The first jokes Rajat Kashyap told on stage were in Hindi. He was a young man living in Delhi, with a quirky sense of humor, and after some kind encouragement from friends, he decided to stand in front of a pub full of foreigners and see if he would die of embarrassment or would revel in adoration.
He told “pirate” jokes about being an engineer and other “surface-level” topics, but the audience ate him up. “I had a really good set, but the next time I bombed horribly,” says Kashyap, 30. “I wondered how I could be so loved one day and hated the next.”
The life of an actor.
It was a good first lesson for Kashyap: stand-up is hard work. And he decided to complicate things a bit by leaving India for Montreal, where he earned a master’s degree in information science from McGill University: he would perform not in Hindi, but in English, in the province of Quebec. Good luck!
Kashyap was reasonably proficient in English, but struggled with the intricacies of gendered French nouns. He joked that he had to learn the language while having legal access to cannabis. “And then you expect me to remember if a table is male or female?”
In comedy, language – both spoken and otherwise – is key. And for Kashyap, who moved to Winnipeg just before the pandemic began, it’s a frequent source of his material: he jokes that the death threat received by a friend wasn’t serious because it only had one exclamation mark, not three or more, and about how ridiculous he found the term “people of color” when he first heard it. You wouldn’t call a tall person a tall person, would you, he wondered.
Today, he puts the tongue at the heart of a Friday night showcase at Wee Johnny’s, a downtown pub that has become a central cog in Winnipeg’s comedy machine in recent years. The comedian will host in his native language, inviting his videshi (foreigner) friends to tell their jokes in English. He bills it as The first Hindi and English comedy show in Canada (probably).
Kashyap first fell in love with comedy when he saw Canadian comedian Russell Peters – also of Indian descent – perform. Then he began to expand his comic universe. “I looked at someone like Bill Burr, and I thought, how come I can identify with a 45-year-old white man? What is he doing?
This was another lesson for Kashyap. “At some point, you can transcend culture if you talk about life in a certain way.”
In Winnipeg, Kashyap did just that. He often plays his immigrant experience for laughs, achieving easy chemistry with audiences, who have embraced his style and point of view.
But Kashyap often wished that this audience was more like him and that there were more comedians who looked like him and shared the limelight. This is a major reason for the bilingual show. Kashyap wants to better integrate Winnipeg’s large South Asian population into the comedy scene, and he wants to appeal to Hindi-speaking audiences in an inviting way.
Since Kashyap started acting, he says the medium has exploded in popularity in India and South Asia, with comics such as Zakir Khan and Kanan Gill gaining acclaim, while in North America , artists such as Peters, Aziz Ansari and Hasan Minhaj have become one of the most recognizable names in the industry.
The local scene is diversifying, but is still largely represented by white actors for whom English is the first language. Kashyap would like to tip the scales, with the bilingual show serving as an entry point for comedians of different ethnicities and nationalities to find their voices and hopefully use them.
He said he hasn’t spent a lot of time promoting the show, but has received a fair number of direct messages on Instagram from people interested in attending and possibly performing at a show. next episode. He hopes to make the Hindi-English show a monthly event.
“One of the big issues that immigrants can face is social isolation and loneliness,” says Kashyap, who works as a business intelligence analyst for a local tech company as part of her day job. “Comedy helped me a lot with that.”