Priyanshu Mishra (insti name – “mistake”), one of the most famous stand-up comedians in Chennai circuit, originally wanted to be a fighter pilot. He graduated from department of Aerospace Engineering of IIT Madras and currently works with an interesting start-up. In this interaction with Chennai36, he opens up about his unconventional career choices and a lot more.
Did your experience at IIT Madras somehow shape your career as a stand-up comedian?
Oh definitely! I think there’s a lot of humour in everyday life in IIT. It’s a close community and after a certain point, it becomes an ecosystem in itself. And obviously to survive in an ecosystem, you need a sense of humour, especially if it is as difficult a place as IIT is. I mean that in many different forms. It’s not an easy place to come and adjust. The guys I hung out with were always making a lot of jokes, and there was lot of humour about what was going on everyday. But at the same time, I also think I learnt a lot during my time at IIT, personally as well as professionally. So, from that perspective, it also allowed me to start thinking beyond just the usual (and I think that’s one of the biggest benefits of being at a place like IIT, because you are not surrounded by regular people. You are surrounded by people of a slightly higher calibre whose mind works in a completely different way and hence your own way of thinking and going through life is at a different pace as compared to everybody else). It has allowed me to construct the kind of jokes that I want, that are not the things you hear everyday. And that is sort of what my personal goal is. I know there’s a bunch of people who will do an Ola/Uber joke or a bunch of people who will do my-friend-said-this-joke and rubbish like that. That sort of stuff doesn’t excite me simply because it does not meet my intellect. So, it’s always a question of challenging myself and trying to see how much I can combine what IIT was all about, which is hardcore nerdism, with what I see as the funny side of life, so that’s how I try to balance it.
How were you as Events Core? Did that play any part?
I don’t know if that played any part because I was a horrible events core! I really didn’t care too much about being an Events Core. I just happened to be one. I had really good co-Cores. That was the first time we were having 3 cores. The other two were on the top of their game and I was just like- “yeah ok cool, let them handle it”. So, I was a terrible events core but I always had a literary side to myself and was drawn to arts side per se, and I do believe that a lot of people in IIT are. Some of the best musicians, actors, singers, writers, bloggers I have personally met are from insti. So, it’s a hot bait not just for hard core academics but also this whole other side which we normally don’t get to see. So, I had always been into performing arts, I did a lot of theatre when I was in insti, I did a lot of plays for my hostel and Saarang. I was the dramatics co-ordinator, back in that time.
Once I left insti, I took up a job because, you know, arts don’t pay for everything. I can’t just wash away my IIT degree and be like, “okay, I did that for 4 years and now I’ll be a popper!”. So, I took up a day job and while the job was okay, it wasn’t satisfying the creative side. It was a very straightforward job. So, I started doing theatre again but I found that theatre, especially professional theatre, requires a lot of time. In insti you meet a bunch of people in either SAC or hostel rooms and after a couple of hours you are done and continue with life. But outside, you need to go for rehearsals everyday, 4 hrs a day and you are just sitting there. If you don’t get a good part then you are just stuck, getting bored. For me that void was always there and theatre wasn’t filling it up. It took a little bit of time to figure out what I wanted to do. I was really interested in music production so I started producing music and DJing at music clubs. At the same time, I really felt a void of writing so I started writing. I wrote for 1.5 year before I got on stage to do stand-up. That was about 4 years ago.
As you diverted from engineering, how did your family react on it?
My family has always been pretty cool in terms of my life choices. I always wanted to be an air force pilot. But I found that colour blindness disqualifies a person and I’m colour blind. I found this out in 11th. By that time, it was very difficult to think about another route. Because for about 11 years of life I had been thinking “fighter-pilot, fighter-pilot” and suddenly my hopes and dreams were crushed. So, the next best choice for me was IIT, because my father is an alumnus and my brother is an alumnus as well. So, I knew the kind of opportunity it offers you. I knew that if I worked hard enough and got in, I would be able to explore different things and still have the comfort that I will be able to get a job at the end of the day. I was hoping that my job would be boring and one day I would become a full time stand up. But fortunately, now that I’m thirty, and I’ve got a good grip on things, my job is actually interesting. I work for a fairly interesting startup that does a lot of cutting edge work in big data, algorithms, AI and machine learning. I’m enjoying the kind of work that I’m doing. So, for me, it’s important to stimulate both the sides of your brain. Work stimulates intellectual side and stand up stimulates the creative side for me. So, in order to be personally balanced I need both these things.
What was the story behind your insti name- “mistake”?
Its an exceptionally intriguing name. everybody has always asked me what it meant and why did I get the name. The story isn’t as interesting as the name is. I was “interacting” with my seniors as you like to put it these days and after about a couple of hours of interacting with me really well, he said, “okay, we’ve had enough. Why don’t you ask us something?” the first question I asked was “Was it a mistake that I took aero?” Because my rank was good enough to get mechanical or chemical etc. but inside me, I always wanted to be a pilot but couldn’t be one. So, I thought, at least let me learn about aircrafts. How naïve I was! So that’s why my name was mistake.
Do you crack IITian jokes and nerd jokes?
A lot of my stuff is existentialist in nature rather than just nerdy. Nerd is a very difficult thing to get across because there’s a very fine line between being humorously nerdy and nerdily humorous. People will appreciate it when you are humorously nerdy and not going too deep into a subject. Stand up is an artform where you are demanding the audience’s attention. You need to hold it with interesting stuff that’s not too difficult to digest. For me the end objective is to get them to think a little bit. I’ll take them to the edge of what I want them to think about and then they will think and question – what now?
So, you need to find a fine balance between getting your artistic satisfaction out of the joke, in the reaction that you get vs just boring them to death so that they stop paying attention.
Any advice for IITians looking out for an unconventional career?
IIT gives you the ability to go ahead and do things (like dramatics) for yourself and I think that’s very crucial. Your hostels, Saarang, shaastra and student activities are run by students, which involves a lot of money and manpower, and you are doing all this as a community. It teaches you a lot about working with different people, planning things out, owning things and doing it all by yourself. So, all this comes from IIT and later it’s just a question of how you apply it.
Author: Mugdha Mohkhedkar (BT-22)