Lokvani - Interview with a standup comic
In Conversation With Rahul Siddharth, Stand Up Comic
“For a stand up comic, it’s the greatest high. You step into the light, take a swig of water, pick up the microphone, then reduce a crowd of people to a mass of helpless laughter. Sure, the risks are great – silence, heckling, complete humiliation – but on a good night. a stand-up feels rich enough to buy Cosby a cigar and Seinfeld a Porsche”- a Writer’s journal.
For Rahul Siddharth, a Weymouth native and a stand up comic headlining at Nick’s comedy shop in Boston recently it was definitely a good night. This is a comedian who can connect with his audience and the jokes practically come home. The highlight of the show at Boston was his entire family turned up to watch him and many a joke was on them. True is the saying “that humor begins at home’ and sure enough Rahul exemplified that. The material was funny and sent the audience in uproar. From desi marriages, desi obsession with SAT’scores, the importance attached to Engineering and Science majors and other cultural sensibilities, Rahul handled all with a dry delivery and a receptive audience. He used his cultural background to poke fun at the Sikhs and the Gujarathis and the South Indians and followed it up asking (insisting it was for his own safety) if any one in the audience was from that state. All this of course in good humored fashion ! The gallery was packed, the drinks flowed and there was no mistaking the energy in the room.
One narrative that had the audience laughing was when he talked about academics. ‘I have always been an average student” he said and“I got only a 69% in algebra” in school at one time. My dad had only one word to say to me,”Idiot”. He paused for effect and then continued. “As time passed by, this single word got further diminished to ‘diot’ and finally came down to‘T’ he said, amidst great laughter. He talked on the expectations of Indian parents, his struggle in dating a girl who insisted that he should teach her everything about the Kamasutra, and his mom’s never-give-up efforts of finding him a ‘good girl’.Talking with terrific ease and great attitude, he was able to sustain the attention and the laughter of the audience while making fun in a clever fashion.
A delightful addition to the stand up comedy scene , Rahul gives the impression that he has been doing this for a long time. Definitely his show is a riot!
In an email interview with Lokvani, Rahul talked about his foray into comedy.
Did you teach yourself to be funny? How did this passion start?
I think everyone has a sense of humor. I come from a family that loves to laugh and tell jokes. And everyone has their own style. My dad tells dirty jokes that take three days to get to the punch line. My grandfather takes a week. My uncle and sister are naturally funny. During family dinners, they can roast anyone at the table without challenges. Me? I’m the quiet reserved one in the family. I take it all in and save it for the stage. I actually have to work at being funny. I’m the comic writer and enjoy the mechanics of the setup and punch. On paper, I have more time to get it just right. I talk a lot about my family that resonates with audiences. But as soon as I get off stage, my sister makes fun of me again.
I guess I get my sense of humor from my mom. When I was a kid, she used to wake me up to watch Johnny Carson monologues. We both loved his dry sense of humor and his timing. I became involved in theatre at Weymouth High School; I was Bernardo in West Side Story. I then wrote my first play as a sophomore for a Boston theatre company and first performed standup at Nick’s Comedy stop back in 1990.
What differentiates comedians from other people?
Behind every joke, no matter how small or insulting, lies a truth. I think comedians are like modern day philosophers, often commenting on current events, social politics, and simple daily observations. We constantly seek to expose the truth behind every day nuances and lifestyle. We look to find the hypocrisy and hiccups in today’s world and present them on a stage, usually with a microphone and a 2 drink minimum. I think comedians are highly intelligent people, sometimes emotionally sensitive, but definitely acutely observational of their surroundings. We’re passionate people peepers!
Are friends and family supportive of your decision to do comedy?
When I was in high school, my parents wanted me to pursue a more formal education as a doctor, engineer, or computer scientist. I really wanted to be an actor. Let’s just say it wasn’t funny during the first three years of college. There was a lot of “negotiating of expectations”, a.k.a.: guilting, screaming, threatening, and crying. I ended up with a B.S. in Marketing and minors in Computer Science, Biology and Theatre Arts. My mom ended up in therapy. It’s been a long road but my parents finally understand my passion for comedy. I still work as a Creative Director in Advertising for an Omnicom company in New York, which challenges my creativity and business acumen, but at the same time, I do moonlight as a comic. My family is excited for my recent successes.
Is anything in comedy off limits?
I believe nothing is off-limits. Every tragedy can be converted into a humorous story or a joke. The secret is that pain + time = comedy. Of course, comic relief is a fine line and finding the right balance takes work, experience, and instinct. Its an exhilarating feeling when I make people laugh; it just makes me want to do it again. And as always, my sister lets me know immediately when I fall to the wrong side.
One specialty of yours is Desi comedy? Do you think we have reached that stage where we can laugh at ourselves?
I believe so. Indians have always had a sense of humor. Its in our history and mythology. Look at Krishna, if you read his stories as a child, stealing ghee and samosas, he was always naughty and getting into trouble. And Hanuman. A talking monkey. Funny. And look at the Kama Sutra, if that’s not an exercise in physical comedy, I don’t know what is. The thing is that there has always been pain in Indian culture: the pain of work, the pain of family, the pain of love, and the pain of death. Indians are the first to find relief in laughter. We need it to survive.
Do you write your own scripts? Where do you look for inspiration?
Yes, I write all of my material for standup and sketch. I look all around me. I enjoy listening to my family and my friends tell stories of their own everyday trials and tribulations. Everyone in this world has loved something, lost something, or looking for something. It’s the essence of humanity. I try to observe it all, filter out the boring stuff, and deliver the funny.
My biggest comedic influences are Chris Rock, George Carlin, Conan O’Brien, Ellen Degeneres, Dave Chappelle, Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld, Dennis Miller. I also love shows like “The Office”, “Arrested Development”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, and “The Family Guy.”
Is there a pre show ritual that you practice?
On the day of the show, I do some yoga and rehearse the show. I also drink a lot of water. Five minutes before the show, I end up really having to go to the bathroom. Just before I go onstage, I tried to focus on one happy private thought, usually its someone that makes me excited, so when I go onstage, the audience can sense something special is about to happen. After the show, I like to relax with wine and pizza.
Do you have any advice for aspiring comics?
Anyone can do standup. Everyone has a unique perspective on life, a unique persona that can be crafted into standup comedy. But it is an art form. It takes hard work, perseverance and discipline. It takes years to develop but it is oh-so rewarding. The charge I get from a night of comedy stays with me for days.
What are your shows that are coming up in the future?
I’m taking my show on the road this year and I’m trying to perform in many cities.