Editor’s Note: The Laugh Factory in Hollywood was jam-packed August 15. It was shortly after sunset on Sunset Boulevard. Half a world away, India had all but wrapped up its Independence Day celebrations. The day marked 65 years of an India free from British colonial rule. It also marked the day when one of the greatest collections of South Asian comics gathered at one of the funniest places in Los Angeles to share some laughter … and some charity. Those appearing here at the Laugh Factory included veteran funny men and women such as Rajiv Satyal, MONROK, Sid Veda, and Anish Shah. There were some new faces, too, such as Melanie Kannokada and Manish Dayal. But wait, there’s more! Funny bones were also tickled by Pritesh Shah, Snehal Patel, Saurabh Kikani, Kunal Dudheker, and Surina Jindal. A show of the ages hosted by Prashanth Venkataramanujam, the two-hour comedy marathon headlining a smorgasbord of South Asian funnies raised money for the Save A Mother, a campaign dedicated to reducing maternal mortality.
In addition to entertaining audiences on a regular basis at the Laugh Factory, Mr. Satyal took a few moments out of his otherwise crazy day to share his thoughts on the comic riot that took place in the shadows of the Sunset Strip.
So, I promised my fellow night owl, Parimal Rohit, that I would get him this article before I fell asleep on Thursday. That’s what people who don’t have jobs call “Friday morning.” I said I would write an article about “Save a Mother,” the charity show for which several comics (and non-comics) did standup last night (Wed, 8/15) at the Hollywood Laugh Factory.
I started performing regularly at the Laugh Factory circa 2007 so I can speak from experience that, even given that the joint is known for hot crowds, this one was one of the hottest I’d seen - and I do mean that both ways... responsive and attractive. Hey, it was packed with Desi women. What more could you want? Well, Persian women, according to my act. But enough about me. (Words a comic has never spoken.) Let’s recap the show.
Prashanth Venkataramanujam (who pointed out that his name contained only one fewer letter than the entire Phoenician alphabet) hosted. He did a fantastic job. An emcee’s role is to take the crowd, which came in as groups of 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42, and get them to breathe as one organism. It almost doesn’t matter if they all hate you. As long as they’re on the same page, you’ve fulfilled your duties. Luckily for PV, they didn’t hate him. They absolutely loved him, as well they should. His material was well received and his crowd work went over like a charm.
Pritesh Shah, primarily an actor and host, blazed up the stage as well, immediately winning over the audience by touching the feet of Prashanth upon his entry. Such is an ancient sign of respect within the Indian and Pakistani cultures, at the height of our pride celebrating our Independence Day (8/15/1947). (Yes, that awkwardly jammed-in commentary was meant to demonstrate the lack of ignorance on the part of this ABCD.) Fun fact: Today, Pritesh was to interview me on Actor’s E, a live video interview chat show (and containing the next letter in the sequence ABCD), but he had an audition... on to the next one, on to the next one....
Snehal Patel, a producer/director well known within the LA Desi Diaspora (you can’t write a brown article without employing “Diaspora”), shared his views on what would prevent more terrorism. The answer: sex. The best stand-ups do more than tell jokes; they share a point-of-view. Snehal’s set showed flashes of such brilliance... an interesting change-of-pace for the energized audience.
The sketch troupe, appropriately adopting the moniker SketchComedyShow.com (that link better work), was the only non-standup act of the night. Kunal Dudheker, Surina Jindal, and two other people whose names I don’t know (We can fill this in later, right? (That’s what she said.)) killed it. A black man in India can’t find any action and so his friend (Dudheker) takes him to a “strip club,” where he’s routinely disappointed by the teasing dances of Surina and the other girl whose name I don’t know - and who was fully covered so does it matter anyway? Ha. That was the joke, though. And it went over beautifully.
MONROK, no stranger to the LA standup scene, being a regular at the Comedy Store, Improv, and Laugh Factory, where she had her own show (Diversity Night), took the show to another level. Her laid-back style and confidence smashed the room. Of course I’m biased as she calls me her best friend. And she’s definitely one of my friends.
Actress/model Melanie Kannokada tried her hand at standup and ... isn’t it enough that the woman is gorgeous beyond belief? She now also has to be good at standup? I was very proud of my friend/co-host/former client (yes, I pulled the Twista line with her years ago, telling her I’d be her manager and make her a Celebrity Overnight) who came over the day before to run her lines. But the set was hers. She wrote a personal act, covering a day in the life shooting a movie in India - and it was legit.
Rahul Singhal gave a speech describing what we were all here to do... besides laugh. He framed the night up well by painting the picture of what Save a Mother is - and his event was a huge success.
Saurabh Kikani, an actor who also has half a dozen films in production, tore it up. He refers to himself as a storyteller - and his act showcased this talent very well.
Sid Veda, half of the famed Metro PCS team, returned to the live performance game. His likability was on full display. There’s something that people just respond to with Sid. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him through our random @replies on Twitter - and sometimes even the actual in-person meeting at parties I’ve thrown (and he’s caught).
I followed Sid and felt like I set our headliner, Anish Shah, up well to close the show. As Ricky Gervais said about Genesis, when the Bible states, “God saw that it was good,” “we’d all like to write our own reviews.” So, what can I say about myself? Oh, I’m writing this, so clearly, I had the set of the night. I was absolutely amazing. Ha ha ha. I had a lot of fun and am grateful to the crowd for its support. I mean, I can’t take any credit - it’s my talent. Oh, jeez.
ANYway, Mr. Shah, who has headlined the Chicago version of this show and will be doing the same when we do it again on September 13 at Caroline’s on Broadway in New York City, did us all proud by doing the longest spot of the night and bringing it on home.
I once called South Asian Americans some of the strongest in the standup game. And I... stand by that statement. As MONROK pointed out, this fundraiser wasn’t held in the basement of a community center. We were at the Hollywood Laugh Factory - and it was boss to see South Asians supporting South Asians. And all races, it seemed, were represented - we’re all people (and all have mothers) so it was refreshing to see folks from all walks of life come together for a good cause.
Hope that was coherent enough. And I hope that I didn’t miss anybody - I used the lineup I was sent. Plus, I just got home from a small show down the street at Rocco’s Tavern in Studio City, where Anish and I both did sets. I ordered a “Maker’s on the rocks to go” if that gives you any idea of the kind of night it was. OK, I didn’t, but it was a semi-funny tweet. Oh, so yeah... follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/funnyindian) and I can connect you with all the fools mentioned above. They’re my peeps and I’m so proud to have shared a stage with them.
Rajiv Satyal is a comedian. He resides in Los Angeles.