Many people know Jay Chandrasekhar primarily as a member of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard (formed when they were all students at Colgate University), but the writer, actor and director had started performing stand-up comedy even before then. He describes his stand-up as “a series of stories,” and the multi-dimensional comedian brings his act to Helium Comedy Club in downtown Buffalo for five shows June 23-25.
Question: You helped form Broken Lizard in college. Was performing something you always wanted to do or did you get the bug in college?
Answer: I was an actor in high school. When I got to college, I started performing live in plays. While I was doing that, I started to get the idea to give show business a try, but what I needed to do was to make an audience of strangers a laugh. I went to Chicago, where I’m from, and I tried improv. That went poorly because we were beginners, and then I got up on a stand-up stage. I wrote some jokes, did some open mics and got some laughs.
When I got back to Colgate, I decided to start a comedy group, which was going to be improv because that’s all I really knew. I got the funniest people I knew together and tried to teach them improv, but I was such a beginner that I didn’t really know how to teach it. Rehearsals were just terrible. We were losing confidence, so we thought, why don’t we just do what (Monty) Python did and write sketches? We wrote a show that we performed. Once we felt the rush of that crowd, we decided to move to New York and do live shows there.
Q: You’re a man of many talents as you’re also a film and television director. Was that something you’ve always imagined for yourself?
A: Look, the only way anybody Indian could get a job in the movie business when I started was to write. I wrote for myself and I cast myself. There were no Indians in show business; there was Ben Kingsley and white guys in brownface. I decided early on that I had to learn how to write and I had to learn how to direct if I’m going to get parts. It was by necessity.
Q: You had to create your own opportunities?
A: It wasn’t going to happen. Since I’ve done it, there’s been a whole bunch of (Indian) artists that came after me, like Aziz (Ansari) and Mindy Kaling, who are all doing great. The business opened up to all of us, so it’s a good situation, but at the time, there was nobody. Then you realize, this business has all gone that way and the idea of creating it yourself. Look at Louis CK. He wrote some stuff and did his own show. The greatest stuff is being done, in my opinion, that way.
Q: A lot of people are talking about diversity in the news, social media and even the presidential election. Is that something you’re talking about more in your stand-up?
A: I have my own bits that are helped by (Donald) Trump’s attitude. Audiences like it when somebody gets on a stage, grabs a mic and starts talking. They don’t love it as much when you have a totally prepared set of bits. If you’re able to weave in a little bit of reality about what’s going on today, it ends up being a more interesting conversation. If you’re afraid of life, you’ll stick to your words. If you’re willing to chat about it, even if it’s just happened, then it can be a setup for prepackaged joke that you have. Trump’s views on race have dovetailed nicely with some of my stories that I have about race.
Who: Jay Chandrasekhar
When: 8 p.m. June 23, 7:30 and 10 p.m. June 24 and 25
Where: Helium Comedy Club, 30 Mississippi St.