He plays six instruments, loves extreme sports– skiing, skydiving, bungee jumping, rollerblading down stairs (backwards), and kitesurfing; is the ultimate computer geek and knows several languages. And none of them dirty. Meet Dan Nainan, stand-up comedy’s Mr Clean
He took a comedy class to help get over the fear of public speaking and has had the last laugh since. Dan Nainan, known as a 100% clean comedian, has performed at charity events, corporate functions, weddings, private parties, colleges, casinos, cruise ships and at the top comedy clubs in the country. He has performed for Hillary Clinton, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Howard Dean, Tony Blair’s wife Cherie, and for many other celebrities.
The son of a South Asian nuclear physicist and an East Asian child psychologist, prefers public transportation, does not own a television and does not drink alcohol, smoke, or do drugs. Scheduled to perform in Australia this May, Dan gets talking to Tanu Thomas Kallivayalil
1. What do you know of Australia? Are you looking forward to coming here?
I was actually in Australia in 2000, not during the Olympics but a few months before. Of course it was absolutely magnificent, but I only had a few days there, so I’m overjoyed about being there for two weeks for my tour!
Of course, many in the US are deceived into thinking that ours is the greatest country in the world, and many people here have never even left the country, so go figure! I have a dear friend who is a comedian from Australia, and from everything he’s telling me, you have everything we have, but better. From what I’ve seen, I definitely believe him. For many of the same reasons, I love being in Canada, and I think of Canada as being like America, just on lithium LOL.
I’m counting down the days – I can’t wait!
2. Tell us a bit about your other talents. I’ve heard that you play a number of instruments.
I like to call myself the Jack of all trades, and master of none. I do play six instruments – piano/keyboard, guitar, drums, bass guitar, cello and most recently violin. I have a Mac computer specifically for writing music. Sometimes I fantasize about giving up this whole comedy thing and becoming a touring musician. Hey, maybe I could even open for myself one day. 🙂
I also greatly enjoy athletic pursuits, including some extreme ones – skiing, skydiving, bungee jumping, rollerblading down stairs (backwards), and I’ve just taken up kitesurfing. I also love learning languages and of course, I’m the ultimate computer geek.
3. How important is it for you to be a “clean” comedian? Do you find that it can be a disadvantage? Do you lose work because of it or is it the other way?
Indeed, being a clean comedian is the single most important thing for me. First of all, if my conservative Asian parents ever heard me swear on stage, they would kill me! Second, a clean comedian can perform in many, many more venues than can a dirty comedian. If you take a look at my video clip which shows President Obama and many other celebrities and politicians introducing me, for example, you will note that all of those events at which I performed would never have permitted a dirty comedian. So the number of places that a clean comedian can perform is far, far greater than those available to a dirty comedian. So I definitely gain work by being clean. A clean comedian can work in comedy clubs, but a dirty club comedian cannot work at corporate events, on cruise ships, a charity galas, private parties and so forth.
In the States, dirty club comedians can make perhaps $25 on weekdays and $75 on weekends, even if they have had multiple television credits. Clean comedians can earn many, many times that at their shows. I say vive la difference!
4. Your heritage is quite interesting, being half-Indian and half-Japanese. How do you see yourself? How do you reconcile the two?
I guess I would consider myself an American first, but I will say that growing up, we attended far more Indian events and had more Indian friends. My father hails from Kerala, and so our social group was almost exclusively Malayalees (people from Kerala).
Of course, I was made fun of viciously in school because of my race(s), but I think it’s safe to say that I’m kind of having the last laugh. I never dreamed that a funny looking half-Indian, half-Japanese guy could ever tour the world making people laugh, and be seen in a national commercial for Apple.
5. Do people recognise you from the Apple commercial?
I do get recognised once in a while, from the commercial or from my YouTube videos or live shows, but not that often, and I have to admit it is quite enjoyable. I suppose if I was a true A-list celebrity and recognised everywhere, that it could become somewhat bothersome, but whatever happens, I’d certainly never want to be that type of celebrity that is mean to their fans, since they do kind of pay a celebrity’s salary.
6. Are you successful because you are funny or just a good manager of your business?
I think it’s definitely a combination. There are many comedians who are much, much funnier than I, but they have no clue how to edit and put up a good video on YouTube, or negotiate a basic contract, or ask for what they are worth. Many comedians don’t even have contact information on their websites or YouTube videos. So just by virtue of having the smallest modicum of business and computer knowledge, gained in my previous professional career, I have a tremendous advantage over your typical comedian.
In addition, there seems to be this disease amongst comedians of partying late into the wee hours of the morning, and getting messed up on drugs and alcohol, and sleeping all day. That kind of lifestyle can kill a show business career. All of the auditions for television, commercials, film and so forth take place during the business day. The concept of giving up auditions for commercials that could earn someone $100,000 or more in residuals for one day’s work, just because one is too lazy to get up in the morning, is inconceivable to me!
7. Ethnic comedy is really getting big but it can go really wrong as well. What are the rules you lay down for yourself when it comes to this genre?
Ethnic comedy is absolutely enormous. It’s really wonderful to be part of this trend, and if I could only have known when I was a child being horribly bullied that this would be the reward, maybe it might have made those years easier.
It’s really quite interesting to see what’s happening. Ethnic comedy is huge, even in the States, but even still, ethnic comedians can’t get booked in a lot of the mainstream clubs, unless it’s an ethnic show. So you have a situation in which some ethnic comedians can’t get booked on $25 spots at comedy clubs, and yet they can earn $10,000, $15,000 or even more doing shows and flying around the world first-class. It truly is incredible.
Even though Russell Peters was selling out theaters around the US, it was impossible to get any of the mainstream US comedy industry to pay any attention to him until he was making millions of dollars. Even today, he’s making $30 million year, and many people in the US have no idea who he is. It’s truly astounding.
8. It’s a wonderful story about you stumbling into a comedy career. When did the penny really drop? Do you remember the moment when you decided to throw in the fancy job and go for the unknown?
Of course the safe thing to do would have been to wait until I was making a lot of money in comedy, but that wasn’t the case. I got promoted from this wonderful Intel job traveling around the world and speaking on stage, to what was essentially a desk job in sales, still at Intel, where I was bound to an office, and I hated it. I decided to give it a year and no matter what, at the end of the year I was going to quit, which is precisely what I did.
It took nearly two years for me to make my first five dollars. I’ll never forget that day – I had to stand in Times Square, giving out flyers to passersby. I got one dollar for each person that came to the show, and five people that I had recruited came, which accounted for my paycheck.
9. Is the next step acting since you have a few friends in the industry now?
Acting is always the goal, of course. The only way to get really big (unless one is Russell Peters, of course) is to get on television, and I’m always trying. I’m shooting something on a major network before my Australia trip, and that will be broadcast this fall.
Dan Nainan will perform at Felix Bar, St Kilda on 23 June.