Dan Nainan – Comedian and Actor

[quote style=”boxed”]Everybody comes up with funny stuff this way, but the key is to get out my phone and write it down immediately, or I will forget it and it will be gone.[/quote]

As a senior engineer with Intel Corporation, Dan Nainan designed and presented highly technical demonstrations on stage with Intel Chairman Andy Grove at events worldwide. He took a comedy class to help get over the fear of public speaking at these events.

The “final exam” for the class was a performance at the Punchline Comedy Club in San Francisco, a performance which was a resounding success. His Intel coworkers, upon viewing the videotape, invited him to perform at a team dinner for 200 employees at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Upon seeing that performance, the organizers of Intel’s annual sales conference asked Dan to perform for 2,500 salespeople from around the world. His dead-on impressions of Andy Grove and American presidents had the audience rolling in the aisles at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning. Many in the audience thought that he had been hired as a professional comedian, in what was only his third comedy performance ever.

Dan was promoted to Strategic Relations Manager for the East Coast, enabling him to move from Silicon Valley to New York City. Restless in his stationary new job and anxious to use his creative talents, he left Intel to pursue standup comedy full time.

In only his second year doing comedy, Dan won a comedy contest at the Washington, DC Improv and the chance to open for noted HBO comedian Robert Schimmel, and Robert was impressed enough with Dan’s performance to invite the young comedian to tour with him for a year. As a result, Dan performed at some of the country’s top comedy clubs, and Robert took him under his wing to teach him about the finer points of the business.

Dan was fortunate enough to perform at the New York Improv when Canadian comic sensation Russell Peters was headlining. Because of that one performance, Russell asked Dan to tour with him as his opening act. Dan and Russell toured the world together, performing at theater shows for audiences averaging at least 2,000 per show. Dan both produced and performed in Russell’s show at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

Dan has performed all over the United States, as well as in Aruba, Australia, Canada, Dominican Republic, England, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, Trinidad, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and on multiple tours of India. He has performed for President Obama, and he also performed at eight inaugural events in Washington in 2009 and 2013. He has also performed for Hillary Clinton, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Howard Dean, Al Franken, Michael Bloomberg, Steve Wozniak, Ashley Judd and for many other celebrities. Dan performed at the first TED Conference in India.

Dan has been seen on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing”, on A&E, Nickelodeon and had a small role in “The Last Airbender”, directed by M. Night Shayamalan. Dan also starred in his first national commercial for Apple Computer, one in the “Get a Mac” series with Justin Long and John Hodgman.

What are you working on right now?

At this very moment, I’m working on a million things. I’m editing video from the inaugural galas at which I performed in January, and especially testimonials from Al Franken, Kenny Loggins, President Obama’s sister Grace, Ashley Judd, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. I’m also working on travel arrangements for shows in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and writing two books, working on a one-man show and trying to get a clean comedy club started.

Where did the idea for becoming a comedian come from?

My job with Intel was to design highly technical demonstrations and present them on stage with the CEO at events all over the world. Since I’m Indian and Japanese, of course the technical part was easy, but the terrifying part was the public speaking. I decided I had to do something to get over my fear – after all, as the saying goes, do what you fear and the death of fear is certain, so I decided to take a comedy class, which changed my life.

How do you make money?

That’s funny, being a comedian can often be thought of as being a nonprofit. I make money by being paid to perform comedy at events all over the world. Once in a while, if I’m shooting a movie, TV or a commercial, I will be paid for that as well, both for the shooting days as well as residuals afterwards. I also make money playing characters on radio stations.

What does your typical day look like?

Well, there are two distinct types of “days in the life” for me. One is a day on the road, and the other is a day off the road. Let me start with a day on the road.

A day on the road starts with waking up at a leisurely hour (and sometimes at a horribly early, ungodly hour, but hopefully not that often), descending into the subway directly below my building and taking the train to the airport. Since I have elite status, of course I never have to wait going through security, and I have to admit that there’s a certain amount of schadenfreude about being whisked through security when there’s a huge, convoluted line.

At the airport, I leave the madding crowd immediately and enter the hushed inner sanctum of the Sky Club (my membership is free since I have Diamond Medallion status with Delta – the highest possible level of elite traveler). There, I have access to free food, open bar (too bad I don’t drink), a cubicle to work in which reminds me of my days at Intel, unlimited power plugs, free Wi-Fi, access to showers and meeting rooms and even sometimes a putting green and conference room.

By and by I make my way to the gate in leisurely fashion, and again my elite status allows me to cut in line and get right on to the plane (and I often hear “Where’s he going?”, just like in the movie “Up in the Air”.)

On the plane, I settle into my first class seat (to which I am upgraded free every time because of my elite status), and the flight attendant offers me a drink and hangs up my jacket. I spend the time on my flight either working on my jokes or on my webpage, reading the New York Times or chatting with my seatmate. I’ve made some wonderful friends flying, and of course quite frequently I’m sitting next to movers and shakers from all walks of life.

Once I land, I pick up the rental car (I much prefer taking public transportation, but in some cities that’s not possible), check into the hotel, and depending on how much time is left until the show, I’ll take a nap, do some work, go for a swim or hit the gym before heading to the venue. At the venue, I meet the client, make sure that I’ve been paid, and if I haven’t been paid by this point I will swipe their credit card using Square on my iPhone or iPad). Then, I will interface with the production staff or audiovisual staff about the show.

After my performance, the most important priority is to set up my table so that I can sell my CDs and DVDs and give out my business cards. I place my table in the most strategic position possible – so that everyone in the audience will have to pass by me, and I make sure that I give my business card to every single person on the way out.

One thing I should stress is that it is so critically important to use one’s time wisely whether one is on the road or off the road. Here’s a typical phone call I will get from a comedian on the road – “I’m sitting in the condo watching TV, and there are five hours until the show and I’m so bored!” That is absolutely mind blowing! Whether I am on the road or off, there simply is not enough time to do everything I have to get done!

The second type of “day in the life” is when I’m off the road. When I’m at home, I really enjoy a routine of getting up early, eating right, lifting weights at the gym and attending a fitness class, or, if the weather is nice, rollerblading, bicycling or playing ball. My work day is filled with handling e-mail, marketing myself, negotiating shows, writing contracts for my shows, making air/car/hotel arrangements and, hopefully, attending auditions for commercials and television (that process is highly random and dependent upon my casting agents). I also love playing the guitar (I play six instruments), writing music, reading the New York Times from cover to cover every morning and learning languages if I have an upcoming trip to a foreign country.

As you may surmise, my typical day is highly, highly different from that of the typical comedian. The typical comedian, having been drunk or stoned all night, wakes up in the afternoon (thereby missing opportunities to audition for commercials and so forth), eats a highly unhealthful breakfast of bacon and eggs, then stumbles to the local club where s/he earns $25 despite having multiple television credits on David Letterman and Jay Leno. What a horrible life!

How do you bring ideas to life?

The typical comedian sits and writes for hours a day, but I don’t have the patience to do that. My ideas for jokes are quite fleeting – they come up in conversation with friends, or being out with a bunch of people who are laughing and joking, or things that strike me as I walk down the street. Everybody comes up with funny stuff this way, but the key is to get out my phone and write it down immediately, or I will forget it and it will be gone.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

One amazing trend is the incredible platform that comedians (and all entertainers) have, which is the fantastic opportunity provided by YouTube and other Internet platforms. The traditional model of having to perform over and over at clubs, hoping to be recognized by a manager or agent and having to get on television has been completely upended. Now anybody can put something on the Internet, and if it’s funny, it will spread like wildfire and get them paid performances. That’s precisely what has happened to me.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

In college I worked at the dining hall, scraping food off of plates, scrubbing toilets and so forth. One thing I learned from that job is that I had and still have the capacity to do any kind of work I have to do in order to survive.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I’m extremely pleased with the way things have turned out, but the one thing I would do if I could do things over is to start years earlier. Jerry Seinfeld even said that he was afraid of starting stand up comedy for years!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I think it’s extremely critical to wake up early and go to bed early. When one is self-employed, there’s a tremendous temptation to sleep in, because one can, but that’s a very bad idea for both health and business reasons. Comedians are especially notorious for waking up in the afternoon, but this is the kiss of death from a health standpoint, and it also means that they’re not available for auditions, which take place during the business day.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I tried to open a clean comedy club in Bethesda, Maryland where I grew up. Unfortunately, my landlord didn’t tell me that I would have had to spend $80,000 to bring the place to code, so we closed after one weekend. I only lost $8000 on the deal, so I just picked myself up and moved on.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I would really love a website or an iPhone app that would let me type in anything at all that I wanted to buy, be it a computer, a car, even a loaf of bread, and have it tell me the closest place to buy it, and the price.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

If I could change one thing in the world, I would make it so that everyone on earth had enough to eat, and adequate shelter. To go about that, I would increase education, which would help lower the birthrate and hopefully abolish ignorance and hatred.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I play six musical instruments, the piano (since the age of two), the guitar, bass guitar, drums, cello and just received a violin for Christmas. I have a secret dream of someday becoming a musician, and then maybe I can open for myself. 🙂

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

I’m definitely a big fan of LifeHacker, as they have some fantastic tips that can help one in life and with one’s computer. I also love The Action Principles, which is a wonderful motivational site. And of course as someone who flies an insane amount – over 200,000 miles year – I love The Points Guy – the best I have ever found for hints on airline travel.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I absolutely love “100 Ways to Motivate Yourself” by Steve Chandler. This book literally changed my life, because it makes one realize how one can become successful.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

I’m not really religious, but I’m following the Pope, believe it or not, at @pontifex. Steve Martin is hilarious, he is at @stevemartintogo, and I think @jerrythomas is the funniest unknown comedian in the world!

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I laugh out loud and uproariously all the time. It’s surprising and unfortunate, but many comedians never laugh. I read somewhere that the average child laughs hundreds of times a day, but the average adult perhaps 12. That’s really, really sad.

Who is your hero, and why?

My hero is definitely Jerry Seinfeld. That’s because he does only clean comedy, and he’s not into getting messed up on alcohol and drugs. In fact, I met him very early on in my career, and I asked him for advice. He told me that I should do only clean comedy, and that I could work anywhere, and boy did he turn out to be right!

What advice would you offer to other creative people who feel restless and frustrated with their desk jobs?

Many people I talk to have what they consider to be a boring job, but they also have an artistic passion of some kind, whether it’s singing, comedy, making movies, dance, entrepreneurship, or whatever. At the same time, they’ll tell me that they want to pursue their other passion, but they don’t have time to do so.

I would have to disagree. The average American watches over 30 hours of television a week. Also, on Friday night, there’s tremendous societal pressure to go out and party and drink, because that’s what everyone else is doing. Then they are hung over Saturday, and not really able to do anything worthwhile, then they rinse and repeat Saturday night and then they are hung over Sunday, and barely struggle in to work Monday morning. If they could cut out the television, the partying and the drinking, well, I’ve just found them 60 hours a week! (32 hours of television, 12 hours of partying and drinking from 9 PM to 3 AM on Friday and Saturday, 16 hours on Saturday and Sunday hung over doing nothing.)

Instead numbing their minds with alcohol, and instead of watching television (and passively watching others do what they love for a living and making big money doing it), why not use that time to write jokes, compose music, learn filmmaking or start a business?

You live in Chelsea, your favorite color is pink and you love Hello Kitty, Madonna, show tunes and you have done some acting. Are you gay?

No, but I’m 100% for gay marriage. Partly because the more gay men there are, the more women there are for us straight men LOL.


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Dan Nainan on Twitter: @comediandan