Tuesday, July 08, 2008

An Interview with Rajiv Satyal

Rajiv Satyal - Declared by Russell Peters as 1 of only 2 U.S.-based Indian "comics to watch," Rajiv is the small, bespectacled Indian guy from Ohio whose witty and TV-clean act covers everything from racial issues to soap bottles to his favorite topic - himself - "We all have some Rajiv in us, even if we don't want to admit it." He has repeatedly opened for Dave Chappelle, Kevin Nealon, and Russell Peters in sold-out shows across the U.S.

Source : Indian Invasion Comedy

Rajiv Satyal: Hello!

HC: Hi there !

Rajiv Satyal: So I'm at my friend's place and HOPEFULLY the internet hangs in there

HC: If not, I would fully expect you to make a good desi joke about it :)

Rajiv Satyal: Of course something about how an Indian like me should be able to fix it post haste

HC: Absolutely, with all the desi stereotypes about spelling bee and Indian temples thrown in. So how did you find yourself in the comedy business - its not the desi thing to do at all

Rajiv Satyal: My brother found an article in the local paper - Funniest Person in Cincinnati Contest - I entered it, made the semis, and the next year I won it.

HC: You mean you beat the locals at their own game ?

Rajiv Satyal: ha yeah.

HC: How would you define your niche in comedy ?

Rajiv Satyal: I call myself Your High-Brow, Fun-Size Comedian... I'm an Indian guy from Ohio - being fun-size means that I can tell people to just lighten up (since i weigh a bit over a buck) and I'm from the middle of the country and the middle of the color spectrum - so I can bring people together as I say, "Brown is the new Gray." :)

HC: Are you then asking your audience to "see what brown can do for you" as far as getting a good laugh ?

Rajiv Satyal: Yes laughter is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine of thinking go down :) But as a comedian, you have to make people laugh! if you don't do that you'll be out of a job pretty quickly (post haste - great phrase)

HC: Are you able to de-link the comedian in you from the desi or are the two somewhat inseparable ?

Rajiv Satyal: The former - most of what i wrote for the1st two years was non-Indian. Being desi is a large part of me but there is so much more, as there is with any of us - and I think comedy is moving in that direction. People want more than just the 7-11 and call center jokes.That works for non-desi crowds but desi crowds want to hear more now.

HC: Is there an non-desi audience that wants to hear from the brown guy who is not doing the Russell Peters thing ?

Rajiv Satyal: Yes - I think there are a lot of Russell wannabes out there. Let Russell be Russell. he paved the way - the trailblazer - our Elvis. as Lennon said, "before Elvis there was nothing." Russell is one of the world's greatest comics. So you're not going to out-Russell him. So out-Rajiv him or out-whoever-you-are him.

There was an old Nike commercial about a young guy named Harold Miner... something like "people alway want to know if I'll be the next Michael Jordan... or the next Charles Barkley... or the next Hakeem Olajowan... I want to be the first Harold Miner." Great commercial. Too bad he ended up sucking.btw, I'm an absolute stickler for grammar and spelling.But not on chat :) Typos are a necessary evil

HC: Thanks goodness. I am both grammar and spelling challenged and specially on chat :)

Rajiv Satyal: :)

HC: You mentioned laughter being the sweetener with which to down more serious thought. What kind of food for thought are you trying to leave your audience with ? Is there a different take away for a desi and a non-desi ?

Rajiv Satyal: The short answer is that i just want people to be themselves. But there are other messages there. I sent out my POV (point-of-view) in my last newsletter... here it is:

Well, the problem is that we laugh when we should cry and cry when we should laugh. We spend so much time worrying about the little things and we sweep the big things UNDER THE RUG because they’re too painful – and it’s the big things that are going to kill us.

Honest debate is dead, because people have become too touchy. And if our business, religious, and political leaders (still) lack the courage to challenge people to get out of their comfort zone, then maybe a comedian should.

So, here’s what I can do: I can show myself to you as honestly as I can and hopefully being myself will inspire you to do the same.

And here’s what we can all do together: for the little things, in the absence of information to the contrary, assume the best. The next time somebody cuts you off on the highway, presume he’s got a good reason, so instead of getting mad, yell “Good luck!” That’ll scare him more than the finger would – nothing is more threatening than peace, love, and understanding. And you should laugh it off anyway - that's what we do when stuff like that happens in the movies.

For the big things, seek to find the truth – about the world, about that which is different, and especially about you: Be yourself… if you can find him. (Or her.)

Most of life’s answers are simple, but the context is complex, so there’s a lot of ambiguity. Therefore, temper your stances. Of course, everything in moderation – even moderation.

Why am I the guy to deliver this message? I can tell you to lighten up because I weigh a bit over a buck. And I can connect and bring people together because an Indian from Ohio is as centered as it gets: from the middle of the country and the middle of the color spectrum.

I’m not black or white. Brown is the new gray. And I’m here to pull that rug out from under you. that is applicable whether you are desi or anything else but good question :) you've caught me at a very philosophical point in my life."You met me at a very strange time in my life." - Fight Club

HC: From your vantage point as the desi comedian from Ohio, what would be the one desi attitude about Americans (like that is one homogeneous mass) do you find most comical ?

Rajiv Satyal: I think it's the same that all ethnicities have of Americans, which was captured so well in My Big Fat Greek Wedding...that "ethnic" people are more effusive, family-oriented, and crazy and Americans are private, quiet, independent people.Nobody knows his neighbors... when the kids are 18, parents can't wait to get them outta their hair...that Americans have no "culture".

But my parents have had such good experiences that they have good perceptions of Americans. i always say now that the best thing about all these immigrants is that suddenly Americans look like they're always on time and that they're great tippers.

HC: :) Do you keep up with the comedy scene in India - stuff like Raju Srivastava and The Great Indian Laughter Challenge ?

Rajiv Satyal: I have seen parts of a couple of episodes and am interested but want to learn more

HC: It was fun chatting with you. Time for the last question - do you have a joke about the rash of angst-y desi bloggers in America (specially women) :)

Rajiv Satyal: are there a lot?!

HC: In the gazillions and growing :) you have just chatted with one

Rajiv Satyal: I can't say a lot or I'll get buried by them!

HC: Have a wonderful evening !

Rajiv Satyal: You too - thanks for taking the time!

More about Rajiv at his website, Funnyindian

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just saw Rajiv Satyal on the "Indian Invasion Comedy" DVD. His observations on Indian family life and relationships is right on the mark, and hilarious. The DVD also features Rajiv with 4 other Indian stand up comedians.