Comic Ateev Dang: Asking the uncomfortable questions

At an age where a lot of comics choose to retire, Ateev Dang is just getting started.

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Agra-born Ateev Dang grew up fanboying court jesters in William Shakespeare’s plays. Court jesters, also known as fools or clowns, are recurring characters that offer comic relief and witty commentary.

He notes, “In King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing, and so on, it was always the court jester who would be the voice of reason and ask the uncomfortable questions, disguised as humour.”

Those characters motivated Dang to start writing satires and see the world through a satirical lens.

Now at 43 years, married and with two children, and living in Melbourne, Dang is doing the impossible. After having left his job at the National Australia Bank as a product consultant in 2020, he is now a full-time multi-lingual stand-up comedian.

“Humour is like meditation and therapy to me,” he confesses.

Yet on stage he’s stirring them up rather than calming them down.

Ateev Dang is known for raising issues about casual racism, women’s rights, men’s gaze, casteism, politics, and the science versus religion debate. “Varun Grover, who I consider my guru in comedy, once said that comedy makes some people uncomfortable and makes some people laugh, and a good comedy is one that makes people uncomfortable and laugh, both at the same time.”

Indian comedian Ateev Dang
(Source: Supplied)

His jokes also traverse the marital relationship, family situations between parents and young kids, and college life, for when he performs for a more “middle-aged” and “conservative” crowd.

“I think our diaspora is still backward when it comes to accepting dark jokes or jokes on religion or some of our political figures. I am easily able to make jokes on religion and Australian politicians to roars of laughter when talking to an Australian audience. But the same jokes offend an Indian audience easily.”

Comedy runs in his family. “My elder brother was probably the funniest guy I have ever met,” he reveals.

But he likes to believe that it is art generally that is ingrained in the Dang household. “My father is a writer and has published about 50+ Hindi poems, seven novels, and 50-odd short stories.”

Dang himself took interest in writing and literature early on in life. “My family owns and runs the Grand Hotel and Ranjit Hotel in Agra. And so, I witnessed a lot of cultural programmes and interacted with artists staying with us. Those chats shaped my attraction to the arts industry.”

His first-ever stand-up was in India when he was in Grade 6. It was for an Independence Day function. “For my performance, I got a steel ka glass as a gift.”

He soon became a regular comedian at local events.

Later in college, Dang started a cultural club and organised street plays to raise awareness on social issues. A lot of these learnings and experiences in India reflect in his stand-up shows today. While Dang loves to unleash a laughter riot for his Australian and desi audience, he doesn’t shy away from initiating ‘uncomfortable’ topics too.

Stand-up comedian Dang
(Source: Supplied)

“I am highly influenced by social commentators and comics like Kunal Kamra and Varun Grover who raise important and relevant social issues through comedy,” he explains. “My grandfather was an ally of Gandhiji and a freedom fighter and he always said the silence of good people harms society more than the evil deeds of bad people. I cannot stay silent when I see something wrong.”

Ateev Dang moved to Australia in 2003 to study event management. The plan was to return to India and open his own company there. “But I fell in love with Australia,” he smiles, adding that he never left.

“After moving to Australia, I got in the rut of working and going through the grind. Then one day I said to my wife, I’ve had enough, and this is not what I want to do. I told her I want to be on stage, make people laugh. Her response was ‘Ateev, tumhe jo karna hai karo, mein hoon na’. (Follow your passion, I’m here to support you).”

He launched himself in stand-up comedy in 2018. His company Comedy Dhaba was launched in 2020, with the aim of giving to comics of desi diaspora an opportunity to perform in their own language.

“I’m so thrilled that this year, Comedy Dhaba created history by becoming the first team to perform Hindi-only shows at Melbourne International Comedy Festival.”

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Prutha Chakraborty
Prutha Chakraborty
Prutha Bhosle Chakraborty is a freelance journalist. With over nine years of experience in different Indian newsrooms, she has worked both as a reporter and a copy editor. She writes on community, health, food and culture. She has widely covered the Indian diaspora, the expat community, embassies and consulates. Prutha is an alumna of the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bengaluru.

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