Comedian Rajiv Satyal
One-on-One by Dawn Garcia
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The first time I met Rajiv Satyal was at the Eat Your Words Event at the Standard Hotel Downtown. When Greg Walloch introduced Rajiv, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Up until this point, I hadn’t had the wonderful fortune of seeing him on stage. But when I did, it was clear I had to interview him. He stood up in that Cactus Lounge and didn’t give some overly comedic performance. Instead he actually gave us a look into a part of his life that was honest, relatable, and oh so real: Dating, falling in love, and things not working out. It begins with a candid and endearing tale of him being interviewed by a journalist in India. She is beautiful and intelligent and, as luck would have it, agrees to go out with him after his friend oversleeps for their dual interview. They hit it off and their relationship begins. Plane rides back and forth, budding love, one-sided love, eventual neglect, uncertainty, him being ready for marriage, she – not even sure she wants to date him. With funny anecdotes and the harsh reality that he hasn’t been lucky in love, you find yourself holding out hope it works – and – not quite ready for the story to end. And thankfully it doesn’t … his One-Man Show, “No Man’s Land” delves in without apology.
Rajiv is a rare comic in that he is referred to as – almost in a tabu way – a clean comic meaning he doesn’t curse or give detailed accounts of his sexual exploits and I gotta say, it’s kind of nice. His sarcastic biting wit is understated and refreshing. Personally, I have spent a greater part of my time seeing stand-up comics because I love laughing – it’s my favorite thing – but I’m not usually impressed though I desperately hope to be. It’s tough finding the Monty Python’s of the world. Finding someone out there who can create a sense of realism without making you feel uncomfortably voyeuristic is so so rare. With videos, a podcast, global tours, and being paired with some of the best in the biz, Rajiv is someone who sets himself apart. I could go on and tell you about the stuff you can find out in his bio but I won’t. I’m not that kind of writer. Or interviewer. And Rajiv, being the first Comedian I’ve interviewed for the Magazine, well, he isn’t your regular Joe. Or Rajiv. The fact that his Facebook Page is called “Funny Indian” says it all. And so, while I’d love to give some brilliant snarky intro, instead I will simply introduce you to the Chai tea loving, underwater typing, casually in love with love, black leather – not really leather – wearing Indian from Ohio: Rajiv Satyal. Thank you Rajiv for putting me up to the challenge of creating an interview you hadn’t ever done before. And a side note to journalists out there: Get creative for crying out loud! (See RS? Told you I wasn’t a boring, predictable interviewer … now go text a novella and fax me that emergency thing you had to tell me about.)
Not your typical Rajiv …[question]Since I am officially in awe (and envy) of the “Communication Breakdown” YouTube video you did, what is your BIGGEST pet peeve with technology?[/question] [answer] I’m so glad to hear that. I wrote it so most of those are pet peeves of mine. The one that really gets me is when people don’t embrace The Rajiv Rule, which is “whoever calls should call back.” If I die and leave the world only with that… mission accomplished.[/answer]
ATOD, Dawn Garcia – DG: What scent makes you feel most alive?
Rajiv Satyal (RS): Scent of a Woman? No, that was just my favorite movie from 1992. Well, that and A Few Good Men. Please be sure it’s clear that’s a movie. I’m not into a few good men. Or any, really. So, I don’t know … women? Honestly, though, let’s see. The olfactory sense is the most nostalgic for me. A fragrance (or odor) can transport me to a place instantaneously. Like some places just remind me of India. I was born in Ohio but visited when I was nine so I do associate it with my childhood. That land is sensory overload – it’s a (mostly pleasant) assault on one’s five senses. Or six if you’re spiritual. Or have a “sense” of humor. My favorite scent? I don’t know … garages, I guess. Most car-related ones are very cool … garages, new car smell, and even gasoline. Great. Now I sound like a fume-sniffer or a grease monkey – ironic for someone who can barely change a tire. (DAWN: Yep, secret’s out.)
DG: What is an Indian tradition you couldn’t do without?
RS: Tea. (Chai.) I guess it’s British to some extent but I could live without alcohol way before I could give up caffeine. I’m a coffee-drinker, as well, but there’s something about my Mom’s tea that cannot be replaced. I’m actually in Ohio and drinking some as I write this.
DG: Every comic is actually a whole lot deeper than most people imagine. What is the most difficult time of your life that you ended up turning into a comedy sketch and why?
RS: My upcoming one-man show goes deeper than anything I’ve done or seen other comics of my generation do. My dating life has been fun but it’s also been a real struggle. I’m about to admit some things that I always thought I’d take to my grave. Or to the crematorium. I’m Hindu.
DG: The movie that changed the way you saw life?
RS: I once made a list of my 50 favorite movies. Let me check that now. Because “life-changing” is as big a statement as you can make in terms of films. I take cinema really seriously so I need to really think on this before I give you an answer. When asked what my favorite movie is, I always give two answers: “Dramatically, it’s The Silence of The Lambs. Nothing creepy about that. Good first-date convo. Comedically, it’s National Lampoon’s Vacation – the one where the Griswolds go to Walley World. Both are perfect. Not one line is out of place.” But I don’t think I can tell you anything better than this: My brother, Rakesh, is gay. My Dad spent most of his life fairly unsure about all of that, simply because he’s of a different generation. One day in Chicago, my whole family had a free day. Well, we’re all really into the Oscars (because we’re all gay) and we all decided to see any nominated movies we hadn’t seen. We were all spinning around running from movie to movie and it turned out that my Dad and I sat down in Brokeback Mountain. At the end of the movie, I carefully asked him, “So, what’d you think?” “It was a beautiful love story that happened to be between two men.” And boom! His perspective on the issue changed. It paved the way for Rakesh to come out to him. It was at that moment that I realized the power of entertainment. No amount of legislation or rallying or anything in the political realm could do that.
DG: The most annoying question journalist asks?
RS: This one? Guess that’s the easy answer. I hate being asked anything that a cursory Google search could answer. Reporters need to do at least ten minutes of research before sitting down with their subjects. Are we subjects? Makes us sound subservient. Oh, well. “How’d you get started?” was a great question the 1st time it was asked. The 50th time, not so much. But you can’t do much to change this other than place a line on your website pleading with journalists to read some previous interviews first (which I’ve done). I just try to find new ways of answering the same questions. It’s kind of a game for me. (DAWN: Phew! Glad I didn’t ask that one though, I did wonder, how’d you get started?!)
DG: Personally I think the chicken crossed the road to avoid all the bastards asking too many questions. You?
RS: The subservient chicken? Boom.
DG: Comedy and relationships. Go …
RS: … to my show. And learn. Ha. “Did you ever notice” how a lot of comedians just broke up with their girlfriends? As it’s been said, “Tragedy + Time = Comedy.”
DG: Given a plane ticket to travel anywhere in the world, with anyone of your choice, hiring the chef you’ve always dreamed of dining with (even if you have already) with your favorite cocktail. OK – tell me what, where, who …
RS: OK, so like a good math student, I’ll show my work.
WHO: A family member (my Mom prolly gets top billing), a good friend (there are a few), a love interest (whoever she is at the time), or a celebrity (my list is short: Jack Nicholson, Jodie Foster, Ricky Gervais, Andre Agassi).
PLACE: My favorite place is New York City but I have a strong desire to visit Paris or Tokyo.
FOOD: My favorite foods are French and sushi (so I guess that makes sense).
COCKTAIL: My favorite cocktails are generally vodka-based. Although I suppose I could settle for a bottle of red wine or sake.
So, I’ll take pretty much any permutation we could make out of that.
DG: The leather jacket. Is this your under-the-radar statement? Or just an homage to cool?
RS: Ha. It’s actually not leather. But there is a Rajiv uniform. Sneakers/black shoes. Jeans. Untucked, solid shirt. Jacket. Tie.
RS: Cardamom. My Mom uses it more. Prolly because it contains “mom.” Wow… that was lame.
DG: So you take all your American friends to an Indian restaurant and they turn to you and say, “Well, you should probably order”. Do you order predictable or do you mess with them and order everything that is going to “last” just to prove the point that people really should order for themselves?
RS: Ha. I’m mostly a helpful person so I’ll explain everything on the menu and then they’ll just end up ordering the CTM (chicken tikka masala) anyway.
DG: What scares you the most … and I don’t mean fictional things.
RS: Pain for a loved one.
DG: A classic piece of literature you read growing up that opened your eyes to an entirely bigger world?
RS: You’re supposed to outgrow The Catcher in The Rye, but I just never have. I’ve read it over 30 times. It’s still the funniest thing I’ve ever experienced. I ask a question on my podcast: Who in pop culture/ literature most closely resembles you? Mine is Holden Caulfield.
DG: Food you think is sexy?
RS: A donut?
DG: Green or gold?
RS: Green. I don’t like gold. I’m much more a silver person. Or platinum if we’re rolling top-shelf. Which I always am.
(DAWN GARCIA: Rajiv asked me why I asked this question – if there was any significance. I have a theory. It’s simple. Green – it’s fully alive, abundant in growth and refreshing beginnings. It is the signifier of someone who dares to see the optimism and possibility. Gold – it’s for people who believe they love the finer things but in truth are hiding behind the shiny metallic crispness to dull out their fears. They blind others by the intense brightness so that their real self has a safe place to hide. Gold is all show and while it lends to the growth process, it cannot thrive on its own. It’s a philosophical reason – or not – but that, Rajiv, is why I asked.)
DG: What song can you hear over and over that makes you want to dance and sing obnoxiously loudly all at once?
RS: “Billie Jean.” There’s no better dance song in history. Fact.
DG: What is the most obscure moment you’ve had on stage?
RS: I’m not sure I get the question, which is appropriate as it’ll remain obscure.
DG: What was the best advice your parents ever gave you?
RS: Mom: It’s admirable that you fight for the principle of the thing but you’ll be a lot happier if you live more by the “Who really got hurt?” principle.
Dad: “Don’t put yourself in that situation.” He says that all the time. Said another way, find the patterns in your life that lead you to trouble and just avoid them.
DG: If you could sum yourself up in 7 words, what would they be?
RS: I can do it in two: Rajiv Satyal.
Thank you once again to Rajiv Satyal who answered these questions thoughtfully and honestly. Can’t wait to see your new show!
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All you ever wanted to know about Rajiv. Well, almost …
2013 has been a big year for Rajiv Satyal. Here’s a partial list of what he did: Hosted Jack Nicholson’s 76th Birthday Party. Mutated into Joe Flacco and led the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Had a threesome with Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman. Got knighted. Cured cancer. Proved that pi repeats. Tipped off Charles Ramsay as to the whereabouts of the abduction. Landed on Venus. Performed brain surgery on self, thereby allowing use of 120% of brain. Discovered Unified Field Theory. Ate eight saltines in a minute. Got own statue on Easter Island. Made Chuck Norris cry. Sailed thru the Bermuda Triangle. Folded a piece of paper in half 13 times. Derived Euclid’s 5th postulate from the other four. Built that waterfall thing and held a seance to show MC Escher how it was done. Got MC Escher his own hip-hop recording contract on Cash Money Records. Figured out how a raven is like a writing desk – and how to get one to win the Super Bowl. Brokered a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis. Proved the existence of God. Disproved the existence of God. Ate own weight at Godfather’s pizza. Prevented the destruction of the Universe by inventing and inserting a widget last-minute inside the particle accelerator in Geneva. Found Jimmy Hoffa – he was a little groggy. Would love to tell you more but that’s Heidi Klum at the door. She left her thong here last night. Btw, this whole bio was typed underwater.
OK, here are the real ones…
The Long and Short of It
Rajiv Satyal is a standup comedian from Cincinnati, Ohio, whose witty, universal, and TV-clean act resonates around the world by covering everything from racial issues to soap bottles to his favorite topic — himself. This University of Cincinnati engineer and former P&G marketer has toured with Dave Chappelle, Tim Allen, Kevin Nealon, and Russell Peters. He co-founded the world-touring Make Chai Not War, a Hindu/Muslim stand-up show that traversed seven Indian cities in 2012, sponsored by the U.S. State Dept. Rajiv named his alma mater’s online radio station ”Bearcast,” launched/managed a Miss India America’s career, and has spoken to audiences from Fortune 50 companies to NFL players on innovation, diversity, and personal branding. He runs a consulting business called the Standpoint Agency, which helps marketers generate insights for their brands. Rajiv has garnered 3 million+ YouTube views, performed on three continents, and been featured on NBC, NPR, Nickelodeon, Fx, Netflix, Times Now, TV Asia, and Pandora, as well as in The Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, The Huffington Post, India Abroad, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and the LA Times. He has done stand-up at more than 70 colleges and is a regular at all major comedy clubs in LA. His corporate clients include P&G (10 times), GE (6 times), General Mills, Quaker, Cisco and more. Rajiv acts, improvises, records a weekly podcast, and writes TV ads. His favorite sites in the whole wide world are facebook.com/funnyindian and rajivsatyal.com. This LA-based pocket pundit challenges people to see a new point-of-view. Most of all, he talks about what it’s like to be Rajiv. And we all have some Rajiv in us, even if we don’t want to admit it. You can now purchase his first-ever standup comedy special (released April 2013) for $5 at www.buyrajiv.com.
Rajiv Satyal is the fun-size Indian comedian from Ohio whose witty, universal, and TV-clean act resonates with Middle America by covering everything from racial issues to soap bottles to his favorite topic – himself.
Rajiv was born and raised near Cincinnati, Ohio. Unlike most comics for whom tragedy + time = comedy, he’s just a little guy with a lot to say. His childhood was a blast, given his fun-loving parents and his hysterical brothers. He became funny in 3rd grade, influenced by his uncle and a friend who insisted he’d never make laugh. His interest in entertainment was likely subliminally influenced by the hobbies of his family: his Mom, a singer; his Dad, a DJ, one brother a singer, writer, and actor; the other a sportsman and speaker; his aunt, a painter and poet; not to mention his Dad’s family’s making of Bollywood films.
Despite sprouting a moustache in elementary school and not breaking 100 pounds till his senior year in high school, he somehow glided through childhood without being picked-on. A friend would later comment, “Sounds like God picked on you enough.” Rajiv wanted to be Class Clown, but the guy who won was on the 5-year high school plan, so he had to settle for being Class President. A dork who managed to have cool friends, his 11-year Perfect Attendance record was solely driven by not wanting to miss out on a day’s worth of stories.
Rajiv went to college and noticed, for Indians, the part of the form that allows you to choose your major was grayed-out to “pre-med.” He finally graduated in Materials Engineering, which he figured was good for, well, material. While in college, Rajiv dabbled in everything from politics (interning on Capitol Hill in 1999) to comedy (winning The Funniest Person in Cincinnati amateur contest). Rajiv ironically “got serious about comedy” in 2002. In June 2005, he won The Funniest Person in Cincinnati contest in the semipro/professional division on his first try.
Upon graduation, he worked at the world headquarters of Procter & Gamble, in the purchasing, media, and marketing departments. He performed (and still does) at many P&G and other corporate events and had his own column in P&G’s Home Made Simple newsletter, which reached 15 million US households. Occasionally, Rajiv was seen doing actual P&G work.
He has since toured with many nationally-renowned comics, including Dave Chappelle, Kevin James, Tim Allen, and Kevin Nealon. Rajiv has opened for Russell Peters in sold-out theaters across the U.S.A. In fact, in December 2006, an Indian newspaper asked Russell to name “comics to watch” – he named only two in the States; Rajiv was one of them.
Rajiv was often heard on various Cincinnati radio stations, seen in many local newspapers and magazines, and found onstage regularly as an MC and a Feature act at Midwest comedy clubs and colleges. Rajiv turned 30 in March 2006, at which point he freaked out, realizing that while he had done all he could do to gain unique experiences in Ohio – from selling knives to telemarketing to being a tennis ball boy – he had still lived in OHIO his whole life. So, he packed up and moved to LA and is now a full-time comic. Rajiv is in the rare position of hoping he makes it in entertainment so he doesn’t have to go back to that six-figure gig with health benefits and job security.
This pocket pundit is a comedian who stands on the fringe of what is acceptable and challenges people to see a new point-of-view. You certainly don’t come to Rajiv’s shows to escape – you come to experience. Because he was raised when the anthem of the time for minorities was assimilation, the Indian influence had very little impact on his life. Now, he is trying to get in-touch with his roots, if for no other reason than to deliver for the Indians and non-Indians who expect him to be more “Indian” – even though he’s really just an Ohioan. And to be able to explain that Indians were not involved in 9-11 – just 7-11.
The act takes the audience on a journey, while conveying a key message of diversity, which helps to break down stereotypes: We’re all different and we’re all the same. Rajiv thinks that with each person who learns to assume the best about others, we can make the world a better place. Sound lofty? It is. Can he do it? We’ll see. And in case you’re wondering, he did make that 3rd grade friend laugh. So, Rajiv thinks he can do anything. At the end of the day, he talks about what it’s like to be Rajiv. And we all have some Rajiv in us, even if we don’t want to admit it.
You can find Rajiv regularly performing at the Laugh Factory and Improvs in Los Angeles, acting in commercials, doing improv, on TV, on XM and Sirius Satellite Radio, admiring himself on his Funny Indian Fan Club on Facebook, and on www.funnyindian.com, where you can view clips, read his blog, and subscribe to his rants and podcasts.
The Industry always wants to know what an entertainer’s point-of-view is. To me, it’s the same as asking, “If you had the world’s attention for one minute, what would you say?” Here goes.
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 about 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.