SERIOUS TALK WITH COMEDIAN, DAN NAINAN…
Posted by Arjun Sekhri on July 1, 2009 | 1 Comment
THE JOURNEY FROM CORPORATE TO CREATIVE TO M.NIGHT AND BEYOND
From Intel Corporation to Stand Up comedy?
My job at Intel involved traveling the world and doing technical demonstrations with Andy Grove (then CEO of Intel). I would design these technical demonstrations in the lab and present them on stage during his speeches. These events were in front of analysts, in the Consumer Electronics show, etc. I used
Comedy comes a lot from the inner insecurities and fears, in our growing up years. I mean it’s one thing being an immigrant here, quite another thing being a Japanese-Indian-American and growing up here?
Well I think anyone who does something in the Arts and be in front of people or become famous, there’s gotta be some sort of an insecurity doing this kind of thing. I think there are generally two distinct problems in one’s childhood, one being the homelife, parents splitting up…applies a lot to the actors in Hollywood or they had some sort of a trauma…this was not the case with me. I had a wonderful family, still do…the other issue comes from a severe rejection by peers. I think this is one of the main motivators for people to get into show business and that was definitely the case with me. I was very much ….I can’t put it in any other way….my human rights were violated…daily! I was physically and verbally assaulted every day in school, primarily based around racial factors. People say were you in any fights in school and I say, well not really….but I was in a number of beatings! There were twenty people waiting to beat me up when I got to school and those were my friends! In all seriousness it was very traumatic growing up. You know if you have a normal childhood you don’t get driven into this kind of a thing…I talk a lot to Russell (Peters) about this. His motivation and mine are very similar….almost like the universal motivating factor of showbusiness…I want to show them that I am somebody…and can become better than they!
Now that you are a somebody, where do you see yourself going next?
I’ve not become, by any means anywhere near …at best I’m a F list (as in A, B, C, D…) stand up….have achieved a tiny amount of fame, but ..here’s the thing….I’m very happy with what I’ve achieved. To be honest, someone like Russell who is one thousand times more famous than I am, even someone like him I’d say the same thing, hey, we are well known in the South Asian community, but there is still that mainstream success. No matter what your level…you always have this feeling there’s a lot more to do. On a scale of 1 to 10, I am about a 2, Russell is about a 8…but specifically I continue to do a lot in the States, I’ve been to South Africa, Mexico, have interest from India and finally have a show coming in Mysore, in November, have had a tour of the UK, have inquiries from Dubai, I’ve done Tokyo, the Netherlands, Aruba, Trinidad Tobago…this is the great thing about being a South Asian comic, cause there are South Asians all over the world.
The journey is the destination, and I just enjoy traveling…did a lot of that in Intel and still do so…just enjoy it.
So any intent to change your medium like how Ash Chandler or Vir Das did, and if a movie offer or a television series came your way, whether from the US or India, would that excite you?
This is the beauty of comedy, in the beginning you just want to get up on stage and then you see the comedy leads you to so many ways. A few years ago I started doing character voices over the radio….have been doing that for years, I’ve done a couple of commercials, I am now a host on a channel called Pan Desi it’s in New Jersey and I just did my first real movie with Dev Patel (Slumdog) and M. Night Shyamalan ..16 days over the last three months…this is a $250 million movie called…Avatar: The Last Airbender. Now it’s a small role, I am nowhere near a lead or a sub lead role…just enough to get my Screen Actors Guild card. The exposure from movies and television is thousands of times more than you can get from performing live….so this is the dream of any Comedian…absolutely…anybody who says no….is an imbecile!!!
Given that you are truly multi ethnic and multi cultural, what languages are you comfortable in performing, other than of course English?
I speak Dutch, a little French and some Spanish and Japanese…not sure if I would still be comfortable performing in these, but ..it’s funny I’m in a car right now in Los Angeles, and if we were not doing this interview I would be learning a language cause I have these mp3’s that I get …right now I’m learning German, but I really would love to learn Hindi…I can pronounce anything, in any which way…I can barely see without my lenses so I have a debit there but am credited with a great sense of language and phonetics…if someone pronounces something in front of me I can pick it up immediately. If someone had a prompter for me I could do that in Hindi or Malayalam…my father is from Kerala near Trivandrum… or whatever…like the band Abba who had everything spelled out for them in English.
So leaving the Corporate environment, is this a journey you are happy undertaking?
Intel had me perform at an event and also told me that if ever I wanted to come back they would be happy to take me in their fold. I really, really loved working in Intel , having a fantastic job…I could not wait every morning to get to work…I really enjoyed what I did there…I would never set my alarm cause I couldn’t wait to get up and get to work. I would travel around the world, be on stage and it is essentially the same thing I am doing now …the only difference is this is something I am creating on my own as opposed to working for somebody….so in a way this is far more fulfilling and enriching. It’s wierd though, I’ve always kind of loved everything that I’ve done…whether my work or living wherever I was…but right now the income is double what I was doing in Intel and I work barely two hours a week performing…I spend more time on airplanes than I do performing. I just signed a deal to write a book about going from Intel to comedy. More recognition is always desired but I do feel very happy and fulfilled right now.
Being Asian, what has been the change in the landscape as far as the US is concerned…for Asian Stand up artists?
It’s very, very interesting in the mainstream there is a tremendous backlash against ethic comedy they are saying well…you shouldn’t do this ethnic comedy…it’s been done many times over…Margaret Cho and this, that and the other….but there is a lot of envy cause right now ethnic comedy is absolutely gigantic…you have tours going on with South Asian comedians, you have Russell, you have East Asian, you have Korean comedians, you have the Muslim comics…the Axis of Evil tour…those guys have become enormously successful. Ethnic comedy is really, really hot right now and there are these comedians who consider themselves as purists and artists who perform in the village for other comedians and they make absolutely nothing and there are the ethnic comedians who are on the road and do a show and make like five or ten thousand a night…which is more than some of these guys will make in a year and yet people are like “you shouldn’t be doing that…” “you’re just pandering to your ethnic group and it’s not that artistic “ and actually advocating that we just stop doing this and make zero and starve like they are. ….I just don’t understand it.