By Nicole Erb
It’s hard making a name for yourself as a storyteller. But try making a name for yourself as a multi-hyphenate! Meet Dhaya Lakshminarayanan. Dhaya’s a star and a host at The Moth, a regular story contributor (Snap Judgment), a stand-up who’s opened for HUGE acts (Janeane Garofalo, Marc Maron, Maz Jobrani and Greg Proops), and the host of the PBS’ Emmy-winning High School Quiz Show.
Dhaya’s teaching a four week Comic Storytelling Class at Writing Pad in San Francisco starting Sun. July 16. Make even everyday yarns belly laugh worthy.
How did you get into storytelling?
I have always told stories as a part of my stand up. Some of my favorite standups are great storytellers: Tig Notaro, Greg Proops, Mike DeStefano etc. Chappelle’s current Netflix specials have a ton of storytelling in them. I talk about issues facing me in my stand up and personal stories happen to be part of that!
Do all your stories have to be funny? How do you blur the line between your stand-up set and an honest to goodness story with funny moment?
My stories don’t *have* to be funny, but they always are. I enjoy getting people to laugh, even about dark or sad subjects. It is my superhero power.
Let’s say you’re just getting started. What would you tell someone who’s just now trying to enter the world of storytelling?
Do NOT write the story down word for word and try to sound natural. Audiences can smell this a mile away. DO show a side of you that you might be shy/hesitant/embarrassed about.
How often do you develop new material? Have you ever had an idea for a project in one medium that transformed and came into it’s own in another medium?
I am developing new material and stories ALL the time. Every day/week. Something will happen in real life and I will think, I have to use this on stage. I have been able to use stand up jokes in my storytelling. I have been able to take stories and use parts or even edited down versions at comedy clubs.
You were the winner of the Liz Carpenter Political Humor Award (previously awarded to Samantha Bee, Wanda Sykes, and satirist/humorist Mark Russell). How is your approach to political humor different than your regular stand-up? Do you feel pressed to stay ahead of the curve?
My political comedy is part and parcel of my stand-up. I give myself freedom in the same set to talk about the president as I do to talk about my family and friends. I will transition from a personal story about being an LGBTQ ally into a story about hanging with my bro type guy friends. The biggest difference is political jokes have a shelf life. Meaning just when you are having fun telling a joke about dumb-ass Ben Carson, he becomes irrelevant.
You’re a Moth host in SF. Since you’ve watched countless hours of stories, what’s the best advice you can give Moth hopefuls?
Don’t come in thinking about the scoring. The judges’ scoring is irrelevant. DO focus on telling a great story and being comfortable on stage.
You didn’t start your career in comedy. You’re a 2X MIT grad and used to be a venture capitalist! How does that, if at all, influence your comedy?
I’d say my comedy is nerdy, smart, clever, and thoughtful. I can’t put away my nerd side.
You’ve opened for some HUGE comedians. Who surprised you?
The surprising part is even if a big name comedian seems like he or she is going to be intimidating, usually he is super duper nice. I’m surprised how kind these folks are. Even with big TV shows, movies, and fame.
How important is failure? How have your used failure in your work?
OH I have bad sets just like every single other comic. It happens and yes it does make you feel bad, like I don’t want to get back up on stage. But you do. And then the next set is fine or better yet, you crush. And then you think Wow, it really was a shitty audience, not me even though you aren’t supposed to blame the audience. Sometimes they are just bad.
Can you give us a preview of what folks will learn in your class? What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t think they’re funny?
The class won’t teach people “how to be funny” but rather to be YOURSELF and find the natural humor in yourself and the story. Most people tell stories to each other: at a bar, over brunch, and in this current state at the protest or the march etc. Lots of regular folks (not just stand ups) make me laugh. I love to laugh. So we will learn how to have fun together AND tell a very compelling story.
Thanks for taking the time, Dhaya! We wish funny was our superpower. If you’re looking to sharpen your storytelling skills or just laugh it out, be sure to check out Dhaya’s Comic Storytelling Class at Writing Pad in San Francisco starting Sun. July 16.