The stage is therapy,
but it's not
all you need.
Nimesh Patel, 2023 AD
Emmy nominated comedian, the first Indian American writer on SNL, Comedy Cellar regular Nimesh Patel discusses how he failed upward into comedy, and his journey with mental health along the way.
All words by Nimesh Patel in conversation with Seneca.
I distinctly remember going to an open mic, taking a bus from my parents' place to go to the city and my mom asking, "Do you get paid to do this?" And I was like, "No, I'm paying out of your pocket. Thank you for the 10 bucks of cash every day to go do this." I would get really annoyed. I didn’t want to have to explain the process, because I really had no idea, either. This was a really scary, subconsciously scary adventure. I just kept going. And once it became apparent that I was going to stay doing it, they became a lot more supportive. My mom was still like, "So, are you going to get an MBA or what?” Obviously, they've been very happy to see the ongoing success. I can't think of anything but support coming from them.
2008, a terrible year to be a finance major, especially one that underperformed.
And so, I didn't land a job. For a year or change after NYU, I was very underemployed and unemployed doing internships and shit. And then I was just at home at my parents' place, and I was like, "What do I like doing? What am I good at? I like writing. I have no problem with stage fright. I enjoy laughing and making people laugh." So, I went to an open mic in New Brunswick, New Jersey, all my cousins came, and it didn't go poorly. I was like, "yeah, this seems fun." And that was it. The bug was caught, and I really wasn't conscious of the path ahead of me. I honestly was arrogant enough to think I could do this.
To me, it's like, I have things to say and I'm funnier than all of you, so hear me out.
Sure, the apparent joys of making people laugh is cool, but it's not that selfless. This is what I thought would be funny and hopefully it works for you. If you don't see the world my way, then you're the one that's wrong. That being said, I had no idea about all the bumps along the way. All the rejection and all the sad, lonely nights, eating dollar pizza when my peers were banking and doing coke. But stopping comedy never entered my brain. The longer I did it, the harder it became to reenter the world that I had left. I used to think I was good at three things, but now the motivation is just to be the best at this one thing.
This is the Cellar. Those are Oscar winners up there, Emmy winners.
This was the first place I ever saw live comedy. And it was all an accident. It was when I was a freshman at NYU. I walked in through that door, I think right after finals. I had a beard, I had a backpack on, and Chappelle was on stage for 30 people. And he was like, "Sir, we're going to have to check your bag. Your skin's a little too olive." And everyone laughed. And I was like, "That's hilarious. I got made fun of by Dave." It's such a storied institution. Louis C.K. shot his TV show here. Jon Stewart did shows here right after 9/11. So to be on the stage, it's such a huge confidence boost. My photo is on the wall, I'm a Cellar comic. This is my home club.
Growing up, I thought I was super fresh.
My dad's store was in East Orange, New Jersey, which has a heavy black influence. He would just come home with fly shit. And I'm like, I'm wearing that, I'm taking that starter jacket, that's mine. It was just cool. People notice when you're wearing something on stage, and pants are a way to have a subtle influence on someone's brain. Now I look for high quality, subtle clothing that goes with anything, like Seneca. I want to make sure that the only thing communicating a message, at least verbally, is me.
I think if therapy was marketed to Asians as, you will get higher SAT scores, it would take off.
The problem with therapy is it's marketed poorly. In the sense that it's marketed as there's something wrong with you, versus, this might help you improve your life in the way the gym would, or eating better would. I don't know what it's like for white people, but for Indian people, it's definitely... taboo is not the right word…. it's more, we have such an ethic in believing we can solve our own problems. To talk to someone is admitting weakness, or that you’re a flawed individual. I know that from my family's experience, that's a big part of what’s kept us from pursuing mental health. The generation above, they're definitely walled off. It wasn't accessible then. Now, however, you can talk to anybody. And the next generation is going to be talking too much, I imagine.
My journey in mental health probably started, as with a lot of people, mid-pandemic.
I had just been let go from a producing job at a TV show in February of 2020. Then March of 2020, I'm supposed to get married, pandemic hits, all that gets X’ed. I have no source of income minus unemployment. The YouTube stuff helped, but I was still worried. I'm like, what am I going to do? I started drinking a lot more like everyone did during the pandemic. One night I got super drunk with two friends. Like brown out. I got in an Uber, called my manager and we had an argument, and then I was angry because we were stuck in traffic. Shit kept building. I got home and my wife called me out on being drunk, and I snapped at her. The next day my wife was like, "you have an anger problem". Years prior, one of my close friends had seen me perform, as I got offstage, he came up to me about the show, "man, you're angry." Those two moments connected in my brain and I was like, I probably need to work shit out.