Internationally renowned comedian Nimesh Patel will stop at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison on Sunday as part of his “Fast and Loose” tour.
Ahead of his arrival to Madison, The Daily Cardinal spoke with Patel about his career journey, the role of satire and the “Fast and Loose” tour.
Patel is widely known for his work as the first Indian-American writer on Saturday Night Live in 2017, his comedy sets online, his role assisting Chris Rock during the 2016 Academy Awards, his production work for Lilly Singh and series such as "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee."
He will be visiting more than 35 cities on his "Fast and Loose” tour this fall and winter, showcasing comedic versatility on the fly.
While this particular tour appears extemporaneous, Patel has thought deeply about how to embark on a theater expedition that diverts from traditional club comedy, where comedians can more easily interact with an audience.
Patel's aim is to challenge himself in theater settings and make larger venues feel more intimate. Expressing his comfort with the unknown, Patel is ready for a new kind of tour.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Why is this tour titled, "Fast and Loose," and what can you tell us about the nature of this tour in specific?
The last two tours that I put together, I was really focused on making them air tight and really structured. The "Thank You China" tour and the "Lucky Lefty” tour were both designed from the get go to be very air tight, very polished pieces of work, and this one I'm just trying to really have a lot more fun on stage and keeping the set fast and loose.
I've done roughly 10 shows so far, and no show has been the same. I talk about a variety of things: from what it was like growing up to therapy to anger management to America at large to really silly stupid jokes that fill between the gaps, and that's why it's called "Fast and Loose." It's really just describing what my time on stage is like.
Is there anything in specific that inspired you to get on the road this time around or anything that's different at this point in your career?
That's a great question. What inspired me to get on the road and do the full theater run — as opposed to [the] clubs and theaters I was doing last year and pure clubs I was doing the first year — was really just trying to elevate my own game. There's a tried and true way of building an hour, which is getting on stage as many times as you can, and I see no reason why you can't get on stage repetitively in a theater setting.
I want to challenge myself to make a theater setting feel as a club can feel. That's comedy speak for 'I just really wanted to show my skills and make a theater setting feel like I'm just talking to one person.'
What is challenging about that, would you say?
Well, I'm not sure how much comedy you've seen at a club. If you're talking clubs like "Comedy on State," it's the best one in Madison by far, but the challenge is when you're at a theater, it's a lot harder to speak to somebody that's in the crowd because when you're at a club doing crowd work, everyone's looking at that person.
In a theater, it's a little bit more difficult, but for me a challenge is, 'How do I make the setting feel intimate?' So far it’s been a lot of fun, and I've been able to do it. I'm confident that, going forward, it's going to be a walk in the park but just as fun as the last shows I've done.
That's so cool. I didn't consider how the amount of people really changes that setting.
Yeah, it's both the setting itself, the physicality of it and also, in a theater, the architecture is such that it arcs up. In a club setting, everyone's on the same level, so it changes the audience psychology. It changes the feel of what people are; it changes what people are feeling when they're in the seats.
I want to break that wall of theater. It shocks people a little bit, but in a good way. Like, 'Oh snap! We're at a theater. We're at a kind of movie setting, but the movie is talking to us directly.' It's a different vibe, and I enjoy it a lot.
You're kind of a trailblazer who built your own career independently in comedy, and you were a finance student at NYU. Do you have any advice for students that are trying to pursue creative careers that might differentiate from their plans?
College students, people at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it's obviously a very good school, and you've gotten to where you're at by having some kind of discipline in what it is you're doing.
And if you apply that same discipline to the creative pursuit, then you will see outside success relative to someone who thinks, 'Oh, they can just kind of be whimsical about everything that they're doing,' and that creativity is art of this whimsical thing. Part of it is whimsical. Part of it requires you to stare and daydream and all of that, but there's also a part of it that requires actual work.
Was it ever daunting to have to break into a space not knowing what would happen next?
I wish I could say that I planned a lot of this, that I knew what was up ahead of me and what was coming on. I think I was blessed with that ignorance. In hindsight, it was a very good thing to not know what was ahead. I was just ready to take on what was ahead because my head was up, and I knew I had a good head on my shoulders and that I was willing to work hard. I had to work hard to get to where I wanted to be.
You've written for SNL and collaborated with Chris Rock. You've got a lot of projects going on. How have these shaped your career? Is there any advice you would give from gaining this experience that you think would be valuable for our audience?
I wrote for the 2016 Oscars, I wrote for SNL, I wrote for Lilly Singh, I was a producer for “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.” For the majority of people, myself included, success is an aggregate of all of the things that you have done and will continue to do, and you can only look back at the accomplishments you've had.
If I'm feeling down, I'm like, 'I was the first Indian to write for SNL' [or] 'Chris Rock told me I was funny.' You can look back at those things as learning moments and also little feathers in your cap, but the road is only forward. You can let those things push you and drive you and take all of the lessons you can from the things you've accomplished and take it that way.
I want to know why you think the freedom to produce satire and comedy is so important. You touch on a lot of different issues and topics, but it is an art. Why is that freedom so important to you, would you say?
If I can take someone's feeling, and they may be feeling angry about something in particular, and I may be feeling anger about that same thing, but I have been given a gift and also worked hard at taking that anger and turning it into something funny and comedic.
If I can give that to you about an issue that you hold dearly, and I can convert your anger in some small way to maybe a smile or chuckle, then I've accomplished my mission. That's what I think is so important.
At the same time, I've made myself laugh. A lot of comic is for me, right, like this tour, "Fast and Loose," as I'm writing and talking about it and thinking about it, a lot of it is figuring out that my early comedy is coming from an angry place, and now I'm converting that anger into jokes and funniness. I'm dealing with my own kind of issues in that sense, and it's a very rewarding thing to then transfer that to an audience.
Is there anything you want Madison residents to know about Sunday?
What you can expect is a lot of silly nonsense, some smart stuff, some dumb stuff. But the entire time I will be laughing at myself. It's genuine when I do it. I'm just trying to have as much fun as I can on stage, and I hope that's communicated and transferred to the crowd for sure.