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Vijai Nathan

Vijai Nathan Comedy Video - Promo for "Indian Invasion Comedy" DVD starring Vijai Nathan

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Vijai Nathan Biography

Vijai Nathan (sometimes misspelled Vijay Nathan) is one of the leading Indian American female comedians making people laugh across America, in South Africa, England and Canada. Her TV appearances include: ABC News' 20/20, PBS, The Oxygen Network, and the BBC. She appeared on the BBC and taped UK Comedy Channel's "The World Stands Up" in England March 2005.

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Vijai Nathan is the first and only woman to be nominated Comedian of the Year 2005 by South Asian Media Awards. NBC chose her as one of its top 10 comics in the Nation for its Stand-Up for Diversity Showcase in Los Angeles, Sept. 2004. She was also chosen as one of two comics to represent America at the Smirnoff International Comedy Festival in Cape Town, South Africa in September of 2003.

Currently, she is touring nationally with her one-woman show, "Good Girls Don't, But Indian Girls Do," a funny and poignant exploration of the struggle to discover, create and claim an Indian American identity. It's a universal show that connects with people of all races. Vijai's humor springs from her experiences of growing up as a "foreigner" in America- despite the fact that she was born and raised in a suburb of Washington D.C.

Much of her stand-up comedy is about growing up as an Indian in America, cultural clashes with her parents, and the racism she dealt with as a child and now as a comedian.

Vijai Nathan Interview - 2008

You grew up in a community where you were one of few minorities. How did that influence your early experiences with performing?
Vijai Nathan: I grew up in Gaithersburg and Potomac. My school was mostly white and mostly Jewish. I really wanted to fit in, so I tried out for all the plays and musicals. I got my first break in the fourth grade, when I was cast as Martin Luther King. Later, in a musical about oral hygiene, I was cast as tooth decay.

How has the reaction to your acts been from the Indian community?
Vijai Nathan: When I started out [in 1996], I wanted to get Indians to come see me, but it was really hard. ... Other Indians couldn't conceive of an Indian girl doing this. I'd say I was going to have a show and they'd be, like, "Oh, are you going to dance? You're just going to talk?"

Now there are more Indian comedians. Vidur Kapur, who is Indian and gay — I've done shows with him. And then there's Russell Peters. He's been doing stand-up for about 18 years.

Your first one-woman show, "Good Girls Don't, But Indian Girls Do," dealt with your family. What about your new show?
Vijai Nathan: My new show deals a lot with race, religion and beliefs. My mother is a very superstitious Hindu; my dad was an atheist or an agnostic, depending on the day. My sister is a born-again Christian. Growing up, we were very Hindu. We would go to temple, and as soon as we left the temple we would secretly go to McDonald's and eat Big Macs. I asked my mom, "How can we be Hindu and eat beef?" She'd say, "The cow is sacred, the bull is not. And McDonald's is pure bull."

You joke about your mom a lot. Do you get compared to Margaret Cho?
Vijai Nathan: We are both women, non-white women, talking about our families, but every comic talks about their family. The comedians I most wanted to be like as a kid were Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock. They invited me into these worlds which were totally foreign to me, and I couldn't believe how they made me feel so connected to them.

Vijai Nathan profile - 2005

Comedian Vijai Nathan always knew she was a performer at heart.
After a five-year struggle, working odd jobs, and odd hours, Nathan has transformed herself into a one woman show, in high demand, traveling the world and making audiences of all types laugh.

For Nathan, every topic is on the table, from religion and politics to sex and racism - all from the perspective of an Indian American woman with the experience of growing up in a traditional Indian family.
In fact, she says, it was her experience with racism that fueled her passion to explore a career as a comedian.

“I dealt with racism while growing up and I was brought up not to fight back, because my parents were worried something worse would happen,” Nathan says. “So I held this all in and never stood up for myself. One of the reasons I was drawn to standup, is I could confront racists through comedy.”

It’s like putting a little sugar in someone’s medicine, Nathan says. Here is a taste of one of her classic jokes during a performance at a steakhouse in West Virginia.

“At the end of my show, a guy shouts out, ‘Keep it going for the Cherokee.” So, Nathan cleverly replies, “Sir, I’m not the kind of Indian with the bows and arrows. I’m the kind with unlimited access to nuclear weaponry.”

Sure it’s a great comeback, but Nathan doesn’t hear the laughs all the time. There are stretches, though rarely, that people just don’t get it.
“You just have to get through those times,” Nathan says. “There are times when you can perform for 20 minutes and no one is laughing. Sometimes you can tell, it might be your material, or it might be that audience isn’t a big laughing audience.”

Breaking them in is a challenge, Nathan says. But there’s nothing that she can’t handle, after what she’s been through.

Nathan admits it has been a tough road. In 1997, Nathan quit her job as a copy editor at the Baltimore Sun newspaper, a move that shocked her parents.

“I wasn’t really happy with what I was doing,” Nathan says. “I felt like I wanted to say something and do something that meant something to me.”
After taking a comedy class, people told her “you're so funny, you’ll be the next Margaret Cho.” That was all the boost she needed to pursue her dream.

For a few years, Nathan worked as a waitress, then moved to New York and found a receptionist job while doing standup comedy at night. Those years were difficult, but Nathan’s family became her backbone. “There were a lot of times I was not making a lot of money,” Nathan says. “My family would help me.”

There were even plenty of times she thought about quitting, but Nathan says, her father encouraged her to keep going. “They saw how much comedy made me happy, and how happy I made other people.”

Within the last year and a half, Nathan’s comedy career has taken off. She has performed at theaters around the world, from South Africa to Topeka, Kansas. She also performs for colleges, universities, and Indian crowds.

A long road traveled considering she came from a traditional Indian family, with two sisters--one is a doctor and the other is a lawyer. But, Nathan says, she was always the person who never did the traditional thing, and now, it’s all paying off.

Vijay Nathan’s latest show is called “Good Girls Don’t, But Indian Girls Do.”

Vijai Nathan profile - 2001

Decked in an eastern style red shirt with her long, black hair pulled back in two coquettish ponytails, Vijai Nathan launched headfirst into an imitation of her Indian mother.

"My sister is a born again Christian," she began, her soft American voice slowly changing into a thick Indian accent.

"My mother doesn't get it. She says 'Vijai, why does she have to be a born again? In our religion, we are born again and again and again'."

The audience roared with laughter and the small dark room at Rose's Turn in New York City reverberated with applause.

The Indian comedienne had scored a point.

But she is not just a comedienne.

Over a dinner of vegetarian omelet and fries, Vijai, a former journalist, explored the depths of racism and the wisdom of Yoda.

All done, of course, with comic flare.

To the untrained eye, the petite 29-year-old with the winning smile may not appear to be a crusader, but make no mistake -- Vijai is on a mission to break down the stereotypes and barriers facing Indians in American society.

And she is not willing to settle for trying.

"The wisdom of Yoda shaped my philosophy," she said, putting on a high-pitched imitation of the unforgettable Star Wars Jedi master's voice.

"Yoda says 'there is no try, only do'. Maybe Buddha said it too, but he wasn't there. Yoda was."

With those magic words in mind, Vijai left behind her inhibitions and her fears of expressing herself as an Indian in American society. She also gave up a successful career as a copy editor on the Baltimore Sun to pursue her unorthodox dream.

"Honestly, journalism is something that I had no interest in," she said. "I mean, what else do you do with an English degree? It's either journalism or Starbucks and Starbucks wasn't calling. I burned myself in the interview, so Starbucks wasn't having me."

But while Vijai is quick to crack a joke, the one thing she is dead serious about is bringing Indian society into mainstream America and fighting the racism she faced growing up as one of the few Indians among a majority of whites in her Maryland hometown.

"Stand-up comedy, in a way, is the most American thing," she said. "When you think of Americans, you think of them as in-your-face, speaking their minds and standing up for themselves."

For Vijai, however, the quest to be American had more than its share of obstacles. Growing up in a traditional South Indian household in Maryland in the 1970s, she was discouraged from straying too far from her cultural traditions.

"To be an American was to disrespect your parents and not value where you came from," she recalled. "So within the family and within that Indian society, it was -- don't be American because being American was bad."

And the outside world was hardly waiting with open arms to accept the American-born Indian into their society.

"When I was younger in school, like the third and fourth grade, I was told to go back to my own country and that just had such a huge impact on me," Vijai said. "I could say that I was an American, but to them I'd never be an American." It was that search for identity that led her to stand-up comedy as a means of enlightening her audience as well as poking a few good-natured jabs at some of the idiosyncrasies that make South Asian culture so humorous.

But while Vijai, who is adamant in pursuing South Asian audiences, sees her Indian humour as an asset, the real key to her appeal is universality.

"When I first started writing (jokes), I didn't even mention that I was Indian because I wanted people to accept me as an American," she said. "I talked about dating, television, sex, things I actually didn't know a whole lot about being a repressed Indian without a whole lot of dating stories I could talk about."

During her first few performances, Vijai admitted much of her material was made up to appeal to her audience and sometimes edited to appease South Asian standards of decorum.

"I used to do a talking vagina joke," she grinned. "I don't do that one anymore."

It wasn't long, however, before she started incorporating her own life experiences into her act and as she opened up to her audiences, Vijai set out to shed light on tougher issues like racism through her comedy.

One of Vijai's classic jokes revolves around the ignorance of one audience member at a performance who mistook her for a Native American.

"This guy shouts out 'Whoo! Keep it going for the Cherokee!' So I said, 'Sir, I'm not the kind of Indian with bows and arrows. I'm the kind with unlimited access to nuclear weaponry.' "

The audience erupted. She had scored another point.

While audiences have been favorable to the Indian comic, the road ahead is still bumpy. Vijai, a regular act at various bars, comedy clubs and fundraisers throughout New York City, recently signed with a college agent and will be taking her show to campuses in the fall, where she hopes to contribute to the enlightenment of students and professors through her satirical sense of humour.

But racism within the industry still places stumbling blocks in front of minority comedians and prevents Vijai from displaying her talent to wider audiences.

"The clubs are owned by people who manage talent, most of who are white, and they want to put them on stage," she explained. "And then you have other white people telling you how to be Indian. It becomes very hard to get your foot in the door."

Still Vijai is far from complaining. While working part-time as "vice-president of reception" at Bishop Partners, an executive search firm, she still performs 2 or 3 times a week at various New York clubs.

She has also appeared on the PBS special Asian America and performed at events like the New York Special Olympics and Diasporadic, an arts and activism festival.

Vijai is currently working on a one-woman show and hopes to debut 20 minutes of the programme in May. As for her stand-up material, there may be some surprises in store.

She plans to look into Bharat Natyam classes to solidify her East-meets-West style of comedy. "I want to do Bharat Natyam to Britney Spears," she said. "I can't think of anything funnier."

Vijai Nathan Comedy Video - Review from a Seattle newspaper

If Dave Chappelle were an East Indian woman, he would be Vijai Nathan. With her in-your-face comedy, Nathan tackles racism, her crazy Hindu parents and the very definition of being a subservient woman. Her unique perspective offers a refreshing look at what it means to be an immigrant in America and the multiple identities she has to juggle.

In her one-woman comedy show "Good Girls Don't, But Indian Girls Do," Nathan defies what it means to be a traditional good Indian girl; she likes brightly colored saris, Madonna and has a fascination with sex. Vijai was never the obedient, sweet girl, but like the meaning of her name (Victory), she says she had a fire in her that she had to share with the world.

Through the impersonation of her parents, Nathan exemplifies life in a crazy immigrant home, where rules don't make sense and women don't rock the boat. The only brown girl at an all-white Jewish elementary school, Nathan dreamed of becoming an actress. But her parents had something else in mind; she had to become a doctor or at least marry one. But she broke all the rules; instead, she becomes a comedian, loses her virginity and is engaged to a Jewish man.

When Nathan went to college, she was introduced to a whole new world full of liberated white girls that embraced their sexuality and she says she secretly wanted to be like them. So she was destined to lose her virginity, "the Indian way".

"Being Indian was hard, I wanted to be a f**ckin American," Vijai said. But Nathan finds a balance between her two worlds and learns to embrace both of them.

Her comedy is universal and her ability to transcend her painful experiences into comedy is empowering. Vijay Nathan torrent, free download.

Vijai Nathan Comedy Video - Review from a Washington DC newspaper

Most of us have made, or will make, a major career change at some point, but it must have been a shock to those close to her when, in 1997, Vijai Nathan decided to abandon her career in journalism for the dog-eat-dog world of stand-up comedy. Since then, she has appeared on ABC News’ 20/20, PBS, The Oxygen Network, the BBC, and in 2003 was named one of the country's top ten comics by Backstage Magazine. For the past several years, she also followed another path by developing solo theater pieces. Vijai Nathan video, MP3, and download.

"John Leguizamo's Freak was an inspiration," Nathan told DCist. "I saw all the characters of his life and wanted to tell a story that went a little deeper than what I could do in a stand-up venue."

Describing the difference between the two genres, Nathan said, "A stand-up has to take a very aggressive stance, but in solo performance the audience is on a journey with the teller."

This led her to develop her first solo show, Good Girls Don't, But Indian Girls Do, which premiered in 2001. On Saturday night, she will premiere her latest piece, McGoddess: Big Macs, Karma & the American Dream, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the University of Maryland campus. The performance is in celebration of Asian American Heritage Month and will benefit Counselors Helping (South) Asians/Indians (CHAI).

The piece was borne out of the contradictions Nathan observed in her upbringing and family life.

"When I was young my family would go to temple and eat yogurt rice, but then we would stop at McDonald's on the way home and eat burgers," she said. "How can we be Hindu and eat beef? So it started with that idea."

"My mom is Hindu and superstitious, my dad is agnostic, and my older sister is born again Christian, so that's another huge force," Nathan went on to explain. "On top of that, I was balancing what you get in school."

While her experiences are very specific, Nathan feels that people outside of the South Asian or immigrant community will be able to relate to her show because of its universal themes.

"My stories tend to be about families so I feel like everyone can identify with all those dynamics," she said. "Plus, everyone has to deal with God at some point."

Though her stories deal with issues of faith and family, Nathan doesn't expect anyone to leave the theater in an enlightened state.

"My show does not answer the question, 'Does God exist?'," she chuckled. "If it did, I’d be on Oprah and I’d be rich."

Press release for Vijai Nathan's show "Good Girls Don't, But Indian Girls Do"

The Kitchen Theatre Company’s KITCHEN COUNTER CULTURE series, featuring cutting-edge, outside-the-box work by guest artists from around the country, begins this month with a very funny show. Vijai Nathan will perform Good Girls Don’t, But Indian Girls Do for three performances only: September 28, 29, and 30. All performances will be followed by a talkback with the artist.

In 1997, Vijai Nathan mortified her traditional Indian parents by giving up a career in journalism, canceling her wedding, and becoming a stand-up comedian- and she hasn’t looked back since! Vijai Nathan Indian female comedian

Good Girls Don’t, But Indian Girls Do is a funny and poignant exploration of the struggle to discover, create and claim an Indian American identity. Vijai breaks every taboo as she exposes the underbelly of an Indian American family. She takes you through growing up Indian in a Jewish community; her discovery of sex in a repressed Hindu household; and how she finds herself along the way. As Vijai puts it, “It's Gandhi meets Pretty in Pink.”

Vijai’s irreverent humor springs from her experiences of growing up as a “foreigner” in America—despite the fact she was born and raised in a suburb of Washington D.C. Much of her stand-up comedy is about growing up as an Indian in America, cultural clashes with her parents, dating, politics, and racism.

Today, Vijai Nathan is the leading Indian American female comedian, making people laugh across America and internationally too. She has performed in South Africa, England and Canada, and was recently featured at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. NBC chose Vijai as one of its top 10 comics in the Nation for their Stand-Up for Diversity Showcase in Los Angeles, Sept. 2004, Back Stage Magazine named Vijai one of the top ten stand-up comics in 2003, and she was chosen as one of two comics to represent America at the Smirnoff International Comedy Festival in Cape Town, South Africa in September of 2003. TV appearances include: ABC News’ 20/20, PBS, The Oxygen Network, and the BBC. She is currently adapting Good Girls Don’, But Indian Girls Do into a screenplay.

Kitchen Theatre Company’s KITCHEN COUNTER CULTURE series brings Central New York the cutting-edge, outside-the-box, bold, uncensored work of writer/performers who are fearless in their convictions and daring in their presentations. The series celebrates new voices and diverse approaches to the act of performance with artists who are breaking rules and breaking new ground. This season the series highlights five artists of color. Coming up next in the series is NYC actor/writer/poet Darian Dauchan with Media Madness in November. The series continues in February with actor/teaching artist Vickie Tanner’s new play Running Into Me and acclaimed performance artist Denise Uyehara’s Shedding Light, and concluding in April with playwright/poet Lenelle Moise’s EXPATRIATE.

Vijay Nathan comedy, female comedian. Her name is sometimes misspelled as Vijay Nathan.

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