Of jokes, fun and frolics, the man who takes a stand, turns anger into comedy, with a reason is often long remembered. One such stand-up comedian who brews the right concoction of comedy, awareness and punches is Abhineet Mishra.
A native of Shillong, Mishra is well known in the comic circuit for echoing the happenings of Northeast for the mainstream. With his hard hitting acts (not comedy) on issues like Meghalaya miners and Assam floods which got 95,000 views and 2.69 lakh views each, he has been on the forefront, trying to turn eyes towards Northeast.
The journalist turned comedian was recently in Guwahati as a part of his nationally acclaimed tour #NutsandBolts covering three cities: Shillong, Tezpur and Guwahati.
VibesMojo caught up with Mishra after the bone tickling act in Guwahati. Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
VM: Most of your content, it revolves around the prejudices faced by the people of Northeast. Would it be too simple to say that it’s because you are from the region?
AM: Yes, of course. So I think the fact that I am from here, I am a little better versed about the issues that the region is plagued with. A lot of times people say other comedians are not raising the voice for the Northeast, which I think is unfair, because you need to have a certain lensing and a certain perspective. I may not have so much of an opinion about issues in Chennai, for example, right? But I might have the intent to raise those issues. I think awareness among the central comics about the northeast is missing. But that’s not them. You know, it’s not to say that they are to blame. And it’s more to do with that I’ve had the privilege of growing up in the northeast and therefore I’m able to bring in some of those layers and nuances that others are not.
VM: Humour, wit as a way to highlight social economic issues. Do you think that people get what you’re saying?
AM: I would hope so. But I think it makes some impact. I mean, if I can recall, two of the more precious works of mine have revolved around the Meghalaya mining and the Assam floods. I think I don’t know about the impact and awareness it created, because that you would measure in terms of of the virality of those videos, which I think it was there. But more importantly, we have managed to raise funds.
For example, this show today that we did is for the HPC employees. The moment I put this piece out, I have had inquiries from London and Dubai from people saying we can’t come to your show, but can we please contribute. To which obviously I said no, because people should come to comedy when they want to watch it. But there is a fundraiser we are planning and people are contributing from outside. So I’m assuming that this art form has a lot of potential to carry some of these issues that otherwise would have not got covered.
VM: You said the proceeds for the 3-city tour will go to the HPC employees, so how did this idea come up?
AM: There’s no idea. Its just that one fine day I saw this video of young children who were going from one shop to the other shop, not begging, but asking for money for paying the fees, and I thought you’ve got to be completely dead inside to not be moved by that. And if it happens in your region, that you belong to, you have to pick up some issues. But I think the job of a comic in today’s world is to look at anger, is to look at calamity and chaos, absorb all of it, but not get angry while presenting it. So I feel, hosting comedy show, people had a great laugh, everybody came in together, had fun, went back smiling, but what they did not realise is that what they’ve done is contributed, in some small way to some family, which is struggling in HPC.
VM: What’s your take on the comedy scene in Northeast?
AM: It is really picking up. I mean, just last three days I was performing in Shillong, Tezpur and Guwahati and the comics who went on stage to open for me, they were fabulous. For one moment, I just sat back thinking yaar tumlog karte raho, mereko nahi jana stage pe. [You guys carry on, I don’t want to go on stage]. They were hilarious and to imagine that how amazing I was in my first year, these guys are leaps and bounds ahead of me. So the comedy scene is great, and people are coming to watch.
It has to have certain degree of commercial value for organizers to organize as well. So more people should come out. It’s a great art medium, great de-stressor, and the comics are brilliant.
VM: Has it ever happened that your content has offended somebody?
AM: It has happened a lot of times. A lot of times trolls keep writing to me. I like the trolls who write to me, the problem is there is a certain intelligence that needs to come for trolling. Trolls lack that intelligence. Like one of these trolls had written to me saying that your father should not have worked so hard on that night three decades ago. So, I am like what to reply to do that? Also, people get angry. I had to cancel shows in some states.
VM: You challenged the Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma for an open debate on CAA.
AM: I think a lot of media channels covered that story as Abhineet challenging Himanta, and Himanta accepting Abhineet’s debate. I think I’m too small a fish for him to engage in a debate, and as a politician, he has more work to do. My job is to get on stage and tell jokes. He’s got more work on his plate, but he was courteous enough to accept that. And the reason I did that was, I feel that dialogue is very important. I mean, people protest because there’s a difference in views or ideology, and the only way to address that is by speaking. So I think it was important for a dialogue to open, but unfortunately, as expected, the ball was dodged very well. So I spoke to Himanta and I told him I want to debate, he said yes, I want to debate but, with the AASU general secretary. Also the AASU general secretary says yes, I also want to debate but with Amit Shah. Shah says even I want to debate but I want to debate with Rahul Gandhi and I’m just waiting for him [Rahul Gandhi] to say that I want to debate with Abhineet, but Rahul and I on the same side, and that this is quite the irony of this whole moment.
VM: Your journey from a journalist to becoming a successful stand-up comic, how would you describe that?
AM: I thought the journey will be different. But looking at today’s electronic media, especially the Delhi based media, I think their role and my role is not very different. I mean, I get paid to tell jokes. They also are getting paid to tell jokes. There’s not much of a difference. But I honestly think that the transition was important because I wanted to do something wherein I didn’t have to report to an establishment. Working with some of the bigger media houses, I still had to report into somebody, there was an editorial head sitting on top of me. Here (as a stand-up comic), I get a stage and say just about anything that doesn’t get me to jail. So I think that’s the freedom of stand-up comedy, and that sort of prompted me to make this transition.
VM: What do you think is the role of comedian and who do you think is a great comedian in the Indian scene?
AM: I think the role of stand-up comedy is often lost, with people focusing too much on the word comedy. They keep forgetting that stand-up comedy has a stand-up element to it. And it started in the US, because people were very tired with whatever the ongoings in the political and economic scene. So stand-up comedian started standing up for issues. Today, in stand-up comedy you see a lot of people and what is surprising is everybody started with my girlfriend is, my father is, my wife is.., which is clever. I mean that’s great for the comedy part, but a stand-up needs you to stand-up for certain issues. Recently there was this young kid whose video came out where he was bullied. The young kid was bullied and it was captured on camera by his mother, where he was saying that I want to kill myself. Give me a gun I want to shoot. There’s a comedian who raise $30,000 for him. That is not a comedian, that’s a stand up comedian who stood up for an issue and therefore that’s important. So I think stand-up comedy is important as a medium for people to represent voices that are not generally heard today in India. Our country is way too diverse for people to cover every single issue. So stand-up comedy in so many ways represents some of those issues.
If I were to pick up a stand-up comedian in India, at the moment is Abhishek Upamanyu. I think that guy is an absolute prodigy and I absolutely love his work. I’ve told it to him. I just wish I could be as spontaneously funny as he is.
VM: Your this show was more like a last minute thing. Talking about Fukra Entertainment and the management, would like to ask about the organisation, the partners and the venue?
AM: So I’ll start with the venue. I think it was one of the more memorable shows for me in Guwahati. I absolutely loved doing this. This whole show was put up in very, very short notice, and Lakshey from Fukra and I have been planning for a long, long time to work together on something, and this time we decided to give it a chance. And I must tell you that I see a lot of promise in this association. And I think that what he is doing for the stand-up comedy scene is great for the stand-up comedy scene and the other art forms. I can tell you this sitting here right now, it is not a profitable venture at the moment, the guy is incurring losses. But I think you have to feel for the art. If you don’t feel for the art you’ll never want to do this, and this man has been doing this relentlessly. This agency works so hard. I’m sure that tomorrow stand-up comedy will be like one of the more celebrated art forms in the northeast, and I hope the story is not forgotten of the people who made that happen.