's incredibly absurd that the conversation of immigration leans toward family separation, when that's not what it's about at all. It's about people coming into your country, which we have deemed to be the greatest country in the world. When your marketing team is saying something is the greatest, you can't be surprised that a bunch of people want to be a part of it. That sentiment to me is absurd and, in a dark way, kind of hilarious.
SD: What kinds of conversations has your current show inspired between you and other comedy colleagues of yours?
KM: Both positive and negative. It depends on who you talk to.
SD: Go on.
KM: Most comics, when they see someone like me, they assume I don't like the sillier stuff. I'm not very good at one-liners or these sort of misdirect jokes or being very goofy about things. It's not what I'm interested in, and I'm just not good at it. But I admire it, because other people are.
For the most part, it is encouraging when people come to see my show and they say, "Wow, I never really thought about it that way." And then we talk about it. Other times, I've had comics get upset, because the notion of me starting a conversation via political comedy, to them, isn't comedy to begin with because comedy isn't supposed to talk about ideas or challenge things, or speak truth to power. It's just supposed to be silly and a distraction. Some comedians have very vocally told me that what I'm doing isn't comedy and they don't consider me a comedian. I think that comes from their own insecurity.
SD: Does your current show extend or cross over anything from your most recent album, Empathy on Sale?
KM: A little bit. It's kind of a next step. Empathy on Sale was basically me commenting on people's reaction to the 2016 election and everybody being like, "Oh, my goodness. I can't believe this is happening in America," when it was like, "No, this has been happening. We never got rid of racism [just] because Obama was president."
I started doing comedy toward the end of the second Bush era, so I had already been called a terrorist because I'm brown. The Patriot Act kind of opened you up to more ignorant, xenophobic attacks. At 14, people were commenting I was a terrorist, calling me towelhead. I came from that era of comedy, so I've seen all of this stuff.
This new show I've written talks a lot more about competition, how we're competing against each other. Rather than collaborating with each other, we just kind of tear each other down because, based on how the economy is sold to us, we're just constantly competing with each other. And that's not doing the middle class any favors.
SD: Do you get personal in the show, or are you more of a narrator?
KM: I definitely get personal. I have a couple of stories. The show is built off my own beliefs and how I view the world. So in that sense it's pretty personal. But I also throw in some facts about the way the economy works, and what we've learned about late-stage capitalism. But I've woven these facts and points into these stories, which ground these topics.