“I think it’s important to own your identities. Being gay and Indian are my big ones” – Nik Dodani.
Twenty-two-year-old Nik (Nikhil) Dodani is just like anybody else in a myriad ways. But when it comes to his stand-up routine, he draws from the very aspects of his personality that separate him in all the other ways. Drawing heavily on his Indian-American heritage, and his sexuality, Dodani’s routine titled Gay, Indian and Disappointed was born, and it’s as riotous as it is relatable to so many others who haven’t had the opportunity to explore their own freedom as he has. We caught up with the comedian to dissect his life and mind as it continues to evolve with the times. Scroll on for a front row seat.
Dodani grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, and found himself quite lost during his childhood. “I wasn’t around many other Indians or openly gay people, let alone any openly gay Indians. On top of that, Arizona is a very conservative state, notorious in the U.S. for its issues with immigration, so needless to say, it wasn’t easy growing up there,” he said.
At 17, Dodani moved to Los Angeles to study politics at Occidental College. During his college years, Dodani spent over a year working with RALLY, a political consulting firm in Hollywood. One of his clients at the firm was the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which was the organisation behind the federal challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a campaign that that successfully brought marriage equality to California. “I always knew I was gay, deep down, but I wasn’t aware of it until I was 17. To be blunt, I had a vivid sex dream about one of my friends and woke up thinking: huh, I didn’t hate that,” said Dodani.
For Dodani, coming out was both liberating and frustrating. “I was fortunate to go through my initial coming out process at Occidental, which was by and large a pretty safe space for LGBT students. The ability to fully be myself on that campus was an elating experience. As cheesy and clichéd as it sounds, I felt free in a way I hadn’t before. There’s no feeling like those first few months of being out.” However, Arizona and California are poles apart as far as LGBTQI tolerance goes. When Dodani came out to his friends back home, most were supportive, but he did lose a few. “One friend said she ‘couldn’t support my sinful soul’. That one still stings sometimes,” Dodani said.
But, as any LGBTQI kid anywhere in the world knows, it’s coming out to your family that’s ‘the big one’. And it’s not easy. It never is. When Dodani told his parents, his mother didn’t take it too well, asking him if he meant he was ‘happy gay’ or ‘AIDS gay’, something he tries to make light of in his stand-up, but something that nevertheless hurts to think about. “My sister also had a tough time at first. Surprisingly, my dad took it really well. I told him and he looked at me and said: ‘Nikhil, I’ve never had a problem with gay people, but now it’s personal. If anybody ever says anything I will tear them to shreds.’ And then he started tearing up, and we hugged, it was so great. It blindsided me.”
Growing up, Dodani found it hard to find his identity as an Indian-American. “I spent most of my childhood wishing I was white. I swore off everything Indian—from Bollywood, to music, to speaking Hindi. Everything except the food, really. Internalised racism is a real piece of shit. It was only when I left Arizona and went to college did I start seeing my own race and heritage. Only in the last few years have I really started exploring my identity as an Indian-American. That transition has been one full of many odd experiences for me, so it’s been ripe for comedy. And there’s still so much for me to figure out. In my latest stand-up set I joke that I’m really lost, only I’m not joking.”
Though Dodani’s stand-up sets are hilarious, there’s a note of poignancy underneath the veneer of self-confidence he portrays—one that’s essential if you’re going to get up on stage and get a bunch of strangers to laugh with you as opposed to laugh at you. Growing up gay is confusing for everyone, but when it’s compounded with a feeling of alienation towards your own culture and heritage, it can be that much harder to answer the question of ‘Who am I?’
Dodani, however, manages to skillfully navigate his way through the pitfalls and nuances of self-deprecation, and manages to do so endearingly at that.
While stand-up comedy in India has seen a steady rise in popularity over the last few years, it’s interesting to note how alternative sexuality is still off-limits—unless it’s made fun of. In a closeted environment, then, Dodani is a breath of fresh air—a comedian who is not only proud of his sexuality, but also of his roots, drawing from each to create an identity that is both refreshing and unique.
Watch his stand-up titled Gay, Indian, and Disappointed here.
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