Neel Kolhatkar cuts the fat in his new show, ‘Live’

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Neel Kolhatkar cuts the fat in his new show, ‘Live’


In 2017, Australian wunderkind Neel Kolhatkar set out to make a brown sex symbol out of himself. Directing his audience to overtly sexualise himself and his Indian background, Kolhatkar propelled the hashtag #ObjectifyNeel into his socials. A year later, the results are in.

“Yeah, it did get me a few dates,” Kolhatkar laughs. “Let’s not go too deep into it. But let’s just say, yeah, definitely, it did. It was a good meeting strategy and for my dating life as well.”

#ObjectifyNeel was Kolhatkar’s effort to encourage more brown sex symbols in popular media, of which even he can identify few. It also comes under one of the broader motivations in Kolhatkar’s comedy, to bring down walls between Indian and Australian cultures. “I think when we can all laugh about our differences and understand that those differences aren’t really a barrier to getting along with each other, that certainly helps us,” he says. “That helps break down the barriers and I feel like my comedy has aided in that pursuit.”

Getting his head start in comedy at 15 years old, Kolhatkar took out the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Class Clowns competition in 2010. At 17, he went viral with his crude impressions video, Australia In 2 Minutes. Now 23, he’s written and acted in a handful of short films and TV shows, including his own program on ABC Comedy, Virgin Bush, which true to its title, saw Neel going bush in the Aussie outback.

Kolhatkar’s style of cultural critique has matured alongside him, yet he remains unafraid to push the envelope with what’s appropriate in his comedy.

“There’s been a few [impressions] that have always garnered some form of criticism. But I think with the nature of the impressions I do, they are quite unapologetic. I wouldn’t say they’ve completely backfired, but there’s always been a percentage of people who have been critical. But you know what, the longer I’ve been doing this, I’ve learnt to revel in that. I actually don’t mind the material that is provocative, starts a discussion and is controversial – in fact I quite enjoy doing that sort of material more than removing face on a joke.”

Given Kolhatkar’s provocative content, it’s no surprise that his audience’s reactions are precisely where he gets his thrills. “At first, I was a bit concerned when people would have a go at me and make their criticisms very clear online, but now – I don’t know, maybe it’s a bit of a masochistic kind of thing – but I like it.”

There’s no denying that Kolhatkar’s caustic style comes with its set of risks, but it’s clear that he’s formulated his jokes to ensure he lands laughs without being senselessly inflammatory. “I’ll make the audience think that I might make them uncomfortable, but then, I bring it back. If you can bring them back to somewhere that there’s common ground, the laughter and the response is even greater as a result.”