Gaya Rajagopalan (@theothergaya) is an actor and comedian in New York City. She performs every month in The Place We Live LIVE at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and has appeared on Impractical Jokers and videos for Glamour, IFC, HuffPo, Teen Vogue and more. When she isn’t doing comedy, she likes to spend her time waiting for someone to ask her to explain the rules of the sport of cricket.
This week, Gaya and I talked about cultural divides, Ira Glass, and dreams of an entirely South Asian comedy community by the year 2053.
I have been tweeting this tweet every year on March 15, and every year I have been disappointed by how little people seem to be as impressed as I was by how absolutely brilliant this tweet is when I came up with it.
How did you get into comedy? What made you decide to pursue it?
I grew up in India, where when I was growing up, pursuing comedy as a career was … not a thing. My first official brush with comedy was when I got to college in Pennsylvania, and a theater friend suggested I audition for his improv group. I didn’t know anything about improv, so I went on Amazon and typed in “books about improv,” ordered Truth in Comedy (which was the first result), read it that day, nailed my audition, and got in! Charna Halpern, feel free to use that as a blurb for the next reprint!
I happened to be in New York the following summer and decided to take an improv class at UCB, and I can clearly remember feeling, for the first time in my life, like I was around a bunch of people that were like me — but white! And much to the chagrin of my parents’ friends, I haven’t looked back since!
The landscape of comedy has changed a lot since I started — I used to have to Google “American comedians with Indian heritage” to find other people that looked like me. Cut to a few months ago when I was in a show at UCB that was all South Asian comics that had a line all the way down the block. I think I read somewhere that by 2053 all comedians will be South Asian, so we still have a ways to go, but I’m excited for things to come.
This tweet is so special to me, and the way it is written describes in real time my experience on a long international flight, after I had taken my contacts out, as I was staring into the infinite beyond. I thought about the beauty of nature, and how small we were compared to the rest of the universe, and how magical the experience of life was — and then I realized what I thought were glowing stars were just reflections from the toilet signs behind me, which in many ways is a perfect metaphor for life itself. Yes, I am planning to get Lasik someday.
Do you think Twitter has been a good platform for your comedy?
I love Twitter! I don’t normally have funny thoughts that are longer than 140 characters, so for a long time it was absolutely the right platform for my comedy. Of course, now with the higher limit I have had to work a lot harder than before, but I think it is important to always keep evolving as an artist. Nothing can make me laugh out loud more than coming across a really dumb tweet when I least expect it, so I also think it is a great platform for comedy in general! Also one time I got retweeted by Ira Glass so basically Twitter has made all of my dreams come true.
So in addition to being a comedian, you’re also an actress. Do the two ever overlap? Do you have a dream role you’d like to play?
I have always thought that I overpaid by getting both comedic and theatrical training because fundamentally they are both about being present, honest, and fearless. That being said, I definitely think being good at one of those things makes me better at the other.
And, at the risk of giving the most obscure answer possible, there was a show that aired on the BBC in England in the late ‘90s called Goodness Gracious Me, which was a South Asian Sketch Show (I KNOW!). It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen and it changed my life. I want there to be an American reboot and I want to be in it! That is my dream role. Hollywood, CALL ME!
As a proudly ethnic comedian, like with the college admissions tweet, I try to be a voice for the immigrant experience as often as possible. The college admissions scandal breaking was an early Christmas for the comedy community, but for me it also reminded me of the cultural divide that exists between rich and powerful white families, and say, Indian parents everywhere, rich or not, who were left scratching their heads by how much higher these parents could have aimed.
You came to the U.S. as an immigrant. Do you think that experience informed your sense of humor at all?
I think my journey as a comedian has definitely paralleled the different stages of the immigrant experience. First, trying to assimilate by trying to completely Americanize my comedy, then struggling with a deep and intense fear of not being accepted because, at the end of the day, the only things I know about proms and football games are from watching American TV shows, and then finally realizing that my unique experience gives me a unique point of view and that I’m lucky I get to share it!
Since you’re here, could you explain the rules of cricket to us?
Oh my God, absolutely! I’ll just need, like, two to three hours and a projector for my PowerPoint. Is now a good time?
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