Snehal Desai: Interview

And it's got a very long title.

A very, very long title.

Did parts of this show start at the group at Yale, or is it totally separate?

I had a couple different things. I took a class with Lisa Kron, who does a lot of solo performance work. And I was in this class where we had to devise pieces, as well, so a lot of the monologues were coming from that, like the kite monologue. Those were the early ones. And these incidents are based on true incidences and stories.

And as we started talking about the journey of this character from the US to India, it was like, one of the big components is that every time I go to the airport, I get extensively searched and held up, which is so, like, for people who know me, that's just very humorous. And for people who aren't brown or South Asian, they don't understand what that experience is like.

Yeah, my friend Kirk Read gets a lot of that, because his last name is Read, and the show bomber was Reid… and they're even spelled different ways?!

See… it's stuff like that that's so crazy.

Of course even if they were spelled the same way, it would be ridiculous.

Yeah.

Since our audience won't see the show this week, how do you describe it, is it interlocking monologues? A through line narrative?

It's basically the journey of this character, Akash, who's born and raised here. He grows up in a small town in Nebraska. And he's separated his life into nice little regions. There's the gay part and his gay friends, then the Indian part… so he's just compartmentalized his life in these ways. And as he makes his journey from the US to India and back, these different parts start to collide.

Like, he meets another gay Indian who's religious for the first time in his life, and he's never thought what it means to be gay but also to be Hindu. And then there's the fact about family, and all these collisions start to happen, so that's one journey and one layer.

And the other layer is the performer who's doing this journey is not out? So, I play a performer who's not out, so that constantly gets thrown in his face. And the audience is watching him confront that and how he reconcile the facts of going on this coming out journey, but he hasn't done it himself.

Because there are more and more gay South Asians out there, but I don't know a ton of them who are out. There's a lot of people living a double life, which is not healthy…

Usually, I find if they were born here and their parents are here, they're out, but if the parents are still in Asia, they don't need to know…

It depends. Or there's a lot of 'I'm going to move to San Francisco and my parents are out on the east coast, so it's not an issue and we don't talk about that. And the ones I do know who are out have severed ties, based on the family and circumstances. But it's still such a big taboo in the community. And the thing that's interesting about the situation here versus in India.

Because in India, it's advancing quicker than it is here. Here, you feel obligations to your parents and that's why so many kids become doctors and lawyers, because the parents sacrificed so much and so, here, we're all in this 50s or 60s mentality. Whereas the kids in India are like, "Whatever!" You know? So it's like really, really funny how things like that happen that are kind of disjointed.

And the term gIndian?

I just coined it.

It is on urbandictionary.com.

Oh, really?

But it sounded very derogatory, like it meant very effeminate and you like to do your nails.

I just coined it for the show. I'd never heard it before.

Well, it was uploaded to the urban dictionary by Huge Wang…

(laughs)

… so I don't know if that's really… you know how the Internet works.

Yes, exactly! So, I use it as a term of affection and not as a derogatory thing.

I'm more used to Gaysian.

Yeah, I just wanted to be more specific, so I used gIndian. I think it's a funny word.

So, we'll assume a lot of this is largely autobiographical?

I leave that to the audience.

It is somebody with not your name living in Nebraska, not Pennsylvania, but is that just to give you artistic license so it doesn't have to be biography?

Yeah.

Everyone's going to assume it's your story anyway.

Exactly.

I'm writing a novel and whenever friends and family read any of it, they're like, 'I never knew that happened!' And I'm like, it didn't happen. It's a novel.

And the reality of it is, it's not all autobiographical. I've taken liberties…

You're straight.

Yes, I'm straight and not Indian. It's all made up. (laughs) But that's why I did create the other character, because it wasn't totally truthful or fair for me to say it was autobiographical.

In the new James Frey/David Sedaris time, when people are coming after them…

Exactly.