“There’s big issues that I think we need to address and laughter is a way to drop your defenses.”
By Haley Frederick
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
I meet Krish Mohan at Ki Ramen in Lawrenceville for a bite to eat. The restaurant’s slogan, “soul in a bowl,” promises flavors both bold and comforting. A neon sign reading “take it easy” casts a red glow on the dining room. We’re having a late dinner, but Ki Ramen’s downstairs bar makes it a popular late night spot, so we’re not the only ones.
Mohan is a busy guy. He’s squeezed in this dinner between touring stops. Just this month alone he’ll be doing stand up shows in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. And I feel a little bad for picking a ramen joint when he mentions that he often lives off of the packaged stuff when he’s on the road, but I’m hoping this ramen will be an entirely different experience.
Ki Ramen offers six different styles of ramen, but with the lengthy list of possible add-ons, the options are nearly endless. Either because he can’t decide or because he’d already chosen it before I did, Mohan orders the same Spicy Miso Ramen as I do. The dish is typically vegan, coming with corn, rayu cucumbers, cabbage, enoki mushrooms, nori, scallions, chili paste and inferno oil. I decide to add on the brisket to mine to make it a little heartier.
I ask Mohan how he got into comedy and he calls it an accident, but as the story unfolds, it turns out it’s moreso a tale of a high school boy’s arrogance. His friend Derek Krystek—now a member of the Pittsburgh band Wreck Loose—suggested that since Mohan wasn’t in a band, he should enter their high school talent show as a standup comedian. With the unabashed confidence only a high school boy can have, Mohan went home and wrote eight note cards worth of jokes about his family and Benito Mussolini, auditioned for the show, got in, and ended up performing his first stand up set for more than 2,000 of his peers and teachers.
“Later you learn how to be nervous, or you learn how things can go wrong,” Mohan says.
But that blind arrogance carried him forward, and at seventeen he recorded an 80 minute comedy album. According to Mohan, it’s about as good as you would expect 80 straight minutes of standup from a 17 year old to be.
“There are like three or four jokes in there where I’m like ‘well, that’s cool that I said that when I was 17,” Mohan says. “Other than that, I listen back to it and I’m like ‘oh my god, I can’t believe this is something I thought I should do.’”
It’s safe to say Mohan’s stand up has changed a lot in the last 13 years since his talent show debut. In the past five years, especially, his style has morphed into what he refers to as “socially conscious” comedy.
“It kind of evolved from me just talking about my family or weird tv shows or making fun of ESPN to talking more about social issues,” he says.
And while some may refer to what he does as “political comedy,” Mohan says that he doesn’t think that’s exactly it.
“I think when you say ‘political comedian’ a lot of people think you’re going to go on stage and talk about Trump or Mitch Mcconnell and I don’t care about any of them because they don’t care about us,” Mohan says. “I think there are issues and systems in place that hurt us, so because I talk about that and general philosophy type stuff, issue type stuff, I don’t know if I fit into the political comedian category because I don’t really address what traditional political comedy would.”
The server brings us our bowls of ramen and they’re so beautifully assembled that Mohan remarks that he almost feels bad eating it because he’s destroying someone’s artwork. I see what he means. Ramen is a dish that brings together several components, and at Ki Ramen you can tell that there is thought and care put into each one. The broth is spicy but not so spicy that it dwarfs the other flavors, like the sweetness of the corn and the sourness of the cucumbers. The brisket is tender and delicious and generously portioned.
The tables at Ki Ramen are set with chopsticks, but the servers are willing and ready to bring you a fork without at all shaming you for your lack of dexterity.
Mohan’s “socially conscious” style of comedy involves digging into the big issues that affect us all in our daily lives. He doesn’t just observe how things are, he looks into why they are that way. He knows that it doesn’t appeal to everyone.
“Within the first 5 minutes [of a show] an entire table walked out,” he says. “Maybe the babysitter had an emergency, or maybe I was in a very small town in Maryland at a casino talking about being an immigrant, and they were like ‘well, this isn’t really going to be our cup of tea.’”
To Mohan, it’s still worth it. His interest in stand up isn’t only about making people laugh, it’s about opening people up through comedy so that they can find ways to relate.
“There’s big issues that I think we need to address and laughter is a way to drop your defenses,” Mohan says. “If we can have a conversation about it, maybe we can come up with some decent solutions.”