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Desi Comedians Make a Beeline for the Living Room

March 2008
Desi Comedians Make a Beeline for the Living Room

What do Vijai Nathan, Vidur Kapur, Mark Saldana, Rajiv Satyal, and Dalia have in common, apart from being the children of Indian immigrants in North America? They’re all stand-up comedians, itching to tickle your funny bone. And their performances appear on a new DVD titled Indian Invasion Comedy—Civilizing the West. When Nathan was younger, her parents urged her to become a doctor or, at least, marry one. Rejecting their advice, Nathan remained single. But her mother, who didn’t give up easily, warned, “This year, you’ll get a doctor; next year, maybe a pizza guy.” That’s one of Nathan’s tamer zingers in a hard-hitting arsenal of jokes that take on identity, sex, dating, racism, religion, etc. Growing up in an overwhelmingly white suburb was not easy for Nathan, who has mined the rich material of her upbringing for her comedy routines, one of which is dubbed “Good Girls Don’t but Indian Girls Do.” A decade ago, Nathan scandalized her parents when she gave up a promising journalism career and, worse, canceled her wedding. But her trial by fire, as it were, seems to have paid off, and today she’s considered the most successful female stand-up comedian among Indian Americans.

Kapur also let his parents down—initially, at least—when he left a lucrative job in finance and hit the comedy circuit, even joining a routine called HinJews (Hindus and Jews). Saldana, who performed with Kapur at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, has also appeared at the Latino Laff Festival. Rajiv Satyal has frequently opened for Dave Chappelle, Kevin Nealon, and Russell Peters. Newcomer Dalia, mostly based in Canada, has an Indian father and Scottish mother.

Speaking of Jewish performers, the Catskills in New York was famous in an earlier era for those who wanted to hone and showcase their comedic skills. Indian American performers may not have such a favorite haunt to draw in desi crowds, but in the electronic age, what could be more convenient than the home entertainment center? Using a remote control, one can now quickly summon these five comedians to the living room. Produced by A Wrench in the Works Entertainment, the DVD includes interviews with all the comedians.

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