I received a text from Avinash Agarwal the owner of Classic Rock asking me to come over as they were celebrating their 3rd Anniversary on the 16th of May. In my haste after having read the text message I got busy doing some other things and didn’t look at the invite. Classic Rock is around the corner for me…a stone’s throw away from my home. I decided to go later say at about 9 pm. And not 7.30 as was stated on the invite…since I hadn’t seen it right! As I walked towards the place it was buzzing…with laughter and resounding claps. I hastened my pace wondering what was I missing. Abish Mathew was keeping them in splits!
Imagine my delight and astonishment! All at the same time. I was mentally not prepared to see Abish Mathew.
Every other seat had been taken in the amphitheater. Lucky for me I saw a friend and sat down on the concrete steps beside him. He saw my lost expression and hollered out. By then I had missed the band that had performed for the evening featuring the SIDDHANT KALMEGH PROJECT.
As I listened to Abish Mathew I decided to catch a quick interview with him. He was humble enough to oblige. Here was a man with no hangups, no airs, just a lot of fun and humility, a quality that just is so endearing.
So why the prototype Natasha?
I had to ask this, as a few times in a few of his jokes Natasha was the name he took. And my daughter’s name is Natasha incidentally.
“I know your daughter’s name is Natasha, but let me tell you why! In the joke I needed a name that people would associate with the upper middle class, or like the extremely one percent rich daughter. Natasha just seems so classy.”
And then to which a friend of mine interrupted over all the ‘din din’ around us in his loud voice …
“Why not a Natalie?”
“No not even Natalie, Natalie is still very American. I wanted an Indian version of Natalie. You know what I mean?”.
And then he continued with his description of the stress on the ‘t’. How it sounds more sophisticated when the ‘t’ is stressed as a ‘t’ and not a ‘th’ and how the name could be shortened to a natty, nats, nattu. I could so relate to that. Cause I have called my daughter by all these names.
Now I could understand how people relate to his jokes! So I asked him how does he manage to come up with lines and situations that relate closely to people and everyday scenarios.
The Mantra to His Success!
“I think the way I write a joke is less for you and for the audience cause I wouldn’t know about you but I know a lot about me. So if I write a joke so specific to me I know I would be able to relate to a lot of people, for example, …obviously you would be hit by your dad to be disciplined right? And I thought I was the only kid. Then I spoke to a lot of my friends and found out that even they had to go through the same. Many years later I found out that there are many kids who did not get beaten up as they grew up. Such an anomaly for me. So I began to develop the advantages and disadvantages of being raised if your dad was strict. When I started doing that bit 6 months ago, in that one particular joke I began to see the response to that joke. There are people who related to it. So when I am writing a joke I am not writing a joke as a blogger or doctor or a fashion expert, I am writing a joke with the thought that if I find it funny probably an x percent of people will find it funny.”
Would you say you are very perceptive?
“I am very observant! But when you are observing too much you are always living a third person perspective. For example, although we are sitting here and I am fully engaged, there is a bit of my brain that has zoomed out and observing this particular event observing all the particular nuances of things yes. When I am on stage 99 percent of my mind is focused but that one percent is looking at the audience and the one percent of my focus is like a Valkyrie flying over…like a drone hovering over people and watching. It is always the case if the brain is highly active.”
That I must say is a heightened state of awareness! Predominant aspect required in one who needs to keep the audience in splits for the next 40 minutes.
What got you into all of this?
According to Abish Mathew, he was the most annoying kid around the block. The family was huge and they would get annoyed by his incessant talking. He would be asked to shut up and called an idiot! However, Abish actually enjoyed it all. And he loved when people laughed at his stupidity, mostly exhibited on purpose to annoy and get a few laughs from the others.
So much so one day he fell down and broke his tooth. The rest around him laughed at him in spite of him bleeding, and to beat it all Abish also started laughing.
Abish realized that he loved making people laugh.
In a hundred lines, only 2 lines would be laughed at said Abish, as he kept practicing to be funny. He kept narrowing it down trying to understand how it is done. Once he had mastered the art he gave up his full-time radio career and came to Mumbai…the land of opportunities.
Of course, we continued talking and found out that Abish had gone to Father Agnel’s school in Delhi and being a part of the choir and bible reading contributed to his self-esteem and confidence and also his diction.
He went on to say how when you enunciate certain words in the dictionary you can go a little higher in your singing. Apparently, Abish Mathew is also a singer.
He is now intentionally now trying to increase energy in the voice but reduce decibel.
“Throwing of the voice is an art. The crowd should hear you without you sounding screechy. Early I could throw my voice but I was very hyper. But over the years doing comedy I like wittier premises not just being a fool on stage. I don’t want to be a fool on stage and want to do something smarter. But then I am very hyper and my throat began to take a hit. I used to speak from the diaphragm earlier. So I found a way that on the monitors I increase my voice so high that I think that I am very loud and then it helps me to quiet down.”
His name intrigued me and I could not hold on any longer and asked him what Abish meant as I had heard a girl being called by that name. I hadn’t googled earlier as did not find it as important. But now having met him I had to know more.
“I asked my parents Abish is such a weird name why not Abhishekh or Ashish? So true story, my elder brother’s name is Anish the second brother his name is Binish. My dad put it together; the A and B and made it Abish.
So there is no real meaning attached to it?
“I googled it. So earlier when Google was new, some decade ago, when I googled it up it actually asked me…’Did you mean a bitch’? So recently I googled it again. Abish is the name of a girl in the Morman Bible.
Mormonism is a religious movement and people who follow this movement are called Mormons. The movement is also called The Church of the Latter Day Saints.
I asked a very pertinent question. Being famous as he is and cute looking he must have women swooning all over him.
Available and playing the market … that is how he described it! He certainly is not a player. He could never pull such a thing off. Being a staunch Catholic he follows the church. However attractive they may be a conversation is all he holds.
And of course, my friend had to intervene saying…
“Probably their names were not Natasha!”
We burst out laughing.
His Message to the audience.
“There is this thing I am doing nowadays… it is a reminder… when you are doing a lot of things you keep forgetting what you enjoyed doing about it. So when you keep doing comedy all the time you get better at it which is great… it is like a graph. You kinda forget what you started it for. I started it because I love being an idiot on stage but with age, I don’t want to be an idiot anymore, but then I forgot the fun part of it. So I realized…the one philosophy I am going on is called ‘go again’.”
The evening at Classic Rock was a fun one, with food and drinks flowing. The party went on till wee hours of the morning, where many broke into melodies of yesteryears, and some young ones tried their voices at some recent hits.
Happy Anniversary it was!