Kapil Talwalkar on Music, BIPOC Representation & Tackling Systemic Racism on ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist - Season: 2
ZOEY'S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST -- "Zoey’s Extraordinary Reckoning" Episode 206 -- Pictured: Kapil Talwalkar as Tobin -- (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Lionsgate)

In the most recent episode of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” Tobin Batra (played by Kapil Talwalkar) has a reality check on just how vital it is to speak out against systemic racism.

Last week, the series revealed that SPRQ Point’s ‘Chirp’ watch tech doesn’t recognize people of color. John Clarence Stewart’s character, Simon, is asked to cover up and address this problem to news outlets. Instead of buttering up the press, Simon exposes the company for not having any BIPOC or women in leading positions at work.

Fast forward to “Zoey’s Extraordinary Reckoning,” Zoey (Jane Levy) has a company town hall to see if anyone else feels the same as Simon, and the results are anything but productive. When it’s Tobin’s turn to share how he’s feeling, he makes a joke and laughs it off.

South Asians and people of Asian descent, in general, are conditioned to downplay racism that happens to them, or around them, much like Kapil Talwalkar portrays in the episode. We’re taught to keep our heads down and work; don’t get involved; get over it; it could be worse. Don’t “stir the pot,” as Tobin so painfully but honestly puts it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xchVGfFM6s&feature=emb_title

When Tobin tries to show his solidarity to Simon later in the episode, Simon reminds Tobin that he laughed off the conversation and ignores him.

Tobin is hit with an all-too-familiar and unpleasant reminder that South Asians in the workplace know too well. We can’t laugh shit off forever. We can’t ignore our own feelings and experiences of racism, either. Consider, for example, how only recently the rise in Anti-Asian hate crimes in America has been covered by the mainstream media.

 

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Talwalkar serves an honest portrayal of first-generation Indian-Americans in “Zoey’s Extraordinary Reckoning,” written by Zora Bikangaga. In our interview below, Kapil talks about how Bikangaga, along with writers’ assistant Karan Sunil, series creator Austin Winsberg, and the BIPOC actors in the cast, created an episode that tackles the issue of systemic racism in the workplace head-on with awareness, insight and at times, uncomfortable honesty. There may be some moments of levity, but the episode doesn’t end in a neatly-tied bow. There is still work to do in the world of Zoey’s, just like in the real world.

As a millennial desi-American, a conversation that keeps coming up in my friend group is that “we had to make a joke of ourselves just to fit in.” Looking back on my school years, this is true. I did it and saw all my Asian friends do it constantly, just so we could fit in. If we fought back, we would just get in trouble or the jokes would be worse.

The “Model Minority” myth has a lot to do with this. 

This episode of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” should be a message for more mainstream, network shows to follow suit and tackle difficult, important issues in more episodes. And we hope more people within the film/TV industry stand up against the systemic racism that continues to exist today. But my conversation with Kapil wasn’t all serious; he talked about his introduction into music and experience with “Zoey’s” audition process.

For anyone who has felt unproductive during quarantine, Kapil’s time in COVID lockdown will either be an inspiration or more fuel for the unproductive fire, because apparently he’s been recording a new album in this time. Kapil also shares his advice for South Asians looking to break into the arts, his love for Shahrukh Khan, and more.

Keep tuning in to see Kapil Talwalkar and more great stories on “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” airing Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. CST.

By Sarah Khan

Sarah Khan is a writer, producer, and social media strategist. From writing personal essays to producing videos for BuzzFeed, Sarah … Read more ›

Chef Devan Rajkumar: Bringing Indo Caribbean Flavors to South Asia and Beyond

Chef Dev

Passion is something many claim to have, but few truly possess. Whether it’s hobbies, professions or romances, it’s the secret ingredient we all crave but is quite difficult to come by. But on meeting Chef Devan Rajkumar — aka Chef Dev — it takes just a few moments to understand true passion. For the Indo Guyanese chef from Toronto, passion has always been food and its power to connect, nourish, excite and represent. 

[Read Related: 5 Indo Caribbean Food Experts you Need to Know This Winter Season]

It was there, as a child, when he followed his mother and grandmother around the temple, getting daal stains on his kurtas

Today, he’s used it to become a TV personality on Canada’s “Cityline” and Food Network Canada’s “Fire Masters,” to collaborate with renowned caterers The Food Dudes, develop his own line of signature soups and host pop-up events around the world. 

 

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Whatever the outlet, Rajkumar feeds his mission to be an ambassador for modern, West and East Indian cuisine. I recently sat down with him to talk about this and the experience of bringing Indo Caribbean flavors to South Asia and beyond.

Feeding a passion for food

“The sights, the sounds, the aromatics. The excitement of the kitchen has just always appealed to me,” he began. “Food moves me in a certain way. I want to nurture and nourish. I’ve just always wanted to do for others.”

As he sat back in a ‘Guyana vs. the world’ tank top, Rajkumar’s energy was palpable.

“I’ve always lived and breathed food, all day, all night. Like I’m talking about food right now. I’m constantly talking about food.”

To Rajkumar, food is education — one of the best (and most enjoyable) ways to learn, teach and explore the world — and he credits his older brother Jai for inspiring this mindset. Jai was the first to introduce him to different cuisines, teach him to be curious about the world and show him how to challenge the norms of a “typical brown kid.”

Despite this encouragement, however, a culinary career wasn’t Rajkumar’s first instinct. The son of a businessman, he initially jumped around universities and career paths. He also struggled with substance abuse and grief after Jai’s passing. Through all the challenges, food remained a constant, and the sense of community it created was a powerful draw.  

“At a very young age, I recognized how food made me feel if I was in a bad mood and how it made others feel,” he shared. 

He’s always looked forward to sitting around a table with friends and family, enjoying a nice meal, and how everybody could share their stories or just forget their troubles.

“Food is a very powerful vehicle for transporting someone.”  

In 2009, Rajkumar finally followed his passion and joined a culinary school. He realized he had a knack for creating this experience for others.

“I realized I had the power and the gift to nourish and nurture someone else in this way,” and it became irresistible. 

A cook with no boundaries, Rajkumar didn’t want to limit the number of people he reached to just those in Canada. 

 

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For many, success in the culinary world is having a thriving restaurant, but after spending six months opening one with The Food Dudes in 2015, Rajkumar realized this route wasn’t for him. 

“I wanted more culture,” he explained. “I wanted to learn and not so much get my ass kicked, but to be a sponge. I knew I needed to travel to broaden my horizons.”

So he did. Rajkumar spent months cooking in India, London, Peru and Dubai. He shared his experiences on social media and people back home took note.

“When I returned to Toronto,” he continued, “that trip had established me as a cook who had no boundaries. As someone who wasn’t afraid to explore and get out of their comfort zone.” 

And get out of his comfort zone he did. 

“From catering to a pop-up abroad to filming ‘Cityline and speaking engagements, every day is different,” he explained. “I’ve had my bouts with imposter syndrome, but ultimately, I’ve gotten to make more of an impact than just opening a restaurant.” 

That impact has especially been prominent in South Asia. 

 

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“Mad Love” in the Motherlands

Rajkumar embraces not only his Caribbean culture, but his South Asian roots as well. 

The temple he grew up in was a blend of Guyanese and East Indians, so he knew foods from a typical Guyanese household like alu curry and saijan but also East Indian favorites like dhokla and malai kofta

“Ultimately, we came from India,” he declared. “I embrace the culture and I am very comfortable leaning back and forth into it. It’s in me. It’s who I am.”

In fact, Rajkumar noted his career became much more defined and successful when he really began to identify as not just a chef, but as an Indo Guyanese Canadian chef. 

Hearing this, it was no surprise that Guyana, India and Pakistan stand out as some of  his favorite destinations. 

“Guyana is hugely impactful for me,” he shared, having visited his parents’ homeland frequently. “As soon as that door opens [at the airport], you smell Guyana. You smell the sugarcane burning from rum factories. I have all these wonderful sights, sounds, smells and flavors from those trips.”

His sentiments for India are similar.

“Incredible India is incredible India,” he referred to the country’s tourism slogan. “Every 100-200 kilometers, the menus can change completely. I can live in India for the rest of my life and never see it all.”

Pakistan, however, is in a class all its own.

“There’s something special about Lahore,” Chef Dev explained. “I was told Lahori hospitality rivals the best in the world and I got to experience that. I was interviewed on national television by Mustafa Shah. I explored Old Lahore with Ali Rehman. I got to cook my own chicken karahi at Butt Karahi. Anything I needed, I had. I’ve never met kinder people in my life.” 

 

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Rajkumar’s first trip in 2020 was only nine days long, but its impact stayed with him. 

He couldn’t have been more excited to return for a month, earlier this year, and host what his friends there dubbed the “Mad Love Pop-Up,” after one of his signature sayings. 

He filled the menu for the 18-day event with global dishes like ceviche and scotch eggs but infused them with West and East Indian flavors like masala, jerk and cassareep — a rich extract of the bitter cassava native to Guyana. Before he left, he even prepared Guyana’s national dish of pepper pot, a hearty meat stew, for the staff meal. 

“My whole thought process was ‘let me give these people — my family there — an experience they’ve never had before,” he detailed. “Any time I give someone pepper pot or cassareep, they’re just so shocked. It’s so unique.”

Rajkumar is always excited to share the flavors and culture of Guyana with new people, but with his roots in South Asia, bringing them to Pakistan was that much more profound. 

“In India, maybe it’s different, but in Lahore, most people don’t know about Guyana or where it is. That’s another reason why I did this. That’s why I do all the things I do. That’s why I’m wearing this tank top — to raise awareness about my culture and how beautiful it is,” he said. 

Time in South Asia has also helped Rajkumar gain a deeper appreciation for the origins of many Indo Caribbean dishes and reinforced his love for them.   

“Guyanese cuisine doesn’t just have Indian influence, but so many dishes in some way, shape, or form come from there. Like when I’m eating sada roti, I can tie it back to which type of flatbread it came from in India. I feel like a better-equipped chef at the end of the day. I’m more connected to my Guyanese roots and to the culture overall.” 

Rajkumar wants to foster a deeper understanding and relationship between both heritages. He wants his food to build connections, not disparity. 

Bringing the world back home

Rajkumar has visited over 20 countries, but Pakistan remains one place he’ll cherish his entire life. He is grateful not only for the opportunities he’s had there, but also for the chance to offer a fresh, alternative view of the country from what is often shown by the media.  

Chef Dev Rajkumar
Chef Devan Rajkumar wants to use his culinary skills and experiences to bring people together.

“When people saw me posting content from Lahore, they were like, ‘Oh my God, this is Pakistan?’ This is not what we expected. This is not what we thought we’d see.’ They were shocked at how beautiful, kind, and welcoming everyone was.”

Reactions like these are Rajkumar’s ultimate goal.

A cookbook is due next year. He has aspirations of launching merchandise and cookware, traveling to South East Asia, and continuing his pop-ups, but ultimately, he concludes,

“I just want to stand for something. I want to continue to learn, remain humble, represent my Western and Eastern cultures and spread mad love. I want to be an ambassador to that world and be someone who’s dedicated to his craft, bettering himself and those around him.” 

“I just want to continue to grow as a person,” he added with sincerity as he touched on his sobriety and what it’s taught him about achieving your goals. 

“That might sound cliche, but it’s new to me. I’ve spent the last two years learning about myself and being vulnerable about how I feel, my healing journey and what I’m going through. If I excel and continue to invest time and discipline in that arena, everything else around me will flourish. I believe that goes for anyone.”

Rajkumar is going far literally and figuratively, but no matter where he lands, you can be sure he’ll bring something back for his supporters, whether it be a new view of the world or a concoction like a ceviche pani puri on one of his menus. 

“That’s my travels to India, Pakistan and Peru all in one bite!” he exclaimed. 

Chef Dev’s journey has not always been an easy one, but it’s a powerful example of the success one can taste with hard work, embracing authenticity and following true passion. 

To learn more about his work visit his website or follow his Instagram for real-time updates, recipes, and all the ‘mad love.’ 

Photos Credit: Alec Luna

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By Ramona Sukhraj

With a B.S. in Marketing from the UCONN School of Business, Ramona has made a name for herself publishing over … Read more ›

In Conversation with Karan Singh: CEO of the Sunburn Music Festival

Karan Singh Sunburn
Karan Singh Sunburn

From receiving his MBA from Harvard business school to being the CEO of Asia’s largest music festival brand Sunburn, Karan Singh combined his interests to push his passion for music! Singh received his bachelor’s degree in management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked as an investment banker for three years at Ambit Corporate Finance before working at Sunburn which is a part of his family’s business. Sunburn started providing the music festival experience starting in the year 2007. The first festival was in Candolim, Goa. The music festival brand has put on over 5,000 events over the past 15 years. In 2022 The Sunburn Festival will be in it’s 16th year. Continue reading to learn more about Karan Singh’s journey with the Sunburn music festival!

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What does the Sunburn brand offer and what made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?

We believe that Sunburn offers a really unique experience and is a melting pot of diverse people & cultures from not only across India but around the world. Goa is the ideal setting for this as there is something magical about Goa in the winter-time and truly enables us to tap into that global audience.

Safety at live events has always been a concern among concert goers. Considering recent, events more individuals have asked brands and artists to do more to ensure audience safety. What are you doing to ensure safety for live concerts?

Safety is a huge priority for us. We work with the best-in-class security agencies as well as closely with the police and requisite authorities. For anyone in the crowd a Sunburn safety officer will always be close by and easily visible. We also run an awareness drive on both social media and on ground.

What was the first Sunburn Festival like and what did you learn from this experience?

The first ever Sunburn Festival was in December 2007, and I had actually attended it as a fan, not part of the crew. However, it was absolutely eye-opening as the first proper music festival on Indian shores and opened up our minds to a world of possibilities.

As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians who have been your favorites throughout the years?

It is difficult to pick from the list however the favorites for Sunburn, in no order and because of the amount of love they have shown Indian audiences, are Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren.

Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?

We have already expanded into different formats like Arena, Campus, Club, Reload and things like merchandize & academy. In terms of genres, we have been dabbling with genres like rap, hip-hop and pop, however our focus remains on electronic dance music.

What can someone expect from the festival as first-time goers?

Apart from a state-of-the-art production & line-up, one can expect a special experience, meeting interesting people from all over the world, and embarking on a creative journey of the theme for the year.

How does the festival help local musicians from Goa as well as the surrounding areas in India?

This year we had set up for the first time a special stage and village in the festival only for Goa which gave a platform to local Goan artists. But beyond that a huge focus for us has always been to showcase domestic home-grown talent and indeed 60-70% of the line-up each year is locally sourced.

[Read Related: Brown Boy Interview Series: In Conversation With KSHMR]

 

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What was the experience like this year in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?

The biggest difference was that this was the first time the festival was back to its full scale since the pandemic hit after 3 long years. It was a fantastic release for everyone there. Our theme was “the future is now” and this was reflected across the festival experience and particularly in the main stage design – termed “Cyberpunk City” which received rave reviews from all.

[Read Related: Jai Wolf: First Bangladeshi Artist to Headline Red Rocks Amphitheatre]

What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?

Afrojack and DVLM are both Sunburn & India veterans, it was amazing having them back crushing the main stage after very long. Black Coffee for us was something very new and exciting, to have a special artist and a unique sound like that close the main stage on day 2. However it was very well-received and took our experience to the next level.

As you have had the artist Avicii back in December 2011 how do you feel he revolutionized Electronic Dance Music?

Avicii is one of my all-time favorite artists and his show in December 2011 was actually my first one working on Sunburn so will always be extra special. There is no doubt that he revolutionized EDM by taking massive risks and introducing an entirely new sound which a lot of others then followed, but no one as well as he did.

How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?

It feels great, we have a very young but ambitious and hard-working team and our primary focus is to continue delivering the best possible experiences for our fans, artists and partners. India is such a vibrant and exciting market that I cannot help but be pumped about what the future holds.

Do you feel Electronic Dance Music is a misunderstood genre?

More so in a country like India possibly yes, where people who are not exposed to these experiences sometimes have preconceived notions about EDM festivals and the like. Oftentimes those people are also in a decision-making capacity and can directly affect the industry. However, things are certainly improving as the industry overall gets bigger and gets more acceptance.

What does music mean to you, Karan Singh?

Music provides a sound-track to life, it is something which is always there!

How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?

Well, you have to be able to differentiate between those which are just trolling and those which are constructive or fair criticism. The latter is very important as it helps us to look at ourselves and continually improve, we are still a long way from where we eventually want to be.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

I hope it allows us at Sunburn to reach a wider audience of the desi community around the world and hopefully get some more people to fly down to Goa for Sunburn Festival 2023 which I can promise you all will be the best one yet!

Artist Testimonials:

Dimitri Vegas Like Mike

We have had a long connection with India. The first time we played here was more than a decade ago. Going from clubs to being a regular feature at one of Asia’s biggest electronic music festivals which is now an institution in itself. It’s been an exciting evolution to see how Sunburn has grown over the years. The fans at Sunburn are some of the most insane and every show is a special one. We’ve always had an incredible experience at Sunburn.

DJ Snake

Honestly, the energy I feel when I am in India is one of the most amazing things. I would say the culture and energy is what keeps me coming back! India is like a second home to me, just like Sunburn. I feel so comfortable and welcomed here. I’m always excited about coming to India and playing at Sunburn, experiencing new cities, meeting more of the people, hearing more of the music, and seeing more of the country that has influenced me so much.

Afrojack

Sunburn has helped dance music artists world over to tour India and connect with their Indian fans and I’m always excited about performing at the festival.

Hardwell

I’ve a long history with the Sunburn team. They are a great team to work with and they also give the fans amazing experiences. As an artist, I want to be a part of providing fans with lifelong memories and so we all share the same vision.

Alan Walker

Sunburn is one of the pioneers of the dance music festival scene in India and has been instrumental in creating a truly world class platform that supports the dance music industry and all of its stakeholders. I’m always excited about touring India with Sunburn.

Photo Courtesy of DNH Media

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

Wyatt Feegrado Talks Upbringing, Comedic Style, and his new Amazon Special

Wyatt Feegrado
Wyatt Feegrado

Wyatt Feegrado is a comedian and content creator from Walnut Creek, San Francisco, California. Feegrado moved to New York City to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Feegrado always wanted to be a comedian and grew up watching “The Last Comic Standing” with his mom — his favorites being Alingon Mitra and Sammy Obeid. In 2020, Feegrado starred in the TV show “Bettor Days,” on Hulu and ESPN+, as the character Vinnie bets on the baseball team The Astros and wins big. Feegrado also has a podcast called “First World Problematic,” along with Vishal Kal and Surbhi, where they talk about a range of topics such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, and will be dropping an “Indian Matchmaking” Reunion show. Currently, in Bangalore, Feegrado is performing his first show in India, at the Courtyard in Bangalore. He was previously on tour in the United States. He recently dropped the Amazon comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate.” Continue reading to learn more about Wyatt Feegrado.

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Do you feel that your upbringing in Walnut Creek and your personal experiences are what molded your comedic style?

Walnut Creek, for people who have never been there, is frankly a very white place. I must’ve been one of four or five Indian kids in my high school of 2000. I think growing up like that, you begin to believe that it’s a bit ‘odd’ that you’re brown. Part of finding my comedic voice was changing that perspective to say; it’s not weird that I’m brown, it’s weird that you’re not. That’s the paradigm shift — I don’t move through the world trying to impress people, why should I? Who are they? They should be trying to impress me.

What was it like attending the Tisch School Of The Arts and what classes helped shape you as a person?

I hope I don’t get too much flack for this…but I don’t really think that NYU helped my career very much. Being in New York helped me immensely, it raised the ceiling on what I could achieve. I really appreciate NYU’s approach, they teach art as a fundamentally collaborative discipline, which I do believe it is. However, that’s just not how I learn. I’m a competitive person, I want to be pitted against my fellow students and prove I’m the best. That motivates me. I would say, if you want to use NYU or any art school to your advantage, understand that classes are only half of what you’re supposed to be doing. That was a pet peeve of mine, I used to see my fellow students finish class and simply go home. That’s not the way to do it in this industry. Every day, after school, I used to go to two or three open mics, send in self-taped auditions, and make opportunities of my own. You’re betting on yourself — so go all in.

What was the process of creating the comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate?”

In terms of writing the jokes, it’s the culmination of studying joke writing for 10 years. But I was approached with the opportunity in March or so, and I had my reservations to even tape a special — I’m a perfectionist so I wanted all my jokes to be some of the best ever written. But that’s just a bad strategy in terms of trying to make it in life. When an opportunity falls in your lap, you have to take it no matter what. Worry about whether you’re ready later. One time I was cast in a commercial for Facebook that required me to do skateboard tricks. I lied and said I knew how to do skateboard tricks at the casting call. I landed the commercial and then started practicing how to skateboard. I think the most important lesson in comedy you can learn is how to believe in yourself when nobody else does. I always have the confidence that I will rise to the occasion.

What was it like getting your special on Amazon Prime?

So Four by Three, the amazing production company that produced my special, has a very good relationship with Amazon, as they’ve produced a lot of content for their platform. They handled distribution for me, and together we made the strategic decision to also release De-Assimilate on YouTube. I think because of the over-saturation of streaming services you have to pay for, combined with the renaissance YouTube is having, where a lot of the content will have TV-level production value, more and more young people are turning to YouTube as their primary source of content. People are always asking who is going to win the “streaming wars.” My dark horse candidate is YouTube.

As a comedian how do you deal with hecklers?

So many comedians are mean to hecklers. I hate that. There’s no reason for that. They’re a person too and it’s not right to berate them unless they truly insulted you first. In my opinion, there are three types of hecklers — the heckler who is just too drunk, the heckler who thinks they’re helping the show, and the heckler who actually hates you or thinks you’re unfunny. I think only the latter deserves to be berated. The rest of them I try to work around, and tell them they’re interrupting the show in a way that doesn’t interrupt the show in itself.

What was the first joke you ever wrote and your favorite joke you have ever written?

Oh god this is going to be horrible. The first joke I every wrote was:

“Shawn White is a professional snowboarder, but a lot of people don’t know he is also very skilled in Curling, his hair”

That is so bad. I’m embarrassed. At least it disproves the BS some people say that “funny isn’t learnable.” That is NOT TRUE. What they mean is the infrastructure for funny scant exists. There’s no Standup Comedy Major in Art Schools or Textbooks that teach joke writing. There will be one day, but for now there isn’t.

My favorite jokes I write are jokes that I really think encapsulates the zeitgeist. My favorites on the special are the joke about how Jesus’ Disciples are Brown, and how the Vaccine is the first time anyone in the US has gotten healthcare for free.

Are there any jokes that you regret telling in front of an audience?

Of course. Referring back to my answer to the first question, any joke that has the underlying presumption that it is ‘odd’ to be brown — which is a genre of jokes that many Indian-American comedians in history have been pigeonholed into — I regret saying those type of jokes when I first started. Now I do the opposite. Sometimes I’ll do a joke about how Jesus was brown in Texas just to piss them off.

What has been your favorite project to work on?

Flying to Nashville to shoot Bettor Days for ESPN+ was great. I was just out of school at the time so it felt amazing to make money, travel, and work. Also the sets were fun and I’m still friends with the cast. And then getting to see myself on TV for the first time — thrilling.

Can you tell us more about your podcast First World Problematic?

Yes! First World Problematic is the comedy podcast I host with Vishal Kal — yes the same one that broke Nadia’s heart on Indian Matchmaking — and Surbhi, another close comedian friend of mine. We’re all Indian-Americans, and we discuss a wide variety of topics, such as dating, pop culture, and just in general make a lot of jokes. ALSO! We just released an Indian Matchmaking Season 2 reunion special — we brought back all the cast members of season 2 for a tell all! In Jan we plan to do a Season 1 reunion.

Who do you look up to in the world of comedy?

Man. I’m a student of a looooooooot of comedians. So so so many people I look up to. Steven Wright and Dave Chappelle are my first loves. When I was a kid, I used to think standup was just time pass, until one day I stumbled upon Dave Chappelle: Killin Em’ Softly on YouTube. That is what made me realize that standup can be high art. That is when I knew I wanted to be a comedian. Steven Wright is the comedian who first inspired me to write jokes, many of my first jokes emulated him. I have learned so much about modern Joke Structure from Dave Attell, Emo Phillips, Dan Mintz, and Anthony Jeselnik. Bit structure I take directly from Louie CK and Bill Burr. As for my comedic voice, I learned so much from Paul Mooney. Listening to him is what I feel really unlocked my approach to comedy, the way how he is so mean, so aggressive. He talks about white people the way the media talks about black people. I always thought us Asian people needed that, an Asian comedian that talks about Asian-American issues, but not with the friendliness you typically see Asian comedians portray. He taught me to be in your face. And Chappelle taught me how to be nice about it.

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Do you feel that South Asian comedians can be easily pigeonholed?

Historically — unequivocally yes. In the modern times, much less so. I very much think South Asian comedians in some sense pigeonhole themselves, by trying to emulate past South Asian comedians, who were pigeonholed by the market. I do think now, and it is completely because of social media, there is a market for every kind of comedy. Like I said in my previous answer, I’d like to be a South Asian comedian with the confrontationality that we have historically only seen from Black comedians.

But you know who is really pigeonholed nowadays? Female comedians. This may be a tangent, but if there was a Female comedian that talked about Female issues, with the hostility towards men that Bill Burr will occasionally have towards women, in my opinion she would likely be the GOAT.

How do you feel social media such as Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat have changed comedy?

Social media has been a truly beautiful thing for comedy. It has completely decentralized the power structure of our business. Back in the day, if you wanted to get famous, you had to do comedy that appealed to the white men who held the power at the networks, at the talk shows, in the writers rooms. They still do control all those things, but now because of social media the people watching our stuff are representative of the population, and we can grow our followings because the market is wider. Now if you have a social media following, you have all the leverage, and therefore you see a multitude more styles of standup comedy out there. Also social media in my opinion is the third great comedy boom. Seinfeld made standup a household art form, Netflix made it possible for people to binge watch standup, and now Tiktok and Instagram have proliferated standup to the point where it is EVERYWHERE. There are more comedians than ever and there’s a bigger market for standup than ever.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

Us Indian-Americans are at a very interesting financial and cultural intersection. Indians are the richest ethnicity in America, and culturally Indian parents will generally pay for their children’s college, unlike other ethnicities. If Indian parents were to hypothetically support their child to go into the arts, just like they may support them in getting their Masters degree, I believe Indians would have an astronomically higher chance of making it in the arts than anyone else. The greatest gift you can give your artist child is financial support in the early stages, since we all know the early stages of the arts make next to nothing. We just have to get rid of the Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer only BS that I would argue is a remnant of the Caste System in India.

Also, remember to call white people Euro-Americans. It helps the movement!

Steve Yensel

By Brown boy

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