I was born a poor Indian Japanese child. My father immigrated to America from India, and my mother from Japan. Can you believe that I’ve been asked if theirs was an arranged marriage? People often ask me where they met, and I tell them “Indiana, duh!” That’s right, I was born in Bloomington, Indiana. My father came to America to study nuclear physics. I guess he was looking for the one state in America that contains the word “India” in it.
This is hard to admit, but I was actually born seven months after my parents were married. I’ve always wondered why they’ve never celebrated their anniversary. I often joke that all these years they’ve been trying to convince me I was premature, when in fact it was my father that was premature.
My father is always telling me that he had to walk seven miles to school, and both ways were uphill…in the snow…in Kerala? Have you noticed every Indian parent tells you that? Seven miles? How could it be that every single child in India had to walk seven miles to school? I mean, statistically, someone had to live next to a school, didn’t they? Maybe even kids who lived next to the school had to walk seven miles to a different school, kind of like forced busing.
I was brutally bullied as a child; they didn’t have any of these anti-bullying programs back then, unfortunately. They called me “Chink”, and I’m not even Chinese. I was highly unpopular, but the upside is that I never got into to alcohol, cigarettes or drugs like the popular crowd. I’ve saved so much money by not drinking my whole life. Another benefit is that I’ve never woken up next to anyone unattractive. But a number of women have. 🙂
Before doing comedy, I worked at Intel. When I applied, they said “You’re Indian and Japanese? You don’t even have to interview!” My first job at Intel had me on the road for two years. Intel had sponsored the Smithsonian Institution’s tour of 10 cities in America, which allowed Intel to have a 3000 square foot booth that travelled with the exhibition. My job was to hire people in each city to staff the booth, and to keep the computers working. It was a wonderful job, because I got to live in 10 cities for two months each.
Then, I was invited to join Intel’s elite Corporate Demo Group based in Santa Clara. My job was to travel the world, demonstrating Intel’s latest technology on stage with Andy Grove and other senior Intel executives. Of course, designing the technical demos was second nature to me, but the terrifying part was speaking on stage. Intel gave us presentation training, but it just couldn’t simulate the terror of being in front of thousands of people. I had to do something drastic.
I heard that a comedy class was being offered in the Bay Area, and I jumped at the chance. Because not only would I have to be speaking in front of people, I’d have to make them laugh as well. I’ve always believed that if you want to do something difficult, you should find something even more difficult than that, then the difficult thing becomes easier.
The “final exam” for the comedy class was a performance at the Punchline in San Francisco. Call it beginner’s luck, but I had a great set. I showed the tape to my coworkers at Intel, and they asked me to perform at a team dinner for 250 employees. Someone in that audience asked me to perform at the annual sales conference, for 2500 people. I was too afraid to ask my boss if it was okay, because I knew he would say no.
At the conference, 90 percent of my act was an impression of Andy Grove himself (I got his permission first, of course). I tore the house down – people were laughing so hard, they were pounding on the tables. Many people in the audience assumed I had been hired as a professional comedian for the event. That was my first inkling that perhaps I could do this for a living.
So it worked – I got over my fear of speaking in public. Now if I could just get over my biggest fear of all – talking to women.
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