tackles a big topic on his latest standup comedy record: mental illness. Approaching Happiness was released in August and features some of the sharpest material to date from the India-born, Pittsburgh-based comedian, writer and self-described social vigilante.
Throughout the album, Mohan is in full command of the wit and thoughtfulness that has made him an underground favorite at comedy clubs and festivals around the country. It’s an hourlong exercise in breaking the stigmas associated with mental illness. But Mohan also identifies the ways in which mental illness and other societal ills — such as racism and gun violence — intersect and feed one another.
“The whole point is to rethink the way we’ve been addressing mental illness and using comedy as vehicle to do that,” says Mohan. “Where do we go with rethinking mental illness, rethinking how we treat each other?
“My question is: ‘Are we progressive?'” he continues. “Right now, I would say no. But the show is about figuring out a way that we can can be progressive rather than being depressed about the fact that we’re not.”
Touring in support of the new release, Mohan performs this Sunday, October 8, at Drink in Burlington with locals Nicole Sisk, Joel Klein and host Eric Dreiblatt. Seven Days recently caught up with Mohan by phone from the road.
SEVEN DAYS: Mental illness is not exactly common fodder for standup comedy. Where does your interest in the subject come from?
KRISH MOHAN: I had a friend about seven-and-a-half years ago who committed suicide. It was right after I had graduated college, and right at that point where you’re trying to figure out who you are as a person, which you do with the people around you. So, when he committed suicide, it just didn’t make any sense to me. He never seemed like the person who would do it, so there were all these questions. And seeing how it affected all of my friends, I wanted to figure out a good way just to cope with this.
SD: So comedy was a coping mechanism for you. What did you discover?
KM: Going on that kind of journey leads to a lot of self-reflection and thinking about your own issues. I’ve had anxiety all of my life, and there are points when you just get depressed. So, what the best way to pull yourself out of that? How do we treat it?
We have a lot of systems in place that we think are just normal, that I think are completely absurd, silly and counterproductive to the way that human beings work. Comedy can help address the absurdity of what we consider normal [regarding mental illness and treatment] and how it’s negatively affected us. And that’s what the show tries to do. It’s a way to try and recognize that we don’t need to keep doing…