Five Questions for Samson Koletkar
Photo by Mohita Bhatnagar
He’s proclaimed himself the “world’s only Indian-Jewish stand-up comedian,” but Fremont’s Samson Koletkar is better known locally as the man behind Comedy Oakland (hosted at downtown restaurant Spice Monkey) and the annual Desi Comedy Fest (which spotlights South Asian comics at venues throughout the East Bay). Here, he talks stand-up and the power of an outside perspective.
Q: You were born and raised in Mumbai, India. How did you get interested in comedy?
A: Stand-up as an art form didn’t exist in India when I was growing up. When I came to the U.S., I saw a lot more. In 2004, a friend took me to see Don McMillan, the PowerPoint Comedian. This dude is standing onstage telling jokes, and people pay him money. I thought, I should do that. I made the plunge in early 2006. It became very brutal very quickly. In your mind, you will be performing to a packed house every night, but in reality, you are in a bar with two or three people who barely care what you are saying. It burns your soul.
Q: How does your personal experience come out in your act?
A: I had this big fear: How are Americans going to connect to my humor? I didn’t know the inside jokes. After a few years of doing stand-up, I realized that not being an insider was a breath of fresh air. You are hearing the same kind of jokes over and over, and then here I come with a brand-new perspective: Let’s look at America from the outside in.
Q: You run a comedy show five evenings a week, tour as a stand-up, and work a full-time tech job, in addition to raising two young children. How do you manage it all?
A: I have started to ask myself the same thing. I took a break from tech for 20 months, and my wife also quit her tech job, but it got a little tricky with the two kids. I tell my friends that I am going to give my kids a very subtle Third World experience, [since] I don’t want them to miss out on my childhood. That joke became a little too real.
Q: How did you end up running comedy nights in Oakland?
A: When I first came up with the idea of running a show, I was looking in San Francisco. One of my friends suggested I start it at The Washington Inn in Oakland. Now, here I sit, nine years later, running five shows a week. Oakland is an amazing city.
Q: Are you really the world’s only Indian-Jewish stand-up comedian?
A: Absolutely. There are like 6,000 Jews in India, and I know 5,995 of them. None of them have taken up comedy yet.
To learn more about Koletkar, visit mahatma-moses.com.