An Indian-American Journey

An Indian-American Journey

By Rajiv Satyal, with interview by Parthiv N. Parekh

With about four million of us Indians in America, no stereotype, let alone a single narrative can capture the essence of our dynamic and diverse community. Yet, comedian Rajiv Satyal’s intimate and inspiring portrayal of his family’s American journey provides a fairly representative snapshot of our journey, identity, and place in the U.S.

I’m sitting with my parents and two brothers in the family room (appropriately) of our home in Fairfield, Ohio. It’s the eve of the finale performance of the one-person show about my prolonged single life, No Man’s Land, which I had debuted in Los Angeles five months earlier. I was scheduled to play the Aronoff Center in downtown Cincinnati, when I remarked, “Twenty years ago, if you’d predicted that one of the Satyal Brothers was about to perform at the Aronoff, one was about to be married, and one would have an advanced degree, you’d have gone 0 for 3 on that forecast.” All five Cincinnati-based Satyals love to laugh, but it’s rare that we’d all crack up equally hard at the same line and for the same reason. This was one of those moments, when we were all in sync on such an amusing truism.

Most comedians are last in birth order, always fighting for attention. I’m a first-born son, but they say that comedians are people who either did not get enough attention—or got too much. I was drowned in love from the very beginning. As I’d joke with my brothers, I’m the one who made Mom and Dad into parents—you guys just showed up.

Rakesh and Vikas are fraternal twins. They are 4 1/2 years younger than I. Even though I’ve been immersed in the entertainment industry for 13 years, Rakesh remains the most talented person I know: he has published two novels and was one of the standout actors and singers at Fairfield High School before replicating that same feat at Princeton University.

Vikas was far more into sports and developing deep friendships than he was into school. Rakesh and I may grab more attention at a party, but Vikas was the one with whom people would bond and feel like they truly and genuinely got to know by the end of the night. He was also the only one who had any semblance of a dating life, while Rakesh and I struggled well into adulthood with this aspect of our lives. Indeed, Rakesh had to write 684 pages and I had to assemble a 110-minute stage production to navigate out of our muck and mire to get anywhere with dating and marriage.

Rajiv’s quintessential Indian-American success story has seen him perform at the U.S. House of Representatives, interview the likes of Deepak Chopra and Hasan Minhaj, and, with his upcoming performance in Antarctica aboard a cruise ship, he may well become the first stand-up comedian to have performed in all seven continents.

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