In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Patel said his crowds have gotten more diverse courtesy of social media.
“I have a 20-year-old Indian kid who goes to Georgia Tech next to a 70-year-old white guy who saw me from clips on TikTok. That was eye-opening to me,” he said. “I could speak to a lot of different people.”
The New Jersey native, now 37, comes across on stage as conversational, like he’s just hanging out with some buds at a local bar. At the same time, he exudes a combo of stellar confidence and sly intelligence. Indeed, he has been doing stand-up now for about 14 years, enough time to build that level of ease.
“Why does he laugh at his own jokes?” Patel said in one of his specials “It’s Dark and Patel is Hot,” addressing a critique on social media. “For one, they’re funny. For two, I’m having fun up here. Three, most importantly comedy audience, this is going to sound arrogant but I’m better at comedy than all of you. None of you can do this at the rate I’m doing it.”
He paused as the crowd chuckled: “Some of you are in disbelief... I understand comedy better than all of you... If I’m laughing at something, just follow my lead. Just trust me.”
Patel will actually make fun of the audience if a joke doesn’t land, sometimes telling them, half mockingly, that they’re “soft.”
Patel, in his “Thank You China” special, did so after making jokes about Kobe Bryant and Hinduism. And after making some jokes about Christianity, he mused, “I’m going to hell.” Pause. “No, I’m not. That place ain’t real!”
Patel grew up with middle-class immigrant parents. His dad owned a liquor store in a rough part of town. His mom was a chemist who did real estate on the side.
“When they told me to make something of myself, I went into stand up,” he said. “It was the arrogance of ignorance. It’s damn near impossible to make a living doing this.”
But he built his craft and worked in finance to pay the bills, facing plenty of obstacles along the way. (He said he was rejected from the prestigious Montreal Just For Laughs festival three years in a row.)
“Comedy is not like finance where you don’t get a job because you failed the technical part of it,” Patel said. “In comedy, you tell them your most personal stuff and they’re like, ‘Nah. We’re not bonding with that.’”
Credit: REDIT: Preet Mandavia.
Credit: REDIT: Preet Mandavia.
But then Chris Rock saw him do a show in 2015 called “Broken Comedy.” “I had one of those blackout sets,” he said. “I heard Chris Rock laugh in the first 30 seconds. ‘Oh my gosh! Chris Rock laughed!’ I did 12 minutes of my top-tier material. He came up after and told me I was funny.”
A few months later, Rock was prepping to host the Oscars a second time and requested Patel be part of the writing team. That led to him being hired at “Saturday Night Live” as a writer.
He lasted just one season. It wasn’t quite what he had hoped. By this time, his friend Michael Che, who had joined “SNL” as a co-host of “Weekend Update,” told Patel he seemed angry on stage. “I hadn’t noticed it,” he said. “When he said that, I was like, ‘Maybe I’m just angry as a person.’ Subconsciously, it was coming out in my material and stage presence. It made me think about what was going on my head.”
At that point, Patel was in his early 30s. “All my non-comedy peers were becoming law associates and vice presidents and graduating from residences to become doctors,” he said. “I realized I had to get over this anger. I learned to be more free. I’m still working on being more liberal and silly.”
While he was headlining clubs by early 2020, he hadn’t reached the next level yet. In June 2020, his wife, who had worked in social media, told him about TikTok. He half-heartedly put out a single video doing a three-second parody of a Kanye West song but he didn’t get into it.
A few months later, a friend told him TikTok was blowing up so he took that advice seriously. He began posting clips of his stand up in one or two minute chunks. At the time, he was one of the early adopters in the stand-up world. One set of jokes hit 800,000 views: “I started feeding the machine.”
In 2021, he was setting up make-up dates from before the pandemic and decided to promote the shows on TikTok. It worked. “I had these shows in Houston that were supposed to be one night for 70 people become four shows with 200 people each in a matter of two or three weeks,” Patel said. “That’s crazy!”
He is okay when people lump him in with other Indian American comics with different styles like Ansari and Minhaj.
But he said he was more inspired by Russell Peters, the first Indian comic he had ever seen: “He definitely played a role in me thinking I can do what Russell did. It’s now great to be in a position to call these people my friends and peers. I know all their numbers and we talk. We are all carving out our own paths.”
And while Patel isn’t quite big enough to host “SNL” just yet, he said he’s ready to return to his old stomping grounds: “If they told me to host right now, I’d chop off my right leg, get out my pirate leg and host!”
IF YOU GO
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4. $39.50-$49.50. The Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St. NW, Atlanta. livenation.com.