DesiClub Interview: Handsome, Funny... at the same time!
Rahul Siddharth: Handsome, Funny... at the same time!
Rahul's comedy is subtle yet brutal, his humor is candid and his charm is endless. We're pleased to bring this happy go funny personality to you, so read on and enjoy Rahul Siddharth.
by Rita Bhattacharya
Canadian born Rahul Siddharth is making waves on the comedy club circuit and in short films. Currently based in New York, he's performed standup for eight years while writing sketch comedy. He adds a fun mix of intelligent humor and audience interaction, which are guaranteed to generate laughs. On June 6, 2005, Rahul presented the award for Favorite South Asian Comedian to Russell Peters, at the inaugural DesiClub.com South Asian Media Awards. Now Desiclub is bringing him to you in an exclusive crack-me-up interview.
Rita Bhattacharya: Ever since Russell Peters hit mass appeal with his stand up routine, other South Asian comics like yourself are taking the media by storm. So what separates your set from other South Asian comics and what do you want your audience to get out of watching you perform?
Rahul Siddharth: Well Rita, I guess you can say that I'm a textbook ABCD (American Born Confused Desi). I've even been called an EFGH (Eager Freaky Geeky Hindu) and IJKL (Indian Justa Kinky Loser) thanks to some ex-girlfriends! Aside from that, I'm moving up in the world.
I think what separates me from other comics is that I've got a good blend of Canadian irony and satire, New York abjection and sarcasm along with the all important Indian skeptism. I straddle and struggle between Indian and Western cultures. In turn, that gives me the ability to explore our hypocrisy and shortcomings. By no means do I hate being Indian, I love it and the older I get, I appreciate the mystery, spirituality and its beauty. Indian culture is just as hypocritical as any other culture and that's where I have fun. I tell a lot of stories about my family and my personal life, along with challenging people's conventional thinking by heaving in some lofty concepts.
For example, up until recently, Indians were an unrecognized and underestimated culture, we still kinda are, who do you think is the most famous Indian in the world of all time?
RB: Amithabh Bachchan?
RB: Aishwarya Rai?
RS: Ben Kingsley, the man who played Gandhi. I know this because my grandfather, on his dressing table, has a picture of Ganesh, Vishnu and Ben Kingsley.
RB: (laughs) So who were your biggest comedic influences while growing up, like personally from your family and friends and also through the media?
RS: My drunk uncle that looks like the Oompa Loompa in the new Wonka flick! (laughs). Believe it or not, my mom is really funny and inspired me to be funny. Don't get me wrong, I'm no mama's boy, but we have a great friendship and she's my best friend. When I was young, my mom would wake me up at 11:30 at night, take a chair and put it into the hallway outside her bedroom, so I wouldn't disturb my sleeping Papa, so I could watch Johnny Carson monologues. I remember just being amazed by Carson and how my mom would laugh at his dry delivery. My mom is great, she taught me a lot about religions, poetry, humanities, Sonnets and a lot about comedy. I don't think she expected me to be a standup comic?! She really inspired me to push myself intellectually. She's really talented too; she's currently enrolled in Harvard creative writing classes.
Aside from my Mom, Carson, and Uncle Oompa Loompa, my biggest comedic influences are Chris Rock, George Carlin, Conan O'Brien, Ellen Degeneres, Dave Chappelle, Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld, and Dennis Miller. These comics are like modern day cultural philosophers, often commenting on current events, social politics, and simple daily observations. I also love shows like "The Office", "Arrested Development", "Curb Your Enthusiasm", and "The Family Guy." These shows display great juicy moments in a scene that make me burst out laughing. That's what I think comedy is all about; it's about finding the unexpected surprise. I'm a big people watcher so that's where I get most of my material. I like dirty jokes too, but I'm not cool enough to pull it off so I stick to what works for me.
"...things like my girlfriend leaving feminine products in my apartment really freaked me out..."
RB: Rahul, if it makes you feel any better, I'm not cool enough to tell dirty jokes either but it has never stopped me from listening to them! (laughs) Now, please tell me one.
RS: So my family puts on a Diwali show for our community every year. My dad, mother, my sister, and me all hold hands and sing "Kabhi Kabhi" in a perfect four-part round. Then my father XXXXXX Black and Decker cordless drill XXXXXX and my mother XXXXXX simultaneously XXXXX, I then XXXXXXX projectile XXXXXXXX, with the chicken XXXXXXXXXXX, my sister XXXXXX five pennies XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX!
RB: (laughs) Ooooh kay.. What's that joke called?
RS: The Punjabis (Laughs)! Come on, you saw that one coming!
RB: (laughs) I saw a video clip on your website called "Old of Olay", I heard you and your sister did an earlier version when you were kids. What's the story behind that?
RS: I wrote that sketch when I was ten years old and my sister, nine at the time, was my partner in crime. My parents bought this huge old school video camera. One night, my parents went out and they left me and my sister with Amaji, my 80 year old grandmother, who didn't speak a word of English and would come from India to stay with us for months at a time. As soon as my parents left, I broke out the video camera and wrote, directed, and produced this fake news show with my sister as the anchor. It was like the "The Daily Show" but for kids. I even wrote fake parody commercials too.
So the concept is this, BEFORE: 9 year old girl wishes she could look older and do more adult stuff, so she uses "Old of Olay", but she uses too much. AFTER: she turns into an 80 year old woman (cut to Amaji). Years later, my mom ended up finding the tape and she loved it. I actually ended up using the same premise for a sketch comedy show twenty years later and it still got a lot of laughs. It was the same concept as Old of Olay but instead of transforming into an eighty year old Desi grandmother, the girl in the sketch turns into a 60 year old Jewish woman. Visual gags rock!
RB: Speaking of videos, you also have link to another short film, "A Close Shave," which has not only won awards but you wrote, produced and acted in the film as well. What inspired you to write the script for that?
RS: You ever break up with someone, and the breakup is longer than the actual relationship (laughs)? That's pretty much the inspiration to "A Close Shave." The thing about relationships is that when you are going into one, you should also know how to get out of one. Know the emergency exits unless you plan to say "I do." I wrote the script to help me deal with the whole pain of break ups and the process was very therapeutic.
RB: When I saw your short film, two images you used that really stuck with me and made me laugh were the amount of shaving cream you used and the medicine cabinet filled with Tampax and other feminine products. What's the story behind using these images in the film?
RS: There was a lot of comedic influence when I produced that film. Few of my favorite comedy writers are the Farrelly Brothers, the Kids in the Hall guys, and Larry David. They use incredible visual gags and painful social awkward moments that I find hilarious. At that time when I wrote the script, things like my girlfriend leaving feminine products in my apartment really freaked me out. When guys see these things for the first time, it really surprises us. I wanted to take that awkward surprise and tell a story. Although the film is five minutes long, I wanted to use shaving cream as a convention of time passing. For the shoot, I ended up using thirty cans of shaving cream. Lots of razor burns that weekend!
RB: Too funny! Recently you presented the Favorite South Asian Comedian Award at the DesiClub.com South Asian Media Awards to Russell Peters. Do you see yourself getting nominated for that award in the future and what do you think would make people want to vote for you?
RS: I'm very happy that Russell Peters won that award. It's a no-brainer and he deserves the recognition. Me getting nominated? Hmmm. Don't get me wrong, getting recognition would be nice but I don't think about that stuff because it takes away from the art. Making people laugh is my greatest pleasure, but some nights are better than others. I'm very humbled by the art and craft itself. It can giveth and taketh away. To answer your question, yes, I think I'm funny, and being nominated for next year's SAMA awards show would be cool. To me, comedy is a process and my mantra is one joke at a time. Everything else is just a gulab jama.
RB: How did your parents deal with your work in the stand up world?
RS: It's been a long journey with my parents; they frowned upon, had aneurisms, about me being on stage. Especially my dad, I think he had this perception about how slimy Bollywood actors can become, which I am certainly not (laughs)! My dad has these incredible high expectations for me. There's this thing in America that to be considered a success you have to accomplish more than your dad. I don't think I can ever over-achieve my dad. I feel a lot like George W. Bush.
As for stand up, at first they didn't really get it, they probably thought I was going through a phase that I'd eventually grow out of. I sent them a copy of my DVD set and they love it and now share it with their friends. They're now both supportive and are finally seeing that comedy is a part of who I am and they're no longer embarrassed by my jokes (laughs)!
RB: Or so they say (evil laugh) just kidding?! So your parents aren't on your case about being a comedian and since you're not a doctor or playing one on TV, are you getting pressured by your parents about marrying an Indian doctor?
RS: The national sport of India isn't cricket, its match-making. It's so popular that it's even played by NRIs (laughs)! I think my parents would love it if I married an Indian woman who's a doctor. They'd say, he's a clown, he can't cure cancer, but he married one who can (laughs)! Honestly, they are very proud of me. Deep down, I know my parents want me to marry a Desi woman. But my personal life is on my own terms and my choice and my parents want me to be happy no matter who I marry Indian or non-Indian. I can admit this: there is something very special about an Indian woman and how much magic she can bring to a home, a family, and a man's life. It's incomparable.
RB: On that note Rahul, do you have any final words for Desiclub readers?
RS: I have a lot of respect for doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. - you know, the traditional stable Indian occupations - but it's also important to explore personal creativity. I work as a Director of Advertising during the day and pursue my comedy passion at night. If you're itching to be a writer, a performer, or an artist, find a way to make it work. Yes, parents only want the best for you, and you may experience severe "push-back." After all, they did sacrifice everything for us and probably will frown upon, er, have aneurisms, when they hear your ridiculous dreams. But everybody has their own path, so find some balance, and take that film class or make a rap album. Indians are naturally creative so go out there and make it happen. Check out my website for tour dates and please join my email list. See you soon, have fun, laugh a lot, and remember to be good to yourself.
For more info on Rahul Siddharth, check out www.rahulsiddharth.com, where you can catch the award winning short film, "A Close Shave" and some great sketch comedy! Be sure to check his tour dates for a show near you and watch out for pesky razor burn!