Recently I had a fun chat with Vijai Nathan, a local comic who has performed across the planet and is the creator of the monthly comedy party “Fan-Freakin-Tastic” at Chief Ike’s Mambo Room. Vijai is a first generation Indian American and grew up in Rockville, Maryland.
How did you get into performing comedy?
I was a journalist working at the Baltimore Sun at the time, and I was engaged with someone I thought was perfect for me, my college sweetheart, and I had a great job and I was never more miserable. I just had always wanted to be a performer growing up and it was something my parents never encouraged me to do, because it’s not like Indian immigrant parents who are going to be like, “Yeah, here’s something where you are guaranteed not to make any money for the rest of your life.”
So, really what happened was I was just so stuck in my job and stuck in my relationship, and just stuck in my life and I saw this adult class to learn to be a standup comedian in two sessions. So I took that with First Class in Washington, D.C. with this guy that was funny, and when I took the class I was still a journalist during the day and just trying to do something to fill this performance dream that I had. The other people in the class were accountants and lobbyists, just kind of normal D.C. people who worked in the government. When I had my graduation class I was the funniest person there. Someone said, “Oh my God, you should be a comedian. You’re going to be the next Margaret Chang” and I was like “It’s Margaret Cho, but thanks!”
So that was October of 1996 and in April of 1997 I gave my notice to the Baltimore Sun. I quit my job and started doing stand up and started not making money. I shortly canceled my wedding and used the money I saved for the wedding to start my career in stand up.
When did you start getting paid to perform?
I got my first paid gig at a place called something like the Washington Tavern and it’s near the Capitol. I remember when I got the gig they were like, “Ok you are going to get twenty minutes and you’re going to get twenty dollars” and I was really excited that I was going to get paid and then the guy said, “You’re not going to get paid again.” Not because of my performance, he was just trying to say that in comedy you are not going to get paid usually. I actually have that twenty dollars in a frame, because I thought I should save this, because I got paid for doing comedy. That was my first time after I had graduated from my class and one thing I’ll say is why I do stand up as opposed to acting. Growing up I was trying out for all these plays and musicals and I never got the parts. Standup was something that I was drawn to because no one could tell me that I couldn’t be myself. I wrote my own material. I got up on stage and said it, and no one could say I’m doing it wrong, or that I’m not right for that role because I was just me. That was really why I was drawn to stand up as an art form.
Where has comedy taken you?
I performed in South Africa, I performed at the Montreal Comedy Festival, and I have performed in England a couple times. I am going to be performing in Trinidad in July and Vancouver in June and Hollywood in June too.
How did you get to perform over in South Africa and those countries?
Through word of mouth. I worked with Russell Peters. I had met him years ago in Toronto and he actually recommended me for the Cape Town Smirnoff Comedy Festival in South Africa and said that they should take a look at me and they were only taking two comedians from America. So it was me and this other guy Ros Bennet. We were the American representation, and I was one of two women in the entire festival.
What have been your most memorable show experiences?
I opened for Russell Peters last year at Constitution Hall in April. That was just insane, because there was one point where just to have that many people cheering you. That you can control a crowd that size. I don’t know how many people it seats. I think it’s around 2,000.* It feels like more when you are on stage. That was when I felt like a rock star. There is this joke that I said how men should always pay for dates. So I started saying that and the men in the audience were just booing me. All the people were just booing me and then the women were like, “Shut up!” and they were cheering for me and I actually was like, “Let me break it down for you mother fuckers” and they stopped booing and the entire audience laughed when I finished my joke. It was just insane to have that many people respond to me and also to be able to control that many people as well.
That was probably my most memorable performance. My other most memorable is the polar opposite when I performed for my mother’s Hindu temple, and I had been doing stand up for years in comedy clubs, bars, and colleges and then finally I had to create this act that was really really clean and I won’t say I’m super dirty, but I’m not the cleanest person ever. So I had to do this thing for her, because she asked me to do a show for her at her temple and it was amazing to write jokes that were geared towards Indians. Their ages ranged from 3 to 93 and I had to make sure that all of them could understand it and like me and relate and that was actually really fun. Everybody laughed and that was the first time I had this giant range of people laughing at my jokes. So that was really fun and it showed me I could work clean when I need to.
What is Fan Freakin Tastic and how long has it been going on?
Fan Freakin Tastic is just about a year old and what I really wanted to do with that was that to me, really great comedians are story tellers, and I have been doing storytelling with SpeakeasyDC and I wanted to create a space where comedians could tell funny stories and help develop that, because I think that that’s hard to develop in most comedy rooms in D.C. at open mics. I think it’s hard to do and it’s not something that a comedian might want to do if they’re having a set at the Improv. So that’s why I wanted to create that space and I think it’s working great. I have storytellers, I have standups, I have slam poets and they all work off a theme and the only rule I have is “just be funny.” The theme on Saturday, April 30 is, “Up to No Good.”
Do you have any other shows that are coming up?
If you are interested in finding out more about any of the fine shows this hard working comic has to offer, please send her an email at Vijai@vijaicomedy.com or friend her on her Facebook page.
* 3,702 seats according to The Wikipedia.