Ashvin Mathew — Comedian, Bangalore
It’s another warm Friday night and swarms of 20- and 30-somethings have turned up in Cellars, a Bangalore pub. The air is smoky and you can barely hear yourself think over the numbers the DJ churns out. Just then Ashvin Mathew arrives.
The thin 34-year-old launches into his act: “… I once got kicked out of church,” he reveals, to an audience that’s waiting to be tickled. “There’s nothing worse than a Malayali singing English gospel.” There are guffaws as he continues, “When I was growing up, Mom once beat me with the dog leash with the dog still in it. And then she said, ‘Look what you made me do to the dog!’ ” More than half an hour and innumerable cracks later, Ashvin says good night to rapturous applause and the DJ takes over again.
Offstage, I ask Ashvin how it feels to perform. “Imagine you’re on a date and you decide to entertain your partner by being funny for 45 minutes,” Ashvin replies. “Now multiply that date by one hundred.” And how does he write his stuff? “It helps to see the world as a giant ball of fun,” he says.
As an eight-year-old, Ashvin would entertain his family by imitating actors and relatives. By age 20, when he was acting in a play, (appropriately, its title was Restless, the Spirit of Youth) Ashvin discovered his calling.
It made his parents restless too. His doctor dad expected Ashvin to follow in his footsteps. “So Dad asked me if I knew what I was doing. I told him I could become a doc, but I wouldn’t be happy.” We chuckle (at the expense of a good many Indian parents).
Soon, in addition to pursuing his BA in performing arts in Sydney, Ashvin became a door-to-door salesman. “I learnt what to say, how to say it, how to get a foot in the door.” But the turning point: He was a waiter at a small Indian restaurant in Sydney. An otherwise slow Monday evening was transformed when about 60 customers walked in. The manager and the chef, grappling with the situation, sent Ashvin out to talk to the guests while their orders were attended to. He bit the bullet, walked out and told jokes, starting with one about how “eating vindaloo would end up with your going to the loo.” Customers laughed, and Ashvin realized this was it.
He moved to Cyprus to study radio and TV production. Picture-perfect Cyprus was where Ashvin honed more skills, working in drama, scriptwriting, and as a radio jockey. Returning to Bangalore, things changed when Sparks, a trendy Bangalore pub, hired Ashvin as their stand-up comic. Today, he’s in demand as funnyman at corporate shows as well.
As we part, Ashvin reveals his simple philosophy: “I believe that a smile or a laugh can make someone really happy.” >>
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