Q&A: Former Fairfield class president on becoming an L.A.-based comedian

Stand-Up Comedian Rajiv Satyal will perform a sold-out show at the Fitton Center on Saturday.

Satyal, now based in Los Angeles is a former class president of Fairfield High School. His mom is a retired Hamilton City Schools teacher.

We caught up with Satyal in an email interview to find out more about what’s he’s been working on, lately. Those who don’t have a ticket to the upcoming Hamilton show can catch him when he returns to the Cincinnati area on Saturday, June 22, at the Southgate House Revival.

Also, on Saturday, May 11, the Fitton will host an opening reception for the Hamilton Current art exhibition from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The exhibition features work from over 100 local artists in a juried art show that spans a 60-mile radius of Hamilton.

Q: Tell us about yourself and how you got into comedy?

A: I grew up reading the local Greater Cincinnati newspapers; in fact, they were probably the first papers I knew existed — the JournalNews, Fairfield Echo, and others. My brother, author Rakesh Satyal, found an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, featuring Go Bananas Comedy Club's Funniest Person in Cincinnati Contest. I entered it and made the semifinals. The next year, I won it.

I was born at Fort Hamilton Hughes Memorial Hospital in Hamilton. (I Googled it just to see if that’s still the name and was amused to see it has 3.5 stars on Facebook. I beg to differ: I just learned Comedian Tom Segura and Musician Roger Troutman (of Zapp & Roger) were born there. That should be worth at least four stars — or maybe if you combine all of us, we’re three and a half stars? (I’m clearly the half.) I know Comedian Ray Combs and Actor Eric Lange were also born in Hamilton.

My parents lived at Victory Apartments in Hamilton until we moved to Fairfield in 1978. I graduated from Fairfield High School in 1994. I graduated from University of Cincinnati in Materials Engineering in 2000, after a two-year undergrad stint up at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. I interned at Ethicon Endo-Surgery and worked for six years at P&G. I’m a Cincinnati kid through and through.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about what you do?

A: I think sometimes you go onstage to get laughs and sometimes you go to give laughs. The former is about ego … the latter is where you tend to have your better nights. I'm rarely concerned as to whether think I'm funny. I didn't need standup to know I'm funny; I've been making people laugh since I was 9. What I care about is that the crowd has fun.

Q: What have been some of the biggest influences on you as a comedian and what do you draw upon to come up with material?

A: I used to read joke books cover-to-cover. I also got a kick out of those jokes at the end of Reader's Digest articles. I've always been impressed by pithy language … folks who could drop aphorisms, like Mark Twin, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein.

My act has largely been autobiographical. My favorite topics are really anything within the social realm — relationships, the English language, race, politics, tech.

Q: Is there one achievement that means the most to you, and why?

A: Though I get the most joy from getting laughs from (or, er, giving laughs to) people who are different from me, I'd have to say that seeing my viral video, "I Am Indian," surpass 50 million views has to be it. (The YouTube version only has under a million, but it went viral largely on Facebook and WhatsApp, the latter of which has no counter.)

Q: Your appearance at the Fitton Center is a homecoming show. What are you most looking forward to about being back in Hamilton?

A: Hamilton will always be home, in a way. My family loves driving through it, especially during the Christmas holidays. As a kid, I said, "Take me to Real Hamilton." We apparently were on the outskirts and what I meant was the area near Fillmore Elementary, where my Mom taught for 36 years. We could have some Milillo's Pizza and a Coke.

I was Class President of Fairfield High School (Class of 1994) and I chose Basil 1791 to throw our 25th Reunion this coming June. And yet … I just flew in from New York and my brother (Rakesh) asked me when the heck I’m finally gonna watch the musical “Hamilton”?

Q: What are some of the things you’re working on right now in addition to touring?

A: Ian MacKenzie-Thurley, executive director of the Fitton Center has been more than kind to tell me I'm allowed to promote my new tour, The Man in The Middle.

Find out more at www.rajivsatyal.com or go to www.facebook.com/funnyindian.

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