Wrecking the bar for all night spots along the lane, NIK DODANI bridges the gap between cockamamie humor and profound narration, and has us falling out of our seats in laughter as he playfully explores the challenges of being gay in an Indian-American community with great panache. Now with a recurring role on Netflix original’s “Atypical,” a comedy by Robia Rashid and an appearance in Joshua Leonard’s indie film, “Behold My Heart,” he is on his way to a swashbuckling journey to stardom with a mission to move the spotlight on the untold struggles and triumphs of the LGBT community in India.
With a knowing nod to his self-aware burlesque humor, he cheekily jabs homophobia in his culture and proves that comical surrealism can be delivered in a sincerely moving punchline.
“But I think there’s humor in everything — you just gotta keep digging to find it. “
Tell us about your childhood. How was it being raised with different cultures surrounding you, and when did the idea of becoming a comedian first come to you?
Nik: I grew up in a part of Arizona that was very white, religious, and wealthy, and my family was none of those things. So it was tough trying to navigate the different, often competing cultures surrounding me. To be totally honest, I spent most of my childhood wishing I was white. I tried to swear off everything Indian, from Bollywood, to music, to speaking Hindi at home. Everything except the food, really. (I could never give up Indian food.) It was only when I left Arizona and went to college did I start seeing my own race and culture, and only in the last few years have I really started exploring my identity as an Indian American. Add the fact that I’m gay, have a crazy family, and have tons of issues with the world, and comedy seemed like the right way to express myself.
What’s something that we need to be excited about in Atypical? Tell us about your role’s relationship with Sam Gardner in the show.
N: The show is all about being okay with being weird. So if you’re like me and need constant validation of your quirks and oddities and flaws, this show is for you. I play Zahid, Sam’s ridiculous co-worker and best friend who takes it upon himself to teach Sam the ways of dating. Zahid’s the kind of guy who tries really, really hard to be cool and funny but doesn’t quite hit the mark, so naturally, his advice to Sam is pretty bad. I’m excited and anxious to see how the show impacts the cultural conversation around autism in the long term. I think folks will really relate to Sam and his family and I hope that ultimately has a positive impact. Some folks are going to love it, some folks aren’t, but I think that tension can be a good thing that’ll lead to some much-needed conversations about autism.
Aside from acting, you’ve also been known for your stand-up comedy. Where do you get your inspirations for your performances? And who’s the funniest person in the world?
N: I dig deep down into the traumas of my past and do my best to make them funny. It’s a slow process. The first drafts of my jokes are usually just sad or angry and not very funny, best suited for a passionate, anonymous blog post. But I think there’s humor in everything — you just gotta keep digging to find it. And lordy, “funniest person in the world” is a tough one. I’m going to pick my boyfriend, Michael, so I can earn some points with him.
“I dig deep down into the traumas of my past and do my best to make them funny.”
Most of your jokes address current issues that are neglected in society, and not to mention your tour Laughter Trumps Hate and your involvement with Art Not War. Being so vocal with your views, how would you want to impact society, and what would your goal be?
N: If you asked me this 6 months ago, I would have said something broad like, “I just want people to open their minds to diverse experiences and treat others with more respect and empathy.” But that’s too soft nowadays. Now, I just want to do whatever I can to help prevent the fucking Nazis and KKK from getting too powerful.
With strict laws against same sex relationships implemented in India and some of the members of the LGBTQ community still being discriminated around the world, what will be something that you can prove to change other people’s way of thinking towards it?
N: If I can move just one person to come out of the closet and help them show their friends, family, and co-workers that queer people aren’t some scary “other,” then I’ve done my job. I think this is especially important in India, where the closets are full and the silence is dangerous.
What are the best and worst parts of being a comedian?
N: The best part of being a standup is being able to sleep in a lot. The worst part is the occasionally crippling sense of worthlessness.
What’s next for you?
N: I just finished shooting a Ben Stiller-produced Netflix movie called “Alex Strangelove” that comes out some time next year, and I’m super excited about that. The movie tells the hilarious story of a high school senior struggling with his sexuality and I think a lot of folks are going to be able to relate and laugh along with it.