OAKLAND, Calif. — Indian Americans are generally better known for being hardworking than they are for being funny, but the comics at this year’s “Desi Comedy Fest” showed the audiences that desis can also crack a joke.
Created last year by Indian American stand-up comedians Samson Koletkar and Abhay Nadkarni, this year’s lineup included 20 of the industry’s best Indian-origin comics split across eight shows, several of which sold out, in five cities across the Bay Area — Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Sunnyvale and Pleasanton, Calif.
The organizers also made a conscious effort to include more women in this year’s lineup, much to the delight of the shows’ audiences who couldn’t control their laughter when the women took the stage.
Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, undoubtedly one of the funniest comedians in the lineup, told the audience that she always gets asked whether her parents know about her standup comedy career, to which she responds that of course they know.
“It’s not like I’m doing anything wrong like dating a white guy,” she dead panned.
She then went into her experiences growing up in Alabama, people’s inability to pronounce her last name and the difficulties of being a smart woman, pointing out that if men really liked smart women there would be a covalent bond between the double O’s in Hooters.
Smita Venkat, who was raised in Singapore and was a semifinalist at the Rooster T. Feathers New Talent Competition, also kept the audience going, recalling an incident when she mentioned googling something at an interview with Yahoo.
Some comedians were able to humorously navigate difficult issues that generally go undiscussed by most communities, such as sex and drugs, and garnered laughs from the audience.
Shanti Charan’s jokes about how the founders of Hinduism were probably really high on marijuana and Richard Sarvate’s joke about buying psychedelic mushrooms over the Internet went over really well with the crowd.
Using personal anecdotes, the comedians delivered jokes as varied as their own life experiences, providing something for everyone in the audience even if each comedian didn’t appeal to every individual.
Imran G, who opened for Robin Williams in the past, had a sense of humor focused more on the experience of growing up in the U.S., which was sometimes specific to Indian Americans and other times more universal.
He talked about how, long ago, a girl had been hit by a train on the railroad tracks near his house, and how sometimes, late at night, you could still see her playing on the tracks.
“Wow, she really didn’t learn her lesson,” he said.
Koletkar, who hosted the shows with Nadkarni, talked about the experience of being the only Jewish person of Indian descent, but also went into married life and becoming a U.S. citizen.
Sanjay Manaktala, who has performed in venues across the globe, talked about the difference between dating American girls and Indian girls, among other things, while Spencer Latham talked about his experience of growing up with a mixed background.
Regardless of the venue or the crowd, Kabir Singh, who recently bagged a gig writing and acting for Seth McFarland’s hit animated series “Family Guy,” kept the audience rolling in the aisles.
He then delved into Siri’s racism, dealing with his white friends’ trouble in categorizing him, and the benefits of arranged marriage.
“If you’re at a club, you go up to the hottest girl in the club, you’re like ‘Hey baby, wanna dance?’ She’s like ‘Uh no,’ and you could say ‘Uh too bad b*tch ’cause my dad talked to your dad and — guess what — we’re dancing,’” he said.
The other comedians who performed during the festival were: Kelvin Kumar, Priyanka Wali, Raj Dutta, Rajeev Dhar, Sammy Obeid, Ruby Gill and Yogi Paliwal.
With this year’s comedy fest all wrapped up, make sure to stay tuned for next year’s event, which promises to be even bigger and better.
In the meantime, you can catch many of the comics at local comedy clubs in the Bay Area.