On November 5, 2019, Indian and Indian-American comedians will perform at Carolines on Broadway as part of the New York Comedy Festival’s Made in India, a showcase produced by NYC & Company, the parent organization of nycgo.com. Our own Arun Govada is slated to host, with Tushar Singh, Sanjay Manaktala and Amit Tandon contributing sets. Further cementing the Indian presence in the festival, Vir Das—one of the country’s biggest stars—is set to headline The Town Hall on November 8. Ahead of these shows, the participating comics took a few moments to respond via email to questions about comedy and New York City—and to extol the virtues of $1 pizza slices.
Get tickets for Made in India at carolines.com and for Vir Das at thetownhall.org. American Hasi, a documentary about Tushar Singh, will screen November 10 at Caveat as part of the New York Comedy Festival.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NYC?
Vir Das: I walk around, which I don’t really get to do in Mumbai. I like to go to the clubs and watch comedy more than I actually like to do comedy. So I will hit up the Cellar, Gotham and Carolines to see who’s up and especially to watch the late shows. I like taking the train in New York City. Apart from that, it’s nice to get in people’s way, bump into them and have them kinda cuss at you, because you learn some new things when New York people cuss at you.
Tushar Singh: After living in nine cities in two countries, I can honestly say this city is the best. Simply walking around the streets is intoxicating. I live on the Lower East Side and have a constant flow of people visiting. My favorite thing to do is walk around aimlessly and wander in and out of stores, restaurants and shows. It’s the greatest place on earth to people-watch.
Sanjay Manaktala: I love to grab a big, fat slice of pepperoni pizza the second I land, then hit the bars, eat chicken and rice, go to the comedy club and get a day pass at a gym. I also like to start the next morning early at 7am with a freshly made bagel and a piping-hot cup of coffee at any local spot. I’m not a fan of chains.
What are the biggest differences between audiences in India and NYC?
TS: To me, the biggest difference is the expectation of language. With the comedy scene still developing in India, audiences’ expectations are being crafted by the comics themselves. Thus the use of Hindi and other local languages changes the tone of the shows.
Arun Govada: My last show in India was in 2017—I am sure the comedy scene in the country has grown substantially since them—but at that time, it was all about drawing the audiences out of their comfort zones and getting them to experience this new form of entertainment.
What do comedy fans need to see in New York City?
TS: Aside from the great clubs in the City—Carolines, Gotham, Comedy Cellar and New York Comedy Club—the most interesting shows are produced by comics at bars and other venues.
Amit Tandon: They need to see the small hole-in-the-wall comedy clubs, not just the famous spots. The variety of talent you get to see in New York is amazing. I have seen people from seven different nationalities in a single lineup, and that makes it a much richer experience.
What’s the funniest thing about New York City?
SM: That pizza can cost a dollar and a cup of coffee can cost $9.
What’s your best New York City story or memory?
SM: A taxi driver recognizing me from my YouTube videos.
AT: I was on the High Line, which is one of my favorite places in the City, and I saw a same-sex wedding. It was beautiful, and people were joining and cheering the ladies. A wedding of 20 people became 150 to 200 by the end. It was amazing to see so many strangers joining a party and celebrating, making it extra special for the couple.
VD: I shot my first Netflix special in New York at SubCulture on Bleecker Street, with 110 Americans who didn’t know who I was, and we kinda locked them in this basement and made them watch an Indian do comedy. At the end it was raining, and I got myself one of those New York hot dogs and had a drink. I was walking around, not believing that I had a Netflix special and that life was going to be good. And then the next day, I went and did a show at a comedy club and got paid $5 for a set. It was a nice grounding experience.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten in New York City?
VD: Pastrami sandwich. Without a doubt. And, as someone who tours the world, you actually get decent Indian food in New York—which you don’t get anywhere else outside of India.
TS: Sounds hack, but the pizza in this city is the best. Try eating a fresh $1 slice of pizza and not being surprised by how good it is. My favorite restaurant in the City is Pig and Khao on Clinton Street, on the Lower East Side. The drinks, staff, menu and vibe are all amazing.
SM: Pizza, hands down. I don’t like all that random Buffalo chicken ranch jazz. I like plain, simple pepperoni slices, crispy. I heard NYC uses special water in the crust or whatever, I don’t know, but I can’t get enough of the pizza. [Editor’s note: NYC tap water does indeed have a great reputation. Its role in the greatness of the City’s pizza, however, is a contentious matter.]
AT: Lamp chops at Ilili on Fifth Avenue.
AG: Dollar slices are the way to go!