Rajiv Satyal
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Rajiv Satyal

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The best kept secret in music


"Comedy Clubs"

A friend heading to India asked if there were any comedy clubs or stand-up acts he could ease into on a free evening. Not to my knowledge, I regretted; he could try therapeutic guffaws in the morning at a 'laughing club,' but when it came to late night chuckles, the scene in the ground zero of globalisation was grim. We have writers in India who tickle the humerus, but none who can stand up and deliver.

No such problems in the west, where desi comics, mostly second generation ABCD types, are letting it rip. There're enough new acts here for the desi gang to slap together a "Gurus of Comedy" national tour last couple of seasons, an event that looks set to have us grinning year to year. At a recent gig, Rajiv Satyal, a Cincinnati-based stand-up, kidded, "Some of you white folks in the audience must be wondering, are we outsourcing comedy to India now?"

Stand-up is a high-wire act. It is a comedic art form where the performer is at the mercy of a live audience. He has to elicit non-stop laughter from an expectant crowd with a stream of jokes and one-liners across uncertain boundaries. Actor Will Ferrell calls stand-up comedy a hard and lonely profession. The best attain iconic status – Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Jay Leno among them. It's not something an ethnic group known for its brains – and not so much for wit – is expected to master.

But they are giving it a shot. Most desi comics choose the safe haven of self-deprecating humour for material, avoiding politics and sex. Their minority background and immigrant foibles offer a rich lode of gags on dysfunctional families, strange accents, racial discrimination, arranged marriages, cross-cultural mishaps and lately, outsourcing. They even make fun of their own success. "My boss asked me why we win so many spelling bee contests," comic Paul Singh jokes. "I told him you would win too if you had names like Subramanian Venkateswaran Chandrasekhar."

- The Times of India

"A minute with . . . Rajiv Satyal"

It's official: Rajiv Satyal is the Funniest Person in Cincinnati. That from the comedy club circuit, where patrons get to vote once a year on their favorite local comic. At least in the semi-professional division. Satyal, 29 of the West End, is a marketing executive at Procter & Gamble but has been on the comedy scene since 2000. In five years he has gone from emcee (opening act and a 10-minute routine) to featured act (middle act and a 30-minute routine). Next up, he hopes to be a headliner with a 45- to 60-minute routine. He's a clean comic who pokes fun at race, politics and life experiences.

My funniest material comes from: Stuff I think of on stage. I improvise, go off the cuff a lot and some of it sticks.

The first time I thought I was funny: When I made my friend Ryan Price laugh in the third grade. He consistently told me I wasn't funny. One day, I made him laugh and I thought, "Hey, I really am funny."

The best way to deal with hecklers: Let them zing you a few times and the crowd then starts thinking 'He's a jerk,' and it's on your side.

One thing I'll never make jokes about: People who can't defend themselves. But anyone who can fight back is fair game. I make a lot of political and racial jokes. I make jokes about life - I recently heard about this porn movie where they bleeped out the swear words. I have to ask the audience, who are you going to offend in a porn movie? I even make Indian jokes because Pete Sampras once told me that the first thing people notice is that I'm Indian, and I have to address it.

If I had unlimited time and money I'd: Find a way to fulfill my multiple loves - comedy, politics and marketing. My ideal job would be to live in New York, work on political campaigns and make them funny.

One thing I wish you had asked me: About my Web site. It's www.funnyindian.com. You can read the blog and sign up for a newsletter.

Jim Knippenberg

- The Cincinnati Enquirer


Still working on that hot first release.



Rajiv was born and raised near Cincinnati, Ohio. Unlike most comics for whom tragedy + time = comedy, he's just a little guy with a lot to say. His childhood was a blast, given his fun-loving parents and his hysterical brothers. He became funny in 3rd grade, influenced by his uncle and a friend who insisted he'd never make laugh. His interest in entertainment was likely subliminally influenced by the hobbies of his family: his Mom, a singer; his Dad, a DJ, one brother a singer, writer, and actor; the other a sportsman and speaker; his aunt, a painter and poet; not to mention his Dad's family's making of Bollywood films.

Despite sprouting a mustache in elementary school and not breaking 100 pounds till his senior year in high school, he somehow glided through childhood without being picked-on. A friend would later comment, "Sounds like God picked on you enough." Rajiv wanted to be Class Clown, but the guy who won was on the 5-year high school plan, so he had to settle for being Class President. A dork who managed to have cool friends, his 11-year Perfect Attendance record was solely driven by not wanting to miss out on a day's worth of stories.

Rajiv went to college and noticed, for Indians, the part of the form that allows you to choose your major was grayed-out to Pre-Med. He finally graduated in Materials Engineering, which he figured was good for, well, material. While in college, Rajiv dabbled in everything from politics (interning on Capitol Hill in 1999) to comedy (winning The Funniest Person in Cincinnati amateur contest). Rajiv ironically "got serious about comedy" in 2002. In June 2005, he won The Funniest Person in Cincinnati contest in the semipro/professional division.

Upon graduation, he worked at the world headquarters of Procter & Gamble, in the purchasing, media, and marketing departments. He performed standup at many P&G and other corporate events and had his own column in P&G's Home Made Simple newsletter, which reached 8 million US households. Occasionally, Rajiv was seen doing actual P&G work.

He has since opened for many nationally-renowned comics, including Dave Chappelle, Kevin James, and Kevin Nealon. Rajiv has opened for Russell Peters in sold-out auditoriums across the U.S.A. In fact, in December 2006, an Indian newspaper asked Russell to name "comics to watch" - he named only two in the States; Rajiv was one of them.

Rajiv was often heard on various Cincinnati radio stations, seen in many local newspapers and magazines, and found on-stage regularly as an MC and a Feature act at Midwest comedy clubs and colleges. He packed up and moved to LA and is now a full-time comic. Rajiv, unlike a lot of other performers, is in the rare position of hoping he makes it in entertainment so he doesn't have to go back to that six-figure gig with health benefits and job security.

This pocket pundit is a comedian who stands on the fringe of what is acceptable and challenges people to see a new point-of view.

You certainly don't come to Rajiv's shows to escape - you come to experience. Because he was raised when the anthem of the time for minorities was assimilation, the Indian influence had very little impact on his life. Now, he is finally trying to get in-touch with his roots, if for no other reason but to appease both the Indians and non-Indians who expect him to be more "Indian" - even though he's really just an Ohioan. Oh yeah, and to be able to explain that Indians were not involved in
9-11 - just 7-11.

The act takes the audience on a journey, while conveying a key message of diversity, which helps to break down stereotypes: We're all different and we're all the same. Rajiv thinks that with each person who learns to assume the best about others, we can make the world a better place. Sound lofty? It is. Can he do it? We'll see. And in case you're wondering, he did make that 3rd grade friend laugh. So, Rajiv thinks he can do anything.

At the end of the day, he talks about what it's like to be Rajiv. And we all have some Rajiv in us, even if we don't want to admit it.