Raghav Mehta Is Not the ACLU

Raghav Mehta. Photo: Jenni Walkowiak

This article was originally published on March 8, 2019. Vulture has confirmed that on March 14, Mehta died in Brooklyn at 31 years old. According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Mehta’s cause of death is pending an investigation. Friends and fellow comedians have been sharing memories of the Mehta today, so we have decided to republish our interview with him from last week.

Raghav Mehta is a comedian, writer, and co-host of the leftist comedy podcast Pod Damn America. He’s been featured in Above Average, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and the Brooklyn Comedy Festival. He also produces a weekly comedy show called Airplane Mode and a monthly DSA fundraiser called Paid Protest.

This week, Mehta and I chatted about leftist politics, being brown, and the shitty music he’s been listening to since he was a kid.

The “Where are you really from?” question is one brown people get constantly whenever you tell them you’re from Anywhere in America. It’s someone’s not-so-subtle way of asking about your ethnicity. It’s a hack racist question. But it’s also kind of a hack joke premise, and I wanted to come up with an original take on it that didn’t just amount to “Hey, doesn’t it suck when people ask you this?!”

Do you feel like Twitter has been a good platform for your brand of comedy?
Yes. Absolutely. I have a very modest following that is a cross-section of comedians, journalists, and extremely online leftists. I get to make a lot of niche political jokes that definitely would not work at most clubs or bar shows. Left Twitter is especially great because there are no gatekeepers or rules. So much of my sense of humor is informed by my personal politics, so Twitter is my ideal platform and really helped me find *cringes* my voice.

I tweeted this because I think it is genuinely a good idea and I hope Stephen Miller read it and takes my advice.

Some of your tweets are pretty silly, while others get fairly political or serious. Do you feel like you lose comedy followers when you tweet about politics?
I don’t give much thought to what kind of tweets perform better, I just post about whatever compels me at the moment and if people like it, they like it; and if they don’t, that’s fine, too. I’ve always cared about this stuff — it’s part of my worldview and personality and I would go insane if I kept it all in my head. I also try to be entertaining when I post the serious stuff, at the very least. I don’t just wanna say something boring like “racism is wrong.” I’m sure I lose followers, and I get it because it gets obnoxious, but I think instead of worrying about your brand or what kind of audience you’re appealing to, you should just write about what you honestly feel and think and you’ll find the audience you really want.

Tell us about the beef you had with Twitter over your handle @ACLUOfficial.
I changed my Twitter handle to @ACLUOfficial as a joke when every other comedy show was an ACLU fundraiser after Trump got elected. I also changed my Venmo to that but then Venmo froze my account and forced me to stop. Anyway, I have a few friends who write for this paper in Minneapolis I used to work for, and they ran a story interviewing a local rapper who had accused Talib Kweli of sexually harassing a woman at the Ferguson protests a few years ago. Talib Kweli started blowing up my friend Jay’s mentions since he’s the paper’s web editor, and I replied to him because I was bored. Kweli saw my handle and assumed I was actually the ACLU and then started yelling at me and was like, “You’d think the ACLU would show solidarity with a black activist?!” I told him it was a joke but he had this very prolonged meltdown over it and was like fully convinced I represented the ACLU. It ruled.

I reference Eminem a lot in my Twitter jokes. When I was 11 all I did was listen to Nirvana, DMX, and The Marshall Mathers LP. It’s embarrassing but I still love the album, even though a lot of its content is abhorrent and Eminem hasn’t put out a decent record in 15 years. He is just very amusing to me. Just an absolutely ludicrous person who still takes himself way too seriously despite having everything. So, he’s a funny reference point and I find myself mentioning him and his songs a lot in my jokes. I wish I could stop, too.

You were doing comedy in Minneapolis before you moved to NYC. Did anything surprise you about the New York comedy scene?
Everyone is pretty friendly, and I think it’s because New York is constantly humbling you. No one gets too big for their britches, and if they do, they’re probably not working hard enough or they’re on cocaine. It’s easy to throw your weight around in a smaller scene; it’s easy talk down to people or feel “important” when there’s not much competition. You don’t really have opportunity to do that here because someone like Dave Attell could just show up and level the room.

As someone who produces shows just as much as they perform in shows, which do you prefer?
Performing on shows. It’s fun to just do a spot and hang out and not have to worry about hosting or timing people or coordinating with the bar. Producing shows is fun because I get to book comics I love and I get extra stage time, but it’s taxing. But, sometimes you have to make opportunities when you can’t get them. Anyway, someone please give me a writing job and get me out of this hell.

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Raghav Mehta Is Not the ACLU