Techie Samson Koletkar is a comic success
By Dj Varma and Techgirl
Full-time techie by day and comedian by night, Samson Koletkar, is often described as the ‘Indian Seinfield’. An Indian Jewish comedian, he is greatly sought after by the affluent Indian community in USA and has recently performed at TIE CON, ITPIO and many other established tech forums. Born in Mumbai, he now calls USA home.
Every Indian we spoke to for this article described Samson (aka Sam)’s humour as intelligent and one which cuts across country, caste and creed. He has also performed at Hewlett Packard, Intel, IntelliSwift, Selectica, IIT (3 times) and the Youth Science Institute.
Techgoss: What are your links to India? Where are your parents from?
Samson Koletkar: I am a proud Bombayite (Mumbaikar for the politically annoying). I lived the early years of my life in Goregaon, and then my family moved to Dongri in South Mumbai. My parents are also Mumbai bred.
Techgoss: What did you study at school at Uni?
Samson Koletkar: I attended the Sir Jacob Sassoon High School, the only functioning Jewish school in Mumbai. After that I studied for Bachelors in Statistics at the Somaiya College. Then I completed my Masters in Computer Software from Somaiya Management.
Techgoss: What has been your computing background?
Samson Koletkar: I worked for NucSoft in Mumbai for 3 years before moving to US. I started in Pro*C/Oracle and then moved into Java-J2EE, and have worked for Banking, Manufacturing, Healthcare and Web verticals. I have worked in Professional Services, Pre-Sales, Post-Sales, Training, Tech Support, and Programmer roles.
Techgoss: It does take a lot of courage to leave the security of a well paid techie job to work on your love of comedy. How much have you lost in terms of tech money for following your love of humour?
Samson Koletkar: More than courage it takes desire and determination. So far I haven't lost any money since I have a full-time day job at a Search Engine firm. But yes, when the day to take the plunge arrives it will require more courage :)
Techgoss: When did you realize that you had a sense of humour?
Samson Koletkar: I was the joke teller at family events. My parents were amazed how I could remember so many jokes. In school, I think it was 9th grade, I wrote and directed "Sangeet Ramayan", and it was a laugh-riot. At my first tech job, I wrote, directed and acted in another comedy play for our annual day celebrations. The play was an overlay of bollywood melodrama from the 70s & 80s on the tech industry, interspersed with bollywood songs reworded with tech jargon. That play made everyone expect a funny twist from me at every company event. Even when I was a little kid, my mom dressed me up as Charlie Chaplin and I learned to rotate a hat on a stick and walk like him, in preparation for a school event. The fact that I refused to put a foot on the stage after repeated name announcements is something my mom would never forget. I also think growing up amongst smart, funny, laughing people (my family) helped a lot in shaping my comedic timing right from early childhood. So, to answer your question more aptly, I don't think there was any particular moment of realization. For me it was a matter of fact all along. I have always liked to make people laugh, even when they are crying. Today I love it when I can make people laugh until they cry.
Techgoss: When did you think your sense of humour could even be a career? Was there a certain point/incident that you realized you had this gift and became comfortable in accepting it?
Samson Koletkar: Yes, when I received my green card. I was already in the art of comedy, after the green card I got into the business of comedy. I had already started getting more paid gigs, and I had been playing some big audiences and big venues, so I decided to pursue it more seriously. "Will non-Indians laugh?" changed to "How do I make everyone laugh?” which led to some serious writing. It felt really good when people from world over would come up to me at the end of shows and say, "I understand what you are talking about. I am glad to hear something new and refreshing, instead of the same old drugs, sex and stereotypes". It also felt great to know that people were now telling my jokes to their friends and families. Today, besides performing, I also produce my own comedy show - Comedy Off Broadway Oakland, which runs every Thursday and Friday nights.
Techgoss: Did you select this niche of Indian Jewish comedian? Is your comedy mainly about Indians?
Samson Koletkar: I am an Indian Jew, so yes I did select that niche, since that's what I can talk about. But that's not all that I talk about, because I am also a human being and a lot of my material is based upon how I, as a human, view the world, react to it, experience it and live it. A lot of my comedy is about Indian-ness, a first generation immigrant-ness, but I also like to address the attitudes and the ills of people and practices in general.
Techgoss: How do you create your material? Most Indians who have seen you find it brilliant. Do you have a hidden partner/muse who helps you come up with such clever lines?
Samson Koletkar: I will answer that question in two parts because there are 2 steps in creating material. First is an idea or an opinion that forms the crux of a joke. The ideas usually come at the least expected moment and can happen anytime, anywhere. It could be triggered by a conversation I am having or something that I read or something I see or something I feel in a particular situation. My mind is always switched on, and when something catches its attention it gets noted as an idea. Then comes the actual joke development. There is inherently something funny or ironic or moronic about the idea that caught my attention in the first place. Now it's about expressing that something in actual words. This takes a while to develop from a rough draft of a joke that I do for the first time to when it's polished. It generally goes from being very wordy and emotion based to short, sharp, crisp and opinion based. Once I have a joke ready, then comes the part of where to fit it in my routine. I also constantly look to make the joke longer by adding more to it...more stories or opinions or hypothesis. The icing on the cake is when I can connect a new joke with something existing through callbacks.
My partner in crime is the audience, other comedians and my wife. I work very organically, which means I won't write a joke down word for word, because then I am more worried about reciting it on stage without forgetting the words. I take the idea on stage and say what comes to my mind at that moment. I generally have an idea of what I want to say but not how exactly I want to say it. Once I have said it a few times, it starts taking shape - based upon audience’s reactions, inputs from fellow comedians, and a lot of brain-dumps with my wife. I also record myself and review my videos to notice the little things that I want to fix. The videos help me identify what not to do, the talking to my wife clears the muddled idea in my brain and brings in more clarity of thought, and the audience reactions validate my joke.
Techgoss: Do you feel Indians can laugh at themselves?
Samson Koletkar: Culturally Indians are raised to keep their emotions in check. We are seldom allowed to express freely, and that introversion seeps through our lives in almost every aspect. We tend to look around to see what others are doing, to check who's looking at what we are doing, and validate ourselves before we act. It's almost to the point where if I find something really funny and no one else does I will hold my laughter back because of what others might think of me. Then there is the whole mindset of "Don't point a finger at me because 3 others are pointing back at you". The minute you point something out, most Indians tend to get defensive by pointing back at you. Trying to neglect the point is not going to make it disappear. Sometimes in my Indian shows, when some joke hits too close to home, I wind it up with, "If you are laughing you 'get' the joke. If you aren't, you 'are' the joke!". So yes, it is difficult to makes Indians laugh, even more difficult to make them laugh at themselves.
Techgoss: What is your joke that is loved by every Indian audience?
Samson Koletkar: Growing up in India, when I told someone I am a Jew, they would look at me and say, "Ju? We know only 2 Jus, the Gujju & the Punju, which one are you?"
Techgoss: Is there a joke that you had to drop from your repertoire because the audience did not connect to it?
Samson Koletkar: Oh absolutely. Don't ask me for examples, but bad jokes will happen. It's a part and parcel of writing jokes. Some work, some don't. You drop the ones that don't work and you move on. You can't hit every ball for a six!
Techgoss: Which Indian comedians/actors/satirists do you like?
Samson Koletkar: I loved Johnny Lever for his absolute silliness. I like Raju Shrivastav, I think he has more to offer than what Indian television can handle today. I liked Russel Peters in his first "Comedy Now" hour. There are some really smart Indian comedians working on the circuit currently that I also enjoy working with. I also, even today, very fondly watch Amol Palekar films like Golmaal and Choti Si Baat.
Techgoss: Many feel that comedians actually have the courage to tell the truth while most others get caught up in systems and political correctness. Do you sometimes feel that comics can understand the bare reality of situations better than non-comics?
Samson Koletkar: Non-comedians understand the bare reality of situations just as much as comedians do. How else would a comedian relate to the audiences! But yes, comedians have the courage and the skill to tell the truth. In fact I often hear that comedians are the only surviving truth-speaking species today.
Techgoss: Any plans to tour India?
Samson Koletkar: Absolutely. I did 2 shows in Mumbai in October - one at Somaiya Management campus and another at the Jewish Community Center. They were my testing grounds and if I had passed my school tests as well as I did in my comedy tests, I would have never been a comedian ;). I am definitely hoping to make an India tour in late 2010, if I get the right promoters and venues to work with.