by Ryan Meehan
The fierce pride in India is real, although it’s worth noting Akaash’s middle school principal thought he was Mexican for all three years. Such was life growing up in suburban north Dallas. Home. Akaash left home to help people. He wanted to be a doctor like his uncle and graduated pre-med from Austin College. Naturally, the next step was to move to Los Angeles and become a comedian. There is no easy explanation for this leap of faith. It was an idea that always flickered in his mind. Even when he was young, Akaash saw comedy differently. He appreciated the nuances and broke it down to a science, fascinated by what worked and what didn’t. The first time he performed in front of his friends in high school, he bombed. Of course, it’s a little more disheartening when the laughs don’t come while you happen to be on the mic at The Comedy Store in L.A. You know, The Comedy Store, stomping grounds of Pryor, Seinfeld, Leno and… Singh? Akaash bombed there so badly that it was, well, almost funny. Before that night, he hopped on stage once every few months and called himself a comedian. After that night, he developed a singular focus on scrapping for as much stage time as possible while writing incessantly. This wasn’t a turning point. There are no turning points in this business, just a perpetual grind until you can’t take it anymore. Little by little, Akaash gained traction while learning and developing his voice, unique in both content and style. One step forward, two steps back. Two steps forward, one-and-a-half steps back… His drive grew with his name, highlighted by head-turning performances at The Laugh Factory, The Improv and yes, The Comedy Store. And just like that, it was over in Los Angeles for the time being. Akaash saw a plateau on the horizon, and that is one thing he will never accept. Because really this whole ride boils down to one personal truth. He would rather fail doing something he loves than succeed at something he never really wanted. Akaash realized the need to test that love in New York, a place he envisioned would tear him down so he could grow back stronger. No city in the world would be better suited to oblige. If L.A. gave him the ability to be brilliant before the red light in the back started blinking, New York provided the raw edge that kept him from being owned by that light. His goal morphed from being somebody who told jokes while sneaking in personal beliefs to a beast who said exactly what he wanted to say and still made you laugh. Sounds like a poetic transition, right? As poetic as the streets of New York. So Akaash continued his climb in New York, undeterred by setbacks that are necessary for a comic who refuses to go for cheap laughs. He advanced to the semifinals of Stand-Up for Diversity on NBC. He has made headway on the New York club circuit, performing at major clubs like Caroline’s, Gotham, and Stand Up New York. He went on a national tour last year from D.C. back to Cali, making certain to stop in his home state along the way with a performance at “The Festival of India” at The University of Texas. The show was big enough that it earned Akaash his first write up, and that write up was as effusive as anything he could have written himself.* He could now see the hard work was yielding results. There is plenty going on right now, a whirlwind of change. This comedy thing has a way of eating people alive, but it’s the opposite for Akaash. He feeds on it, mind and soul, always hungry to show you something serious with the next laugh. Akaash Singh is my guest today in 7 questions.
RM: What was your parents’ initial reaction when you informed them that you would not be pursuing a career in the medical field, and instead would be telling jokes in front of a brick wall to a room full of intoxicated strangers?
AS: Before I made my final decision, I ran it by my mom. If she had said no, I wouldn’t have gone. I’d have stayed home and tried to become a doctor. But she said to go, and said “I would rather you know, even if you can’t do it, then wonder for the rest of your life.” My dad said I was an idiot, but I was a man and he couldn’t stop me. I think they’re more proud of me as I get more successful, but they’d still rather I be a doctor.
RM: I saw in a “CloseUp” interview with @StandUpNYCLabs where you said that “When you are on stage and doing well it’s like the entire world literally revolves around you”…So how do you go about transferring that energy back to the crowd so that they are able to experience that same energy that you are experiencing?
AS: I think it happens organically. At the top of a show, a lot of times the host will say something to the audience like “The comics feed of your energy; the more you give them, the more they give back to you.” And it’s true: a good crowd makes a good show. As a performer, when I’m doing well and getting love from the crowd, I’m naturally more hyped up, and I’m going to put more into my performance. Also I’m more willing to put myself out there in terms of energy levels, saying things that may make me feel vulnerable, or trying new stuff, because I’m not as worried that I’ll get negative feedback.
RM: What do you consider to be a joke that is aimed at retrieving a “cheap laugh”? Is your desire to avoid such material based on the fact that you don’t want to be known for that type of hack humor, or because you are always looking for challenging premises and untapped bits?
AS: Personally, I’m uncomfortable talking about anything sexual (I think that’s an Indian thing), but I do enjoy challenging audiences to get the laugh. So, in this age of uber-sensitivity, that means toying with ideas that toe the line of being “offensive”, “racist”, etc. In terms of “cheap laughs”, I tend to say “Getting laughs is so hard, the idea that there are ‘easy laughs’ is insane. Just get the laugh.” But I’ll always like a comedian who says things that aren’t very agreeable and gets laughs, like a Patrice O’Neal, more than one who doesn’t.
RM: You mention on your website that you are good friends with Andrew Schulz (link) and that he’s “one of the only white people on earth I’m comfortable calling family”…Who are the others; and what allows you and Andrew to work so well together on different writing projects?
AS: Haha a lot of the racist stuff I said was a part of a process of coming to terms with the racism I’ve dealt with. And I’ve grown out of a lot of my crazy views. But yeah, Andrew is family to me. I think we always kinda thought on a similar wavelength. We find the same types of jokes funny, and we both value the idea of the joke more than anything. And that idea is usually taking the unpopular side of an argument that requires work to win over the audience.
RM: What is the most important thing that a young comedian can learn from bombing; and why do you think that being able to respond to that sort of failure is so important in this industry?
AS: I think the most important thing to learn from bombing is to work harder so you feel that feeling as little as possible. Second, learn to stand in there. Because we all still bomb, and you gotta be able to take that L like a man. They won’t like you at the end, but they will respect you. And that’s worth something.
RM: Which portion of the joke writing process would you say that you struggle with the most; and which aspect of constructing new bits would you consider to be your specialty?
AS: I don’t know what my “specialty” would be. Honestly, I’m not sure I have one. But the hardest part is making the joke palatable. Even if my idea is well-rationalized, these days if an audience member disagrees with anything you said, they shut down and stop listening, and often feel they have the right to voice their opinion during your set. So getting them to keep listening AND laugh even when they disagree with what I’m saying, that’s the challenge.
RM: Why do you think GuyCode has been such a hit with individuals of both genders? Do you have any good stories from behind the scenes of that show that you’d like to share with us?
AS: First of all, Guy Code is a brilliantly put together show. The creator, Ryan Ling, puts a lot of subtle touches on the show that make it pop in ways I’m not smart enough to understand. Also, I think they do a great job casting talent, and they keep us from being too “jokey”. They always tell us to worry about being honest first and funny second. I think kids today are much smarter than we were, and they respond well to that honesty.
Not much going on behind the scenes. For the most part, whoever I’ve met acts exactly like they act on the show. So you pretty much know everybody as well as I do.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
AS: I just did an episode on the new season of Wild N’ Out. I also filmed a scene with Seth Meyers in an upcoming Hulu Pilot starring Billy Eichner, and got some other projects in the works. Also I’ve started a podcast with actor Arjun Gupta I’m really excited about. It’s called (tentatively) “Indian, American”. In the meantime, I’m just touring and trying to improve as a stand up, and looking for the next thing.
Official Website: http://akaashsingh.com/site/
Akaash on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/akaashsinghcomedian
Akaash on Twitter: https://twitter.com/akaashsingh
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