Amazon Prime, the streaming godfather of Indian standup comedians and the resident rainmaker for OML’s comedy stars, just released Abish Mathew’s new standup special Whoop. Abish Mathew is best known for his work with All India Bakchod and his comedy talk show Son Of Abish. Abish’s body of comedy work is usually powered by his acting skills as well as his often awkward, sometimes overenthusiastic, but mostly effective delivery skills.
Whoop, shot in front of a stadium audience, starts off with him bringing in ‘maximum effort’ to energise the audience. The first joke, a self-deprecating one about how Abish is an ‘F-all’ name and his parents probably ran out of ink, lands well. The rest of the hour, however, is a different ball game. As the first segment rolls on, Abish tackles his ethnicity as a Malayali born and brought up in Delhi and the hilarity of being beaten up by his father as a kid, or emotional blackmails that a Mallu mother can put you through. That segment would be hilarious – if we hadn’t already heard a Russell Peters, Zakir Khan or a Biswa Kalyan Rath do the Indian parent shtick already.
Many of us have been beaten up by our parents growing up, and that joke was funny when we first heard it a decade ago. Abish’s enthusiasm and tendency to stretch the joke (eg: the amma dekh one he does) doesn’t help either. Maybe I am just a liberal ‘Natacha’ who is bored of glorification of what is probably now classified ‘child-abuse’ being run as a joke for like, the 100th time. As the ‘mallu’ segment rolls-on, there is not much insight Abish brings to the table – nothing new that reflects the uniqueness of his cosmopolitan middle-class upbringing.
Twenty minutes in, we have covered middle-class, being beaten up as a kid, cultural differences, and ugliness of north Indian culture. So, as far as familiar territories go one would expect toilet humour, shallow feminism, awkward sex tips, relationships and sharp political commentary next, right?
Bingo! Except sharp, political and commentary – sorry about that.
Abish delivers a segment on growing up with sisters, his achievement in understanding the gravity of Polycystic Ovarian Disorder (PCOD) before anyone else and then moves into urinal habits, covering the very familiar men and their urinating dance.
He rounds up his last segment with jokes and enactments on being married and relationships – and the emotional torture women put men through. Maybe he was trying to be feminist about the entire thing in the segment, but I wouldn’t know – the point definitely didn’t come across.
With four minutes left in the special, things come to a head now in Whoop. The live audience seems to be enjoying themselves, for I can’t see any laughter prompt cards around – and this reviewer had already poured himself a stiff Old Monk in anticipation of surviving what comes next. Abish obliges and makes that decision absolutely worthwhile. He pulls out the greatest, most unique segment of this special out of his hat – a segment on Yo Yo Honey Singh songs and genitalia references.
Honestly, I do enjoy Indian standup comedy when it’s good – and there is so much opportunity in this diverse country to draw mirth from, which many comedians do, effectively. While I think most comedians have great content worthy of only a half-hour set; I do admire the observation, honesty and the attempt to spin the familiar into something new and funny. However, Abish’s Whoop feels much like those Bacardi nights CDs of yesteryears – downright average covers of familiar ‘best-of’ standup clichés, which can only be enjoyed with helpful doses of the actual drink in question. In fact, Whoop greatest achievement is that it’s worthy of a drinking game – a shot for every time you hear a segment that has been done before, and better, by someone else. And two shots if you’ve specifically heard Russell Peters do it better!
That’s not to say Whoop isn’t funny – it is downright hilarious in two exact spots. Abish’s make-up man walks up on stage mid-set, twice, to wipe out his sweat and lay on some foundation (I guess?) and awkwardly refuses to leave until he’s done. It’s not something you’ve seen happen before and Abish’s observation on him hogging up stage time lands perfectly in context to another Amazon Prime property.
But Whoop makes me feel bad about judging Vir Das’ new special Losing It too harshly in my review earlier this week. The deal is simple, watch Abish’s Whoop if you want support Indian standup with unwarranted streaming views, because you know, soldiers are standing at the border and all that… Or, watch it if you’re really down with my drinking game idea for Whoop!