We spoke to Abish Mathew, the brain and face behind the famous Son of Abish show, as he launched a home-avatar of this talk show shot in front of the LIVE online audience.
The previous seasons of Son of AbishWe have left us laughing our hearts out, enjoying the inside dope, and watching our beloved celebrities chatting and playing without a care. Now, for the new home-made avatar, season 7, Abish Mathew has some interesting stories of coming to life, shooting experiences, learnings to take to the next one and many more anecdotes to share with International guests and the online audience on board.
To begin with, as a gratitude to his fans and audience Abish said,
“I have seen is that my audience doesn’t write words as comments, they write letters as comments, so there are people who have written paragraphs of appreciation, feedback and critical feedback. And you will always see that I engage with those comments because people take time and say ‘hey Abish, I saw this video and really enjoyed it and it is so amazing, I can see it with my 7 years old daughter and I don’t have to worry, so those things have happened with me and it is a big achievement”
“A moment to remember is my best friend from college when she puts Son of Abish’s soundtrack, her daughter starts saying Siggi Siggi Siggi because I had put up an Instagram post where I asked, her what are you listening to and cut to the Son of Abish title track and so much so now when she looks at my photo she says bye-bye Abish bye-bye Abish because at the end of my show I say Bye Bye! And this is so sweet. From being an uncle who plays Peekaboo on WhatsApp call, to get this reaction from a kid who is watching the show, it is like a personal victory.”
He believes, getting everyone under one roof is the job. Said – “I am not talented but I have amazingly talented people with me. So I don’t tell them, you have to do this, I ask them, I want to do, tell me what we can do, and this season we have our editors in the creative room”
Here are some excerpts from the fun conversation we had with him regarding the shooting at home, working with friends and his matrix of achievement.
How did you crack the brief of home-made avatar of ‘Son of Abish’? What was your first thought?
“When lockdown has started I was supposed to do Son of Abish anyway, and the initial phase of the lockdown I have been working with a lot of my friends recently on a lot of projects like brand briefs and brand shoots basically a lot of work that Abish Mathew was getting. So after some time, I was like, I am not going to lose the opportunity of launching a new season of Son of Abish. I have made a promise that I am going to do 2 seasons every year minimum, and if I have to wait for COVID to go I know I have to wait 4 years for it eradicate completely, a proper vaccine to come, so instead of things to change and waiting for the world to go back to its old way, then you have learned nothing from this time you have gotten.
So because of it, after the first month, I started having these conversations with my friends that I want to do this show, everyone had the same concern and said don’t do it, it is such a grand show, if you will do it from home it will look like a podcast, and I thought about it and I agreed, it has taken 6 years to build it and one season can ruin everything and can set a little low.
And then we were like let’s do it because if we are able to do something, we might crack it. So we shot our episode, we gave the release date, but we waited for 3 more weeks because I wasn’t happy with the show’s output and only when I was happy with the first episode, that it is the good cut of what I did, we decided to upload it, and it is is when our season was accredited.
So the idea germinated from the complete acceptance from the fact that the world is not going to go back to the original way, so it is better for you to change it the way you want it to. So then I was like I want to this show. A universe of the audience that gets credit to come on my show, the LIVE audience and for that I had to do was a couple of conversation with these friends with whom I worked with over a couple of weeks, I really wanna do it, I wanna do it this way, what they will do is, came up with questions, on several aspects of the show and then it was my responsibility to write these questions and figure out answers, and go back to them, pitch to them, and work on things, like financial arrangements, sponsors etc. And after a point, the questions were lesser and lesser, because the things were getting clearer, which allowed me to make the season effectively.
So once the idea germinated, and I was so sure, it was then when we started shooting. Lots of conversation with lots of friends, going through questions like why do you wanna do it, the pros and cons etc. I am an optimist in life. I will keep doing new things even if it doesn’t work, but luckily I have these friends in life, who keep telling me if you will do this, this will be the impact, then I am able to assess, whether it is a good decision or a bad decision.”
How different is season 7 from the rest? How do you think you can maintain the flavour of the show in the new avatar?
“There is a term called hedonic adaptation, it is a classical term which means that if you or the world goes through a crisis and after the crisis the world comes back exactly the same as they were that means we haven’t evolved for the better, we have evolved for the worst. What I wanted to do was I wanted to do a season and whatever comes out of the season I wanted to change it and take it to a new level. So for example, if we go back to the studio, if we go back to the live audience, if we go back to getting the guest on the sets, I will not abandon what I learn from this season. I will be bringing my online audience as well. Basically from the comfort of their own, the studio is shot from the comfort and the safety of a studio. So obviously with the COVID situation, we don’t know how the market is going to open up. But I can definitely assure you that anyone who will come as an audience for season 7 and all this while anyone who has come for a live session, I can recognize them if they come for more than 2-3 times because they have a Q&A session with me and ask me questions and I am like Oh! You asked me this question, Oh! You asked me this question, they pop up again and again. I can tell you on my fingers all the people I remember from this season. But I would say going further when one has to go back to the live studio it would genuinely be the most unique show. It wouldn’t be a late-night talk show it would be family entertainment. Earlier, I was not able to see the video now I am seeing on the live facing family watching the show, they are putting up a screen, and brother and sister are watching the show. So now I am getting the demographic understanding of what my online audience is so I can make the show perfectly cater to them. So, I think that what I would say but I think I am learning from season 7. I will take this LIVE experience to the digital experience.”
When during these 7 seasons did you feel that ‘this is the moment I started this for?
“I think this moment happened to me that I am on a right track, 3 times in Son of Abish’s journey. Number 1, when I did episode no 1 which was a variety comedy show where I did 30 min stand up, 15 minutes of monologue, 415 minutes of the interview, and in the end, I would do a musical comedy or sketch. So the people use to come for the live experience. So when I first put up a ticket and nobody bought it then I pushed for it and then for the first 120 came where I expected only 10 people to show up. I was like Okay! Okay! I was like this is news.
The second time it happened when we finished season 1 completely hoping it to be the last episode, I uploaded it and I wanted to take a break till I can do it, it was then OML was like, you have been doing this show really well and we can sell it to a brand and I was like you can sell a show and then they did everything possible to complete the show so that we get some amount of money and we were ready to build a season that was season 2. Season 2 was the season where I saw it was a big show, the production money was more than what I had earned in my lifetime. I was like man this is way bigger than my savoury. This is the second time when I felt great.
The third time I felt great was when I did season 3. Because season 1 was shot at home using the local camera, season 2 made it look super grand and the season was like now I am liking what I do. Every time I learned something from season 1 I took to season 2 and whatever I learned from season 2 I took it to season 3. And by season 6 we were able to add new elements but unfortunately, because of the pandemic season 7 could not be that. So for me, season 7 is like season 1 that I am really starting the entire show again. So if it gets million views or 1000 views it would be okay for me. I have 3 more seasons of this kind, I can assure season 7 season 8 and season 9 it’s going be mature and it’s quite long as well.”
Walk us through the journey of being a low-budget show to a home-made show, how has the show evolved, and how did you evolve with it?
“When I started the season 1 I was very insecure, for season 2 I was like I don’t know if I am worth it. For season 3 I was like okay I have found a balance, season 4 when it went to Hotstar I was most hopeful, I was like this is amazing an OTT platform has recognised my show. A YouTuber’s show on the OTT platform just blew my mind. Season 5 I was able to do on my own, season 6 I was able to dit on my own because season 5 got 5 stars, a GEC brand was interested to come on board. Then when season 7 came now I’m rediscovering it again so I would say I am an optimistic person. So when season 7 came I was like man I would have never been able to see this show the way it is right now. So as evolution I have become more confident in taking chances. A lot of people would think before they do something, I double think but I also ask my focus group, my friends, my people what do you think, how would you want to do it better then I am able to make a collective decision. There has been a transition from an independent decision-maker to a collective decision-maker.”
How was putting together the team to create comedy in a pandemic-struck situation? What kind of challenges did you face?
“All the challenges we faced were, to be honest monetary. Initially, for a couple of days, we were on calls for 4 hours and no work was happening then we figured out ways. So, it was like guys we will do a wrap-up call from 5-6, the entire day you are free to do whatever you want but 5-6 we will give you the task that you will have to do. So, everyone started having fun. The challenges were monetary because the economy was going down, I stopped earning any income. So, if I go to any professional he would give me a COVID rate. But because these kinds of friends were also fans of the show they said they are on and let OML discuss money, and they didn’t involve me. So, if it was within the budget, they agreed. That is the biggest hurdle I have faced so far, not technical, not creative but kind of feeling a little bit of guilt, I wish I was able to get more money to pay them well.”
How was working with your friends in a professional setup? Where do you draw a line?
“I think a lot of people are afraid to work with their friends and family, I am extremely afraid to work with friends and family. I just can’t be biased. I have family in different parts of the country who want to start different businesses, some people who want to get into entertainment and they are like, ‘why don’t I come work with you?’ and I am like no you can’t. We have not earned your slice to work with me. That is why I don’t work with a friend. But what happens here and is beautiful is that there is this friend of mine, Lloyd he is a traveller, he used to just come and help me with my shoots from Season 1 onwards. Then he used to help with other shoots, free of course, he used to take an off and help out. He knew nothing about anything, but he learned so much that one day he came and told me ki, “Abish, if we can shoot two Journey of a Joke today we can save 45,000 rupees from the entire project.” And I was like this is incredible, I need someone like this. Then he and I started a company and I was like ‘would you be able to take care of my projects?’ And it was a bit scary because you are friends now how can you be friends when one person is doing your salary. But I was like this won’t go away now, this will take a few months and for a year or two till we are an official company. I used to tell him to object to me because I might say something that is not efficient. And once I got that person then I was like, okay let me get Nikhil Kini. Let’s try and work with him. Then I was like let’s get Kedar and so on and so forth. So I decide on cultivating a team of people who know what I am trying to do instead of ‘let’s get someone who does this work and someone who does this’. So, it was scary in the beginning but as I told them in the beginning, let’s discuss money first and then the work. And at the end of the month, you can tell me if the money and work go together or not. And if it works then it is great. Because I know they will not want to screw me over like let’s make more money from him because he is good. So it is a very incredible balance of colleagues and friends. I think I have learned quite the opposite of what I thought. they say don’t work with friends and I am trying to make people I work with friends.”
How has your experience of shooting from home been? What are the new things you’ve learned about production because of it?
“I now know how to handle my camera really well. Earlier I had a camera that was not utilised, I had lights that were not utilised. So, there are a lot of things that I would not utilise. But, ever since I have been at home I think I have learned how to use the lights, sound, the multiple frames and everything. And I think that is the biggest learning that I got. I can’t tell you how, in the first two weeks, I knew I was using a secondary camera but it was not of the highest quality. I didn’t know how do I connect my DSLR with my laptop. I googled it and did a lot of research. I found a product that a friend of mine had and he fixed it for me and right now all my video calls are recorded on my DSLR with lighting in the background. I also clean my floor every day. The reason is that I am afraid just in case someone wants to shoot something, if the floor is not clean then I can’t shoot it immediately. I think that has changed, I have become a spider where I have placed my table as a command centre in a way that it is a properly cleaned plus, shoot plus interview setup space. I think I need to step out more often is what I feel right now.”
How is the audience engagement when you do comedy over a video call? What is your mantra to maintain the same energy amongst others?
“The beauty of doing comedy for a digital audience is that they don’t know what is goes on as much as you don’t know what’s going on. They are like peacefully confused and like ‘I don’t know’ and it is a beautiful place to be because everyone is trying to figure what is going on. So when I am performing for a live audience on Zoom, I am playing with the features that are there on the screen. Like I’ll ask them to change their name or the background, we talk to them about different things in their lives. So basically we warm the audiences up for 30 mins talking to them before we even start taping. We only do 20-30 people maximum and in that number, I talk to them so much.”
What is your pitch to the audience to buy a ticket and attend the session and not lazily watch it on Youtube?
“It’s very simple, if you watch Son of Abish you will see that the first couple of episodes you’ll see the audiences that I am talking to. And look at the comments it is them telling ‘I want to come for the live show’ and I am like great now come for the live show and pay. Because when I am talking to a live audience and putting that on YouTube the entire audience is like ‘oh my god this is great’.
And luckily Son of Abish has made decent enough name to get people on. So even if the entire live audience thing was not working out Zoom, I know that we will be able to sell 20-30 tickets for sure but now that it is becoming bigger how else do I entertain the audience this big. So now my brain is working on how I can expand from a 20-30 people audience to an 80-100 people audience. But only since I am doing 9 or 10 episodes per season, we have discussed that by the time we reach 8th or 9th episode we would have cracked a perfect format. But yaa, to be honest, it is such a great canvas it is amazing to play with a different audience. Doing tasks, playing polls is some great things you can do with the audience.”
Can you tell us about the guests who are part of this season?
“We have really reached out to International artists this season. We are also bringing Hari Kondabolu who is one of the biggest American comedians. He has done a documentary called ‘The Problem with Apu’ which took down the racial character Apu and all the controversy. He is one of the guys who helped bring a social change for brown people in America. So he has been a part of this season. Then we also have some amazing combinations coming up. We also have artists from Pakistan and it is so incredible to see them as we also had various audiences joining us from Pakistan. We talked about art and culture and how we want to visit each other’s countries which was quite wholesome. And we also had some really funny moments too. And then we have our finale, which my team has warned me not to tell anyone about the finale. Because they, said finale even I won’t see before the upload.”
How do you unwind? What are you watching these days? How are you maintaining the work-life balance? Give us the dope on your Lockdown Tales.
“The dope of my lockdown tales is that I have learned how to cook, I clean my house every day, I wash my clothes with my own hands because I don’t have a washing machine. And all of these were a problem when I started off. I was like how am I going to survive, how I am going to eat, but a week into it I was like I don’t have any other option and I started cooking and cleaning. It just became meditative. Now I look forward to cooking and cleaning. Washing clothes and dishes I look forward to because when I am doing that I am talking to my parents who live in Canada or listening to my favourite artists. And when I am washing clothes I am literally working out so I don’t put that guilty that I am not working out. After that, I have my coffee, meditate and pray and then at 12 noon I go live on Instagram on Monday, Wednesday and Friday where I have this show called Viva for different people to just come and talk to me. Within 2 months that show became a Talent platform wherein various indie musicians are coming and performing songs and I give them a task, like a Viva task, where I listen to their music and I say can you do a 1 min cover or can you collaborate with this musician. I will initiate it, manage them and press them through DMs and phones, and they have been creating so many posts that I feel so good. And by the time it’s 1 when I actually start working on something my team is ok with it. They will be like Abish will be available only after 2 so whatever happens before 2, let them do it. So that has become my quarantine schedule which is so peaceful. It is like every day you wake up and you are like I am working towards a goal.”