When people hear I perform standup comedy, they generally have the one reaction: whether male or female, eyes wide, “I could never do that,” the speaker usually says, giving me the once over as if seeing me in my material form for the first time. Since fear of public speaking rates higher than fear of dying, I seems to have superhero powers when I say I regularly get up in front of people and try to make them laugh. “My worst nightmare,” someone said with a shudder last week when I mentioned I had a show.
For me standup comedy is a monthly reminder that as a creative person, I have to be willing to put myself out there, much the same way I do each time I publish a book. But since I’ve got quite a few titles to my name now, the vulnerability I might feel publishing has diminished (not to say that it ever entirely goes away). Creatives are kind of like thrill seekers: We have to keep searching for the next thing that will keep us creating in order not to fall into stale, repetitive patterns.
When I started keeping this blog, I of course began work on an expat memoir – that genre that is almost as ubiquitous as the Novel – about my experiences living in Qatar as a South Asian American woman. I contemplate a lot in the articles about race, class and gender through the everyday things that happen to me in a fairly serious tone. When it came time to stand up for my first routine (in support of the only other female comic in the city at the time) I stripped away the social commentary from these incidents and told them as they happened.
The audience’s reaction was electrifying to me: they laughed! They saw the irony from my perspective and I was hooked by the unsettling feeling of nervousness I felt in the moments before going on stage. I teach five classes a week to undergraduate students: in a way my life is standup comedy. You have to be quick on the uptake, lively, upbeat — if you want to keep them from outright doodling or texting during class.
See what you think of one of my sets during last week’s show, where I talk about being an Indian with an American accent.