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Rasika Mathur

Rasika Mathur Comedy Video - Sari (W)rap

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Rasika Mathur Biography

Born: September 4, 1976 (1976-09-04), Houston, Texas, United States

Rasika Mathur (born September 4, 1976) is an American actress/comedian best known for her recurring role on Wild 'N Out.

Rasika Mathur Picture - Indian Stand Up Comedian - Female Comedian

Early life

Mathur, an Indian American, grew up in Houston, Texas and attended Albright Middle School in Alief, Texas and Elsik High School. She discovered her comedic side in seventh grade, after a teacher asked her to feed her dog while she was away: "That teacher soon said to me, 'Take my acting class' and I did, and it was amazing. I got to free up my inner weirdo. Once we got to draw masks, and everyone loved the lion I drew. Something was always in me, roaring quietly, ready to be unleashed. (Ha, that was a cool metaphor.) Soon, out poured all the funny voices, silly characters, and hilarious wit that had built up inside me."

At the University of Texas at Austin she studied creative advertising with a minor in Japanese and was active in the Indian Student Association.

Comedy career

After college she moved to Chicago and worked as a copywriter at a large advertising firm, while at night she studied improvisation at The Second City Training Center: "I day-jobbed and had an improv affair with Second City by night. Still have the hickeys to prove it." She also performed with Stir Friday Night!, a Chicago-based Asian American sketch comedy troupe.

After moving to LA to film a pilot that didn't get picked up, Mathur faced difficulty:

Now I was living out of the trunk of my car. Mooching. Being broke. I mean broke like, you want to go out to eat late night with friends and you’re holding back tears reading the menu, having to make sure the side of eggs is really $1.49 and not $2.49, ’cause otherwise you just won’t eat. The vine I was trying to swing to wasn’t quite in front of me yet, so sometimes I had to grab a hold of air. To make ends meet I had to cater waitering. Being a children’s party clown or Dora the Explorer with a football-shaped head. Serving whiny, bandaid-on-their-forehead customers at Starbucks at 5 a.m. Graveyard shifts at Dr. Phil’s studios. It was a nightmare. But I also realized that I needed to keep my eyes open to the comedy in all those situations, and back-pocket it to use on stage, like during shows at IO-West, or in improv classes at the Groundlings. That kept me going.

She continues to perform stand-up around the country. Her influences are Christopher Guest, Chevy Chase, The Three Amigos, Saturday Night Live (the David Spade years) and In Living Color. She also cites Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.

Rasika Mathur Biography – From Rasika Mathur Website

Rasika Mathur, best known for her improv performances as a regular on Nick Cannon's Wild-N-Out (MTV) also boasts a talent for developing characters, writing/performing sketches & stand-up material. Her latest adventures in the world of musical comedy has attracted international attention, through her first self produced music video, 'The Sari (W)rap' - a film festival favorite.

A Houston TX native, Rasika headed north to train at the legendary Second City's Conservatory in Chicago, where
comedy greats such as John Belushi began their careers. A move to Los Angeles sharpened her stand-up routines on the stages of the Largo, The Comedy Store, The Laugh Factory, Westside Eclectic, Improv Olympic West, Comedy Underground, The Gig, The Empty Stage & The Second City LA.

She has recently guest starred on Showtime's Weeds & The L Word, NBC's My Name is Earl and also appears in the 2008 thriller Cloverfield. Rasika is also a regular on National Lampoon Radio's, 'Nadine @ Nite' show on XM Radio 154 & a featured artist on Turner's Superdeluxe.com - a comedy oriented video-sharing site focusing on original content. Her signature character, the middle-aged Nilam Auntie was born as an inside joke during a traditional Indian wedding and has manifested into a miniseries for DesiYou.com & mockumentary project chronicling the life of this loveable, albeit intrusive relative.

As 1/3 of sketch comedy troupe Siblings of Doctors, Rasika continues to develop her live performance skills through lighthearted sketches involving high-school valedictorians & a recently poisoned King flexing his comedy chops beyond the grave.

"...I've been studying guitar & wanted to know if I could do some musical comedy with my guitar teacher."

During a Rukus Avenue produced showcase (The Platform) in 2006, Rasika unveiled her musical talent for the first time and had the house in stitches alongside her actual guitar teacher Will Doughty, with 'My Guitar Teacher is White' - a performance reminiscent of Sonny & Cher. With this latest foray into music, Rasika is busy working on a full-length comedy album to be released on Rukus Avenue, including everything from a Kid-Rock sounding smash-up teaching all about Ganesh, to“The Bhangra Song,” a side-splitting tribute to the music of the same name.

Rasika Mathur Profile

Some people believe that the patterns, lines and marks on a person’s palm reveal interesting information about his or her life. For rising young comedienne Rasika Mathur, that turns out to be true—though maybe not in the way you might expect. Mathur’s hand boasts two faint scars that tell the story of an accident that provided the material for her first formal stand-up act.

Energetically extending her palm and fingers out for closer inspection, she points out the marks as she recalls the details of the high school mishap. “We were doing the Macbeth monologue, and I ended up doing the ‘Is this a dagger I see before me?’ scene. I brought candles to school and a letter opener and ketchup for fake blood and everything to make it realistic.”

The realism and intensity of her class performance had an unfortunate result: “I ended up cutting three tendons and a nerve while doing the last line of the play, which was ‘Macbeth shall sleep no more!’ because I slammed the ‘knife’ down on the table so hard … I ended up having stitches and physical therapy. I got 115 percent on the project, though. But it was such an ordeal … I had to go to prom stag and it was just such a depressing time to be me that it turned into my first comedy act.”

But it is tragedy that often leads to success—and in the case of Mathur, that success has meant a walk-on TV appearance in Pamela Anderson’s new sitcom, Stacked, and the recent booking of an MTV show with Nick Cannon. Of course, that first act was hardly as glamorous—Mathur told her Macbeth tale at an Indian Students Association show while she was a student at the University of Texas in Austin.

“That kind of just set off into doing something funny every year for them, like twice a year … most Indians were only doing songs and dances, you know Bharatnatyam at the talent show and all that stuff, so I wanted to do something a little different,” she says. She was hooked, having “fallen in love with the ability to talk about herself while making people laugh.”

That ability has led to stints studying and performing improv at revered institutions like The Second City and Improv Olympic West. She has even performed with Stir Friday Night!, a Chicago-based Asian American sketch comedy troupe. “I got to play different characters like a Miss India type, an Indian princess riding an elephant, a crazy lawyer. That was really nice because we had a definite built-in audience. We had Asian Americans and then regu—other people, not regular, because Asians aren’t regular.”

In her offbeat way, Mathur decides to go with the slip about “regular” people after correcting herself. “Regular, normal people who were curious about Asian American culture, what stereotypes we break through our humor. We didn’t break any. We just enhanced them,” she says with a straight face.

Of course, Mathur has plenty of life experience from which to draw her material. Her current answering machine message, a stern Indian-accented “outsourcing” voice imploring callers to keep their message under a minute and to expect an email reply due to the high volume of calls, is a perfect example. She says the message, which can leave a first-time caller a little bemused and bewildered, was inspired by her dad’s own stern voice on his answering machine. And she continues to put her vocal talents to use—the creators of the Badmash comic strips have just asked her to play the voice of the grandmother in an upcoming cartoon.

Of course, the path to comedy stardom is never smooth, and Mathur has worked in bizarre jobs to support and develop her talent. She has even portrayed a clown for entertainment at children’s parties. Some of her more trying moments as a children’s clown have been documented in The Rasikammentator (”Clown gets medieval on childrens’ asses, later feels guilt”), a parody news publication pulling comedy from a pool of her personal tragedies along the lines of roommate disputes (”Area woman called ‘Dumbass’ on forwarded piece of mail, Grizzly last words from roommates who aren’t even dead”), frustration on the job, being a hypochondriac, dating dilemmas, family squabbles (”Angry letter meant for cousin never sent”) and the like.

But you need not have a personal subscription to The Rasikammentator to hear more about Mathur’s hilarious life. She plans to share her humor with audiences this fall. “I have to put up a one-woman show at some point, and my target date is September. It’s a good way to really get noticed and showcase your own writing, your own performing.”

Audiences will also see Mathur the small screen—potentially on a regular basis. MTV premieres Wild’N Out, an improv show hosted by actor/singer Nick Cannon, on July 14, and Mathur is one of two female performers in the cast. Split into a red team and a black team filled with emerging comedic talents, performers compete against each other in a format similar to that of Who’s Line Is It Anyway? but with a hip hop flavor reminiscent of In Living Color.

At a recent taping in downtown Los Angeles, Biz Markie takes a guest spin in the DJ’s booth, Christopher Reid of Kid N’ Play fame sits in the audience, and other celebrities are performing music or in attendance as Mathur bounces on stage to use her skills for the red team. Her team captain is Cannon, who must guess which celebrity she is impersonating. As she sprawls across the stage in an acrobatic manner while speaking in a feline voice to convey the star from the film “Catwoman,” he correctly guesses Halle Berry. For the same game, she does an impression of Jenny McCarthy that gets big laughs from the crowd. After the show, she comments, “When Jenny McCarthy’s name came up, all the guys looked at me and I was like, ‘Darn, I don’t remember a thing about her!’ And one of the guys goes, ‘Just go out there and fart!’ and suddenly, her entire obnoxious persona came flooding back to me.”

Toward the end of the taping, another of Mathur’s strengths comes to light during the rap battle that closes out the show. Performers hurl freestyle rhyming insults at members of the opposing team that go beyond the standard “Yo’ mamma” variety. Mathur pulls no punches as she pulls out occasionally off-color insults for the mostly male cast. As part of the game, she naturally takes some punches too, and her proficiency at the game made her a popular target that evening.

In person, Mathur’s energy level is just as striking. Her bubbly personality and lively eyes are fueled by more than just the caffeine in the coffee drink in front of her. “I’m non-stop. I’ve been called the Energizer Bunny before.” A fitting nickname, considering she’s only just gotten going.

Rasika Mathur Interview

What do you do?

Rasika Mathur: I give funny. I’m a comic, writer, and character actress. (Someday I will answer that question, “I’m a well-compensated goofball.”)

When did you discover your interest in performing?

Rasika Mathur: I grew up in Houston, and attended Albright Middle School in Alief, Texas. Our mascot was an Indian warrior. The bow-and-arrow kind, not the me kind. I always got cast in school plays as “chorus,” which I hated. I watched people being funny onstage and I thought, that should be me!

In the 7th grade, I was horrifically ugly and weird. A teacher asked me to feed her dog while she was away. (I loved dogs. We got a dog when I was 12, after I’d learned everything about dogs to show that I could be responsible. Of course, my idea of being responsible was memorizing 109 dog breeds out of a book and avoiding the chapter on tapeworm.) That teacher soon said to me, “Take my acting class,” and I did, and it was amazing. I got to free up my inner weirdo. Once we got to draw masks, and everyone loved the lion I drew. Something was always in me, roaring quietly, ready to be unleashed. (Ha, that was a cool metaphor.) Soon, out poured all the funny voices, silly characters, and hilarious wit that had built up inside me.

Later, at Elsik High School, in a speech class, I did my first stand-up routine. I made fun of myself for going stag to prom with a cast on after slicing my fingers open performing Macbeth earlier that school year. My first tragedy.

What did you do artistically in college?

Rasika Mathur: I had a blast at the University of Texas at Austin. Hook ’em. I studied creative advertising with a minor in Japanese, you know, a language I can really use. I was active in the Indian Student Association (ISA). I felt that my words and presence were influential in the ISA, so I started doing more stand-up.

What did you do after college?

Rasika Mathur: I moved to Chicago to work as a hack copywriter at a huge advertising firm. But my real love was getting to say whatever I wanted, as opposed to being told what to say. So, I day-jobbed and had an improv affair with Second City by night. Still have the hickeys to prove it.

So you were in Chicago, improvising and writing. What spurred you to make the move to LA?

Rasika Mathur: Naomi Odenkirk was coming to Chicago to audition people for some pilot. It turned out to be a sketch comedy show called Next!, a project of [two-time Emmy winner] Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show fame. Naomi is Bob’s wife and is now my manager. Though the people involved were heavy hitters, I was naïve and had no idea who they were. Brian Posen, a wonderful director whom I’d worked with for the Asian-American comedy troupe Stir-Friday Night!, had recommended me to Naomi. He told me I should audition, and I completely trusted him. He always went to bat for me. So I went about it fearlessly, because I had no idea of the bigness of it all. It was in the IO Chicago (formerly ImprovOlympic Theatre) space. Many other improvisers I respected were also there.

What did you do at the audition?

Rasika Mathur: I performed a piece I’d written called the Sari Rap. But Charna Halpern’s [owner and producer of IO] large dog got attracted to my sari as I was flailing around. I was just finishing the rap when he came barking and bounding at me. Staying in character, without missing a beat, I said, “Give it up for the dog, y’all!” It killed.

So you got a callback?

Rasika Mathur: Yes! They called me and said, “We want to see your tape.” That would’ve been great news if I’d actually had a tape. But I quickly put together a rag-tag tape of my goofy characters. They called again and said, “Bob thinks you’re amazing.” So my first-ever interaction with Hollywood was a super positive one.

What was your experience like working on Next! with Bob Odenkirk?

Rasika Mathur: Hard. I was totally green to camera work. And once I learned who Bob was (never had HBO in college!) and who Naomi was and that Fox was involved, my confidence went down the tubes. Now I was in the big pond. Now I had to prove that I was funny and the right choice. Fortunately, Bob was willing to work with me and he taught me a lot. I also worked with other wonderful people: Fred Armisen, Susan Yeagley, Nick Swardson. Jill Talley. Jerry Minor, Jay Johnston, Ben Zook. They’ve all worked a lot, and their confidence and playfulness were admirable.

Were you able to build confidence from being around them?

Rasika Mathur: No, actually the opposite. I was in awe of them. I thought that I didn’t deserve to be there. I constantly worried about getting fired. The end result was some very funny stuff, but what I remember most is being afraid. This fear came from me, not from Bob or anybody else. The good thing is that I learned from the experience and decided that I never wanted to operate from that place of fear again.

What was life like during your first few years in LA?

Rasika Mathur: Brutal. My self-esteem was zero because I had moved out there thinking everything was going to be magic, and then poof, the pilot didn’t get picked up. Now I was living out of the trunk of my car. Mooching. Being broke. I mean broke like, you want to go out to eat late night with friends and you’re holding back tears reading the menu, having to make sure the side of eggs is really $1.49 and not $2.49, ’cause otherwise you just won’t eat. The vine I was trying to swing to wasn’t quite in front of me yet, so sometimes I had to grab a hold of air.

Were you getting any work at all?

Rasika Mathur: Sure. Cater waitering. Being a children’s party clown or Dora the Explorer with a football-shaped head. Serving whiny, bandaid-on-their-forehead customers at Starbucks at 5 a.m. Graveyard shifts at Dr. Phil’s studios. It was a nightmare. But I also realized that I needed to keep my eyes open to the comedy in all those situations, and back-pocket it to use on stage, like during shows at IO-West, or in improv classes at the Groundlings. That kept me going.

Did you consider giving up?

Rasika Mathur: I actually went back to Chicago for several weeks in 2002. I called it my “escape to reinstate sanity.” I just wanted to go home to my city and feel loved and okay again. I jumped into three different shows with Stir-Friday Night! and kept playing. But, hello, I was kind of homeless and crashing around at that point. So how was that any better than LA?

I heard a lot of “It’s hard out there, isn’t it,” in Chicago, a lot of “Just come home, we love you here” … and even some “LA will chew you up and spit you back out.” Fortunately that talk had the opposite effect on me of what was intended. I went back to LA with a “Nobody pushes Rasika off the horse!” mentality.

What would you say today to an aspiring actor who’s struggling in LA?

Rasika Mathur: Stay. Get some momentum going. Find those reasons to stick with it. Find the things that make it worthwhile and the things that are working. It can’t all be bad. And be real with yourself. There’s a time to keep going, and a time to come home. Both will be restless and not easy. But when it’s all said and done, what makes your heart pound harder?

How did you get the Nick Cannon’s Wild ’N Out gig?

Rasika Mathur: Lots of improv and rapping auditions. So much fun. I think that’s one of the few times I’ve ever felt completely in control during auditions. No wonder I got the gig. I was the “playful” I couldn’t be during Next! No paralysis whatsoever. All the times I’ve ever gotten something, I really was just being me and showing my goods with no attachment to the results. I think that just shows.

How does your family feel about what you’re doing?

Rasika Mathur: My family has always encouraged the goofball within me. They’ve never said, “Don’t be funny” or “That’s inappropriate,” only “How much money are you making being funny now?” or “Well, since that’s not working, you’d better not drop your advertising job.” But at first I’d only hear discouragement instead of the caring underneath. Once they started seeing that I was getting real TV gigs, they saw the benefits of having that to brag to their friends with, so everything changed. If I can be their conversation piece at Indian parties, I think they’re happy.

You’ve studied improvisation at The Second City (in Chicago) and the Groundlings and IO West (both in Los Angeles). How has your improvisation training benefited you?

Improv is in everything I do. In my third year of studying it and stinking at it, a teacher named Liz Allen said, “Don’t worry—nobody gets really good at improv until their sixth year.” That was so encouraging! It took away the pressure. And it made sense, because you really are retraining your brain to think differently from its learned behaviors. Most of our lives have been spent saying no. I have a sticky note on my window that reads, “What if I just said yes?” Saying yes works in life as well as in improv, so I recommend improv training to anyone—even people who have no interest in being comics. It’s not about being funny, it’s about being truthful and going with whatever happens in the present moment.

The training I got at The Second City in Chicago was my foundation. I found I loved the work, I enjoyed what came out of me, I enjoyed that others enjoyed it, and I kept going. So that’s another thing I’d say to people: Take improv classes. For at least six years!

Who are your influences?

Rasika Mathur: Christopher Guest is a genius. Watching anybody who’s involved in a Judd Apatow project has really taught me about the subtler, finer points of good acting/writing that happens to be comedic. I was influenced by Chevy Chase early on. The Three Amigos shaped my teen years. Saturday Night Live (the David Spade years) and In Living Color were the TV shows of my time. I’ve always loved Adam Sandler. Anything with Ben Stiller, or Vince Vaughn. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.

Do you watch TV? What are your favorite shows?

Rasika Mathur: I don’t! I don’t have cable! But I’ve had the benefit of friends’ DVDs and TiVo. Harvey Birdman and Sealab 2001 on Cartoon Network. The Office (British version), Mr. Show, Freaks and Geeks, Jiminy Glick, The Comeback.

What’s next for you?

Rasika Mathur: We are currently shooting the third season of Nick Cannon’s Wild ’N Out. I am writing A Sack of Pennies, my one-woman show about myself. It’s not an ego trip. I just thought that, for a change, somebody’s one-person show should be about herself. I am writing a children’s book. I am periodically working with Robin Johnstone on a two-person improv show called Reading, Robin and Rasika. I’m developing a mockumentary about the life of my character Nilam Bhatnagar. I’ve been doing some work on the stand-up circuit, including the recent Stand-up Sultans: Middle East Comic Relief 3. I am currently working on some programming with MTV Desi. Other than that, I am constantly in a classroom for something. I never want to stop learning.

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