When was the last time you had a good laugh? If you don’t remember, be on the lookout for Type Caste standup comedy group’s next show.
The San Francisco Bay Area, Calif.-based group, founded by 23-year-old Indian American comedian Sanj Nalwa, also comprises of Indian American comedians Richard Sarvate, Priyanka Wali and Ryan Sudhakaran.
“By meshing Indian and American cultures, our distinct perspectives hope to paint a broader picture of the Asian American experience,” reads the group’s objective. “We hope to present a nuanced, less stereotypical view of our culture through comedy.”
“I wanted a way to showcase, both myself and other talented local Indian American comedians, because I felt that there’s a real market for Indian comedy in the U.S. and a lot of times, it’s not really fulfilled that well,” Nalwa told India-West. “So I thought of putting together a group of Indian American comedians who would tour together in the places where there is not that much Indian comedy but a lot of Indians live.”
The comedy they present is as diverse and wide-ranging as the comedians themselves.
Sarvate spent 10 years working as a programmer before deciding to embrace comedy. He’s a regular host at the San Francisco Punch Line and he recently completed a 20-show tour of India; Wali, a board-certified practicing physician in internal medicine, performs routinely all throughout the U.S. and abroad, including corporate gigs, casinos and comedy clubs; and Sudhakaran, who is described as “eclectic and irreverent,” has a degree in physics and does shows all over the Bay Area.
Nalwa, a Saratoga, Calif., native who attended the University of California, Berkeley, and has been doing comedy since he was 19, was always involved in the performing arts world. A man of many talents, Nalwa is also a singer, and was busy with music production before he decided to switch gears and kick-start his comedy career.
Fresh out of high school, he ventured into comedy as a way to increase his stage presence and “escape the humdrum of UC college life” but fell in love with it.
The young comedian opined that comedy also serves as a perfect vehicle for tackling weighty issues which otherwise would be difficult to bring up.
“A lot of people think that comedy is a way to relax and help people let loose. I think it’s not only that,” Nalwa told India-West. “It is also a way to say things that would go unsaid otherwise. Comedy is a way of expressing possibly unpopular or harsh truth in a way that is more palatable to people. It is almost like a teaching mechanism in that sense.”
Through this group, Nalwa is also giving a platform to other talented Indian American comedians across the U.S.
“There are four of us to begin with but now when I travel to different cities to perform, it’s usually me and then I hire two to three local Indian comedians from that city to perform,” he said.
All of the material for the comedy, said Nalwa, is drawn from their own experiences.
“Because we are all South Asian, most of our experiences are very relatable to our audiences because they are also South Asians in America. I think that’s where it clicks,” he told India-West.
Just four years into his career as a comedian, Nalwa has pretty much learnt how to capture the mood of the audiences.
“More than the others, I think I have offended some people during the shows. Not so much in the tour we are doing right now but especially when I was starting out,” he recalled. “Definitely you offend some people when you say a joke. It’s part of the learning process. It’s almost like you have to go too far and then you reel it in. So you find the right balance of what you can say and how you can say it. I also think when it comes to comedy, people are more open in terms of what they are willing to talk about and what they are willing to let them do because it’s kind of a forum for them.”
And one of those lessons is sticking to a no-politics tone.
“We talk about world events and important topics but no politics because people have views that they hold very dear,” he noted to India-West. “It’s more divisive than anything, so I choose topics that everyone can relate to and have fun with.”
Nalwa founded Type Caste comedy earlier this year and it has had a terrific start, with the group hosting packed crowds at several venues. They have toured colleges and clubs across the country and have performed at festivals such as San Francisco Sketchfest, the Burbank Comedy Festival and the Desi Comedy Fest.
“The response has been great so far,” said Nalwa. “The organizations that we contact, a lot of these organizations are student organizations in colleges, and a lot of these are Indian organizations like the University of Delaware, has partnered with Asha for Education nonprofits, Indian professional organizations like SABA etc.”
So far, he and his team has presented at venues like the University of California-San Diego, Columbia University and the University of Delaware. In June, they are scheduled to perform in the Napa Valley and Sonoma County, Calif., and at the Rochester Indian Community Center in New York; and in July, over the course of two days, they will do three shows for LTS of USA at the Arlington Convention Center in Texas. The lineup also includes a performance at the Festival of India in Virginia in September.
Even though he hasn’t opted for a traditional career, Nalwa, who has now moved to New York to take his career further, said his family supports his decision.
“My family has been pretty supportive. I think it’s because I was a pretty good student in school so they saw that I’m willing to work hard,” he stated to India-West. “They saw that I’m actually doing it because I like it. So as long as I’m putting in the work ethic in comedy I would put into any other profession, they are fine with it.”