Two years ago I took in Krish Mohan’s debut as an Indy Fringe performer. I found him funny but unfocused and more than a little squeamish about identity issues. The son of immigrants from India, brought to the US as a child, the slender Pittsburgh-based comedian dazzles in a new show (thankfully!) on the stage of ComedySportz.
He’s still talking and thinking fast, and the 2017 Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival monologue (“Approaching Happiness”) starts with reminders of adjustment difficulties for a foreign-born kid. Mohan’s 2015 observation that, for a nation of foreigners, the USA doesn’t seem to like them very much rings even truer today than it did then.
He moves on from his youthful alienation from American sports in the current show to more complex issues, like mental health, shifting views of normality, problems we all have handling our emotions, and striking this year’s theme from arresting angles, as when we ask ourselves: Do I want to be happy?
Then he transitions adroitly through religious issues, since the conduct of life is central to how religions build imaginary structures around it. The Christian notion of Apocalypse he finds “adorable,” for instance, in contrast to the abruptly closed curtain of Hinduism’s end of time. There is an extensive reinterpretation of Jesus’ last days and his relationship to Judas. It comes close to the kind of sermon on the subject you might encounter in a liberal church from a minister who used to experiment (and inhale). But his adept characterization of the savior and the betrayer, in humor and mimicry, goes way beyond anything you’d hear from the pulpit.
That brings up a habit of Mohan’s that threads its way through this show as it did his previous one: responding sporadically to the audience’s response. Did they get the joke? How long did it take? What might conspicuous approval mean when contrasted with silence elsewhere in the crowd? I’m not sure why many comics do this — you never hear a jazz musician say, “Yeah, the last time we played ‘On Green Dolphin Street,’ people talked even during the drum solo, too.” Something about standup must make comics desperate to know that the audience is with them.
Mohan attempted to disarm criticism upfront when he mentioned complaints from a previous audience that his show resembled a lecture. Well, “Approaching Happiness” does have a somewhat professorial or preacherly cast — the latter especially toward the end. Mohan’s peroration emphasizes the importance of accepting others as the best basic approach to happiness, and urges upon us the duty to really talk to people and listen to them, especially when they are unlike us.
Who could disagree? Fortunately, he works up to his conclusion smoothly and earns the gales of laughter that punctuated his show Saturday evening.