Stand-up guys


“I’m really shy,” Daniel Nainan confessed to his Mandel Hall audience as he stood on stage with Azhar Usman after their stand-up comedy routines this past Saturday, sponsored by the Chicago Society and the South Asian Students Association.

Strange words from a man who makes a living playing for laughs in front of large groups, though not so strange considering how Nainan got into the business. As a technical presenter at Intel from 1996 to 2001, Nainan had to represent the company, “sometimes in front of thousands of people or on TV,” when globetrotting with senior executives. “I was really nervous about speaking on stage,” he said. To combat stage fright he took a comedy class, which he enjoyed so much that after retiring early from Intel, he started doing stand-up full-time. Similarly, Usman, though always a “class clown” and involved in theater, only mustered the courage to pursue a comedy career in 2001, two years after graduating from law school.

During the show—Nainan performed first, Usman second—both Nainan, who is half Indian and half Japanese, and Usman, an Indian Muslim American, mined their cultural backgrounds for jokes, poking fun at their parents, Bollywood movies, and Indians’ mangling of English pronunciation and grammar. At one point Usman explained why Indians are always late (the show itself began 30 minutes past the scheduled time): “We are a people that uses the same word for yesterday and tomorrow,” he said. “Basically, if you’re within 72 hours, you’re pretty much on time.” The two also took on politics, with Nainan doing dead-on impressions of figures such as George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Usman lamenting post-9/11 airport security checks (“It’s not pretty. Heads turn simultaneously. Security guard says, ‘We’ve got a Muhammad at four o’clock. Over.’”)

Before the two left the stage to sell their CDs and DVDs, Usman noted that stand-up comedy, which he called one of American’s few indigenous art forms, has enjoyed little scholarship compared to jazz, which “has been studied ad nauseam in academia.” Perhaps, aware of the University’s reputation for intellectualism—at one point he joked about proud Indian parents’ outrage at having “U of the C” (as Indians say it) being mistaken for his own alma mater, UIC—he was hinting that an audience member should take up the gauntlet.

Hana Yoo, ’07

Photo: Nainan (left) and Usman after the show.

October 24, 2005