Samson Koletkar, dubbed the “world’s only Indian Jewish standup comedian, performs Feb. 15 as part of Just for Laughs Vancouver. (photo from Just for Laughs Vancouver)
This year’s Just for Laughs Vancouver features several members of the Jewish community, including Samson Koletkar, aka Mahatma Moses. He comes as part of Desi Comedy Fest – On Tour, which takes place at the Biltmore Cabaret Feb. 20, 9 p.m.
Koletkar is a co-founder of the Desi Comedy Fest with fellow San Francisco Bay Area comedian Abhay Nadkarni, who also hails from India. The biggest South Asian comedy festival in the United States, it is described as “celebrat[ing] subcontinental diversity with punchlines that transcend boundaries.”
Desi Comedy Fest isn’t Koletkar’s only entrepreneurial venture. He has a background in technology and also started Comedy Oakland, which “features funny, diverse, industry pros alongside up-and-coming comedians at various venues across Oakland,” according to its website.
Koletkar, who claims to be the “world’s only Indian Jewish standup comedian,” spoke with the Jewish Independent earlier this week.
JI: How does one go from being a techie to a standup comedian? Are there overlaps in skill sets? Do you still work in both areas or are your entrepreneurial endeavours your focus?
SK: I have tried a few things in my life, and standup started the same way. It seemed like a fun thing to do, I gave it a try and, the first time I was on stage, I was hooked. There is definitely an overlap from my tech life into standup – bulletproof logic in my jokes. If I am making a point, and I like to make many, there is no room for bugs, the jokes have to be tested thoroughly and any gaps in logic have to be fixed.
Standup has also helped make my day job easier with the ability to inject humour during tough situations. One of my ex-bosses actually made me realize the value of my standup comedy at work – he used to invite me to the tough customer meetings because invariably I would make the room laugh and the meetings got much easier after that.
JI: What were you like growing up – have you always seen the world with a humourous eye?
SK: I think so. I have always had this urge to crack a joke. There were a lot of inappropriate ones at inappropriate times, but isn’t that how we all learn, by making mistakes? Now, every time I meet parents who think their kids are funny, the one thing I advise them is to accommodate their kids’ misspeaks, and keep that funny bone intact. More often than not, the only mistake we as comedians make is saying out loud what everyone is thinking but politely holding back.
JI: When did you move from Mumbai to the San Francisco Bay Area?
SK: I took the first opportunity I got to move as far away from my parents as I could and, at the age of 24, I moved to the Silicon Valley in October 2000. I felt like the needle that burst the Y2K bubble.
JI: When did you first perform standup?
SK: Late 2005, but then jumped all in in January 2006.
JI: What led you to start Comedy Oakland?
SK: Standup is the one art form you can’t practise in your garage. You need a live audience. After grinding through three years of empty open mics and sub-par independent shows, I decided I could either sit and complain about how poorly some shows were produced, or try to do it myself. That led to Comedy Oakland, in May 2009, starting with one show on Friday nights. My goal was to create a space where comedians needed to only bring good jokes and audience experience was optimized for the art.
Just before the pandemic, I used to run 250+ shows (five shows a week), featuring 400+ comics entertaining 12,000-13,000 [person] audiences every year. In 2024, 15 years running, I am back to five shows a week at three venues in Oakland. These venues are 40 to 90 seaters.
JI: When you envisioned the Desi Comedy Fest, did you think it would become as huge as it is?
SK: I don’t think it is huge enough yet. Yes, the fest has grown from its early days, but we have a long way to go, and partnering with JFL is a big step in that journey. What I knew was that it was going to be fun, and it continues to be one of the most fun shows every year in my calendar.
JI: In what ways have you experienced racism and antisemitism, how do you handle such incidents and how do they impact you?
SK: Those stories are more fun to hear in my standup than they are to read, although they only form a small part of my routine because racism and antisemitism are a small part of my life. The world has a lot more good than bad in it and I don’t let the bad overshadow the good. An optimistic comedian – go figure! But, yes, they do impact me, not only when it happens to me but when I see it happen to others. So, some of my content is driven out of that and I tend to focus on the logical hypocrisy/fallacy of it.
JI: You’ve had much success. What are one or two things that you’d still like to achieve or do professionally?
SK: When my joke offends someone in America, it’s “Go back to where you came from.” When my joke offends someone in India, it’s “Go to Pakistan.” I want to tell an offensive joke in every single country in the world, just to see where they send me next, sort of like The Offensive Joke World Comedy Tour!
JI: If there is anything else you’d like to add, please do.
SK: Come watch a show, nothing gives me more happiness than seeing you laugh!
Desi Comedy Fest – On Tour also features Alisha Dillon, Amar Singh and UK Shah. For the full Just for Laughs Vancouver line-up and tickets, visit jflvancouver.com.