Comedian Vijai Nathan bases her one-woman show “Good Girls Don’t, But Indian Girls Do” on the struggles and celebrations of growing up and finding her identity as an Indian American. She has performed all over the world, from the United States to Europe to South Africa, and soon she will be bringing her comedic talent to Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre. Contributing Writer Joni Sweet spoke with Nathan about her start in stand-up, her brief foray into journalism and how she handles serious issues in her comedy routine.
Joni Sweet: How did you get started in comedy?
Vijai Nathan: I was a journalist before I started doing stand-up. I had always wanted to be a performer growing up, but Indian parents don’t really encourage that sort of thing. I went to college to study English literature, but didn’t know what I was going to do. So I went into journalism and got a job that would pay me. After a few years of doing that, I was a copy editor for Newsday and The Baltimore Sun. I was really not liking my job, and I decided that since performing was something I always wanted to do when I was a kid, I should try to take a class doing stand-up. I took a stand-up comedy class at the end of 1996. I was working at The Baltimore Sun at the time in Washington, D.C., and it was one of those adult-ed “learn how to be a stand-up comic in two classes.”
JS: How did your parents feel when you told them you were going into comedy?
VN: I was trying to do all the right things in my life. I went to a good school because my parents wanted me to, I got a job that was paying good money and I was engaged to a really nice guy. I thought this was going to be it. But I was so unhappy. I was really unhappy with all the choices I had made in my life. Stand-up was one of those things that I just wanted to do for myself. And after I did it, my parents came to see me do a show. They were just like, “Maybe she’s a little crazy for quitting her job, ending her engagement and trying to do this full time.” But then they saw people laughing and they were like, “This is maybe what she’s going to be good at. She’s really good at it.” With immigrants, you can do the craziest thing, and as long as you’re the best one at whatever it is, you can do it.
JS: Did you ever have stage fright?
VN: Yeah, I think you always have it. I think that’s just part of the territory of doing live performance is that you’re live and you could mess up, but you hope you don’t. All those fears are there going into it. Even though I don’t mess up, I think most comedians still get those butterflies because every audience is new and you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting yourself into.
JS: How would you describe your routine?
VN: I had been doing stand-up for four or five years before I started writing “Good Girls Don’t, But Indian Girls Do.” I had been talking about issues that are important to me: identity, race, racism, sex and all those things. Of course, it was funny. I’d do a joke and 10 seconds later I’d move on. I really wanted to be able to tell the full story, the entire range of emotion, instead of just the anger part which you might do in a joke. I wanted to show the vulnerability, the whole arc of what goes on when you’re talking about losing your virginity or experiencing racism or dealing with very conservative Hindu parents. That’s why I decided to write the one-woman show. I was able to be not only funny, but I could be vulnerable and show more of that full human experience within that style of performance.
JS: Are you excited to come to Ithaca?
VN: Yeah, I’m very excited. I’ve performed at Cornell University a couple of times, but this will be my first show at the Kitchen Theatre. I’m excited to do it because lots of people are excited to come to the show. This is what I love to do. I do the show and then I open it up for questions and answers. That’s the time I enjoy the most. It’s really fun because I love to hear the kinds of questions people have, and it’s time for me to really connect with the audience more as a person and an artist.
“Good Girls Don’t, But Indian Girls Do” will be performed at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Kitchen Theatre, 116 N. Cayuga St. Tickets range from $14 to $16 and may be purchased by calling 273–4497 or visiting www.kitchentheatre.org.