Dan Nainan: From Talking Tech to Tickling Funny Bones

How did a nice Indian/Japanese boy from Bloomington, Ind., go from traveling with Intel CEO Andy Grove, demonstrating cutting-edge technology, to wandering the four corners of the earth telling jokes as a stand-up comic? For Dan Nainan, it involved hard work and a sense of humor. And practice, practice, practice.

“You want to memorize what you’re saying,” Nainan said. “My teacher says that if you do comedy right, you get your audience to think that what you’re doing is coming off the top of your head. We really don’t want the public to know it’s studied. But it is.”

Even after nearly a decade as a stand-up performer, Nainan still has a teacher. It’s one of the signs of the work ethic he brings to his craft.

The ratio of jokes that work to those that flop is 1 to 10, he told BusinessNewsDaily. Putting together a comedy routine is a “very iterative, pruning process.”

It was a skill set Nainan honed in the corporate world at Intel.

“I loved it at Intel,” he said. “I never worked a day in my life. I got to play with technology and went to exotic locations.”

For the son of nuclear physicist from India and a child psychologist from Japan, the segue into the comedic arts was triggered by a touch of stage fright. Even though he routinely made presentations to audiences as large as several thousand people, butterflies in his stomach became a constant companion as the groups grew larger. To tame his demons and get over a fear of public speaking, Nainan joined a Toastmasters group at Intel.

“It was 11 other geeks and me in a room,” he said.

That led to a comedy class in San Francisco. The final exam, said Nainan, was performing at a comedy club. (“I absolutely had the most amazing set,” he said.)

Nainan began incorporating comedy in his Intel presentations. But then Intel promoted him two levels to a position in sales and strategic relations in New York City. To him, it was the worst of worlds: “It was home-based with no travel and no geek stuff,” he said.

That provided him with the impetus he needed to make the leap from delivering technical presentations to tickling funny bones full time.
Launching a comedy career was incremental and required both patience and perseverance.

“To start from the ground up, you have to go out and get gigs in clubs,” Nainan said.

The gigs did come, and today his résumé lists appearances that have ranged from local comedy clubs and comedy festivals to the Democratic National Convention, a TED conference and three presidential inaugural events. So far this year, he has added performances in Dubai, Hong Kong and Thailand to his Baedeker of global venues.

Needless to say, he spends a lot of time traveling; last year he racked up 132,249 miles on Delta flights.

His insistence on delivering only squeaky-clean material sets him apart from many of his contemporaries in comedy.

“Above all else, the most important thing is to be clean,” he said. “Jerry Seinfeld once told me, ‘If you work clean, you’ll work everywhere.' And if I weren’t clean, my parents would kill me.”

He credits his Intel experience for reinforcing his work ethic , which he believes has played a major role in his success. Comedians may know all about how to entertain an audience, Nainan said, but they are babes in the woods when it comes to business.

“Part of the comedy business is improving your product,” he said. “And part is hollering about it. Ninety-nine percent of comedians are clearly lacking in business sense. Most comedians don’t even have a business card. Business experience is invaluable. It’s important to be up during the day.”

Nainan still gets his geek on, by incorporating technology in the business end of comedy. He uses an iPad, edits his own DVDs of his performances and uses Square on his iPhone to process credit card purchases at his concerts.

Much of Nainan’s material is self-referential and focuses on his mixed ethnic pedigree. He also does a host of imitations, including President Bill Clinton and a spot-on take on his former boss at Intel, Andy Grove, complete with thick Hungarian accent.

“Ethnicity is good for one-half hour worth of jokes,” Nainan said. “Comedy seems to be limitless in terms of the things that can be funny. The most important thing is that the audience has to understand what you’re talking about and be able to relate. It has to be familiar to them.”

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.