Meet Mike Harrington, corporate consultant by day and stand-up comic by night
An American walks into a comedy club and, cracks everyone up.
Before moving to Mumbai about a year ago from Hong Kong, Mike Harrington was told by a friend that if he had to immerse himself in the local culture, he needed to learn about Hinduism and India's many gods. And so he did. "When I got here, I realised everybody worships different Gods; from Amitabh Bachchan to Sridevi, Salman Khan, and so on," shares Mike, giving us a hint of his infectious humour as we begin confabbing. He continues, "People talk as though they know these Bollywood stars intimately. It is very funny."
Mumbai, with its contrasts and quirks, offers rich fodder for homegrown stand-up comedians. Why would then expats, with explicit observations on the city, hide their funny bone, asks Mike. A full-time consultant in the corporate sector and a spicy food enthusiast, Mike has dragged his mic stand to Mumbai, a place he calls fantastically funny — and home. "Back in the US, I was the class jokester. I was known for making impressions of our bosses. One time, I was asked to do a skit for a corporate retreat. I knew that this would either make me a hero or I'd end up losing my job. Thankfully, I still work for the same people," the 33-year-old New Yorker adds.
Mike's stint with comedy started some three years ago in Hong Kong, after attending a bunch of open mics there. In Hong Kong, he says, the comedy scene is divided into Cantonese and English. With the former being a weak point, he only did shows in English. Ninety 90 per cent of the English-speaking audience comprised expats and English teachers temporarily residing in Hong Kong.
"Most shows involved our collective experiences in the region, so it was easy. In Mumbai, however, I have an Indian audience to perform to. Very cleverly, I use local references that touch a nerve; without being offensive to anybody. And it works!" But, what's so funny about Mumbai? Without a blink, he says, "Look at this city; everything is entertaining. Everybody complains about local trains and how crowded they are. And for the longest time I wondered why. It was much later that I realised I had been taking a first class bogie all this while! This is just one of the many things I use on stage. If I am making insinuations about the special treatment I might get as a white guy in the city, I express the irony of it in my shows."
Comedy, he finds, is much like the 1999 cult classic Fight Club. "We work during the day and then head to these basements in the evening where open mics are usually held. The point is to put ourselves in a vulnerable position and take a jibe at our amusing experiences in life," he says.
Often, it's other foreigners who help him with his next set. Each meeting with a new foreigner, he says, is like meeting someone in prison. The most common questions are "How long have you been here? How much more time do you have to do? How are you adjusting in the small living quarters. What the hell did you do to end up in a place like this?" "This happens so much that I have to make a joke about it. So that it doesn't drive me crazy." Interestingly, he has never taken to stage in the US. "There is a reason they call me the masala guy. My material is curated for Indians, so I don't think it will work in New York anymore."
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