Here at Brown Girl Magazine, we pay special attention to the many South Asians who dare to put themselves on stage and perform their talents with outright bravery and enthusiasm. And especially to those, who give us a few chuckles here and there.
Rati Gupta, the creator of the one-woman show “Not Another Teenage Solo Show,” is an accidental turned purposeful comedian who exemplifies the aforementioned qualities perfectly.
In addition to her stand-up (which is hilarious and I urge you to watch immediately after you finish reading this), Gupta is also a dancer and accomplished choreographer, as you can see below.
She hails from Michigan City, a small town in Indiana on the shores of Lake Michigan. Gupta spent twelve years at a Catholic school, where she grew up with the same “typical white friends” we have all grown up with.
Afterward, she went on to attend Northwestern University to pursue dual degrees in dance and psychology. In college, her life was hectic.
“Most students probably had around 12 hours of class a week. I had closer to 20,” Gupta said. “I skipped class a lot. I’m sorry, I’m a horrible role model. Don’t skip class! But, the classes I skipped were always my pre-med science lectures, never my dance classes or even my non-science elective classes. It was a pretty revealing sign of where my real interests were and what I really wanted to do with my life.”
Her real interests were dance, performing and comedy, but these three fields of study do not normally resonate well with brown parents. And Gupta was still convinced that she “was definitely supposed to be a doctor,” because almost everyone in her immediate and extended family was a doctor.
She knew, however, that being a medical professional would not suit her for the long run, so she said she eased her parents into her intended career of dance, and by the time she completely dropped the idea of med school, they were fine with the alternative.
This, in addition to her impeccable dance skills, gave her parents the confidence that she could make it with performing.
“No parent, Indian or otherwise, want to see their children fail,” Gupta said. “But, I am really good at what I do. And they see that. It’s like that classic writing rule–’show, don’t tell.’ Don’t just tell your parents you want to do something. Go out and DO IT. Show them that you’re great at it, and they’ll see that it’s what you’re meant to do with your life. And who’s gonna stop you then?”
The L.A.-based performer’s first major showcase came in the form of “Not Another Teen Solo Show,” which she said started as a handful of personal stories she had written about high school for a class at the UCLA Extension School.
Interestingly, it was going to be a book, but she said, “getting a book published is really freaking hard,” so Gupta opted for a live storytelling show.
She said she was already comfortable with the theater community and thought that this was the next logical step. Gupta’s leap into comedy did not come readily, it actually occurred because she was frustrated with the L.A. dance scene. And with her vexation, she said she decided to take a few acting classes, which unknown to her at the time would evolve into a new career path.
“I dabbled in stand-up for a year or so, mostly as an experiment, to test out this claim of theirs that I was funny,” Gupta said. “And apparently I am, because I have yet to turn back.”
Yet, Gupta isn’t really into the traditional form of stand-up anymore. Storytelling was a newfound passion and she found her niche in shows like “The Moth.”
“I think audiences these days want more than just empty laughs,” Gupta said. “They want to feel something. A great story will make you feel something and laugh!”
We are seeing amazing South Asian comedians break barriers into TV. For Gupta, being a minority, a female and a person of color, wasn’t a setback, but a strength.
She said she, “Would rather stand out in a crowd than blend into the masses any time, any day, any year.”
Though there are challenges in being a minority, she said she is not afraid to fight them. She knows about the stereotypes and gladly loves to break them through writing.
“The reason why I started screenwriting five-years-ago was because I was so frustrated with the quality of female and ethnic characters in the scripts I was reading,” Gupta said. “The Indian characters were so cliché and rarely resembled an actual Indian person I had ever met in my life. So, I kind of took it upon myself to start writing characters that made sense to me. The reason why comedy has been so ‘white dude’ is because only white dudes are getting hired to write comedy. If more women and ethnic writers get hired to write comedy, then we’ll finally get the broad range of stories and characters that the world needs.”
She is presently working on a feature film script and a musical comedy. Also, there may even be a TV show in the works as Gupta is working on a few TV pilot ideas and a book of personal stories.
For Gupta, entertainment is simple, it is about spreading joy:
“People always ask me if I want to write TV shows, movies, or essays, as if you can only write in one medium,” she said. “I just want to tell good stories. Stories about women, and minorities, and worlds that are meaningful to me, that don’t get told very often. Whatever medium tells those stories the best, that’s where I’m gonna be.”