When comedian Nimesh Patel reflects on his college experience, he doesn’t remember the on-campus comedy or the current events and identity-driven dialogue that seems to drive his work.
“Of all the intellectual discussions at (New York University), I was not participating in any that didn’t involve a lot of alcohol. And yelling and arguing with roommates,” Patel said in a phone interview with The Michigan Daily. “Comedy is not something I knew about as a pursuit until … a year after I graduated college.”
Comedy wasn’t a career at first, but an outlet for his lack of career following graduation. “I graduated in 2008, with a degree in finance,” Patel said. “And that was about the funniest thing you could do at the time.”
“I’m not sure how well that joke would land with a bunch of people who were 12 during the financial crisis,” Patel said (though I was 5 at the time, I found it a little funny). “Comedy, it was kind of more of an escape, and I did it on a lark. And it just so happened I enjoyed it, and then I worked at getting good at it.”
His comedy career took off in 2009, starting in downtown New York’s iconic clubs that Patel still plays today — his favorite is the Comedy Cellar. He took every opportunity that came his way and gained fame and acclaim from being in the right clubs at the right time. A 2023 “Best New Up-and-Coming Comedian,” Patel scripted a 2017 season of “Saturday Night Live,” crafted jokes for Chris Rock’s 2016 Academy Awards, produced the award-winning series “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” and wrote for Hasan Minhaj for The White House Correspondents Dinner in 2017. Patel regularly sells out comedy clubs and major theaters.
On his current “Fast and Loose” tour, Patel encapsulates his trademark rapid style of comedy. He gets to the punchline fast, before listeners can even notice the tears of laughter in their eyes, and captures recent events in his life and others’ with a unique brand of honesty and levity. His style is loose, relaxed and conversational. He doesn’t do crowd work in a classic question-answer format; he uses the crowd, and every joke, to discuss something meaningful — health, politics, identity — and add a little hilarity to it. He’ll take this style to The Michigan Theater on Nov. 16 at 8:30 p.m. and to a bigger stage on an upcoming Netflix special in the “Verified Stand Up” series, premiering Nov. 26.
Patel is a comedy entrepreneur, bringing his act wherever he can: podcasts, late-night shows, constant stand-ups at open mics, self-uploaded special stand-up acts and a TikTok with 1.3 million followers. His classic style is purely stand-up — rapid and lively — and he came into the industry without knowing anything else.
He took the stage in search of a place to speak his mind.
“I … honestly had the arrogance of ignorance,” Patel said. “I had no idea what I was up against to become successful. So, I had that going for me. I just kept doing open mics and figuring it out as it came along. And I just never got bored of it.”
But Patel needed more than not getting bored, he had to create a recognizable style. “There’s no kind of secret sauce,” Patel said about his best jokes — in TV scripts, at events, open-mics, specials and shows across the world. “I have the things I want to say … I just hope I can say them well, and in a way that’s funny … The topics and things I choose to talk about are just like my life and whatever is occupying my brain at any given time.”
His three specials, which have garnered millions of views, are inspired by all he has learned in the industry. “Chris Rock once told me that the more specific something is, the more universal something is,” Patel said.
“I just knew that if I was thinking about something or going through something, that somewhere, there’s someone who’s also feeling the same thing or experiencing the same thing or thinking the same thing.” In 2023, upon his diagnosis with testicular cancer, he turned to his comedy with the “Lucky Lefty” special. “That’s really … the spark for … all the material that I put out,” Patel said.
His other specials show his more controversial side, connecting with the audience with nearly absurdist, honest jokes. And he thanks social media for his now worldwide audience.
“The first special was called Thank You China for that reason,” Patel said. “Thank you for all the work that y’all put in. I’m just enjoying it, it is a gift and a curse … and hopefully it keeps giving.”
Beyond industry experience, Patel is known for his honesty, sometimes for the wrong reasons. In 2018, he was kicked offstage at a Columbia University Asian-American Alliance event for offensive material. He didn’t take this as a symbol of the oft-degraded “cancel culture” of “sensitive” college campuses, but a joke (about race and gender identity) at the wrong time and discussed it in a New York Times piece. He learned that many students, who reached out following the controversy and told him they enjoyed his comedy, do not fit this exaggerated “sensitive” stereotype. He accidentally became a symbol of “cancel culture” nearly five years later in a Tucker Carlson video that Patel explicitly called out on X. On this tour, he is especially excited for college campus stops, with their rowdy and excited crowds.
Patel proves that comedy today is not all about a battle between “cancel culture” and problematic words. His words bring needed levity to heated discussions.
When asked about what he finds funny in the world, Patel was quick to give examples.
“There’s plenty of stuff going on that’s very funny outside of politics. I think Vivek Ramaswamy is hilarious. I mean, he’s obviously garbage, but I do enjoy watching him fail. Like that political thing will be in the air for sure for me” Patel said. “And then there’s a lot of news happening around flying and stuff like that mushroom pilot, which is crazy.”
A recent TikTok clip shows him wishing Ramaswamy would win the presidency so Patel — the first ever Indian American SNL writer — could gain a prime spot on SNL. A recent clip from “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” discusses getting caught smoking weed by his parents, the major lung and brain health fears this fostered and the question of Americans deserving universal health care.
On the topic of both his most successful acts and marijuana, Patel said “I’ve had some of my best the most recently. It’s very hard to be like, I just walked off killing that shit … I did this show in Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula in Marquette … last September or last October. That was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. It was. I’m not sure if you put this in your newspaper, but it was a weed festival. It was sick … You’re growing some wild shit out there.”
Patel keeps a constant catalog of all that happens in his daily life in a Moleskine notebook and the Evernote app (he emphasizes that he is not sponsored). And though he took a non-traditional path to comedy, comedy is ingrained in his mind, and he incorporates it into every situation he catalogs in his notes. This humor and outspoken nature stems from a childhood in the “loud” suburban New Jersey, where he learned to “survive the streets of suburbia.”
“When you got a lot of (16) cousins arguing, whenever about video games … or who’s getting the last slice of pizza, like stupid shit. That extends to the … elementary school, high school … A lot of people were raised to be loud and mean and joke-driven. And so that translated onto me for sure.”
Patel’s loudness has taken him far and across the country on his “Fast and Loose” tour. His honesty and raunchiness spark laughter and start dialogues. With his unique personal brand and fame, he sold out a show in Columbus (the home of Ohio State); and he understands how this can motivate the Ann Arbor audience.
“It’s fun for students and their parents. You’re gonna have some wild conversations after the show, I assure you,” Patel said. “Come on out. Please don’t let Columbus show you guys up.”
Senior Arts Editor Kaya Ginsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.