Mr. Satyal Goes to Washington
The Man in The Middle on Capitol Hill
I might’ve just become the first comedian ever to perform on Capitol Hill. Here’s how it went.
I’m a standup comic/host based in Los Angeles. I like writing one-person shows. They provide the chance to do a deep-dive into a topic. In 2013, my one-person show about dating, No Man’s Land, led me to marriage. (That one’s tough to top.) In 2017, my one-person show about music, Taking a Stand, led me to become the first standup comic ever to perform at Spotify. (OK, is this an affirmation journal? Enough bragging. Let’s get to it.)
For my latest one-person show, I’ve set my sights on American Politics, where I’m trying to make sense of where we are and what it all means. It’s called The Man in The Middle. Like all of my shows, it’s clean and appropriate for ages 9+ (since that seems to be the intellectual age of our politicians). I do not try to hide the fact that the agenda is to oust Donald Trump from office. That said, when I performed in my hometown of Cincinnati, where probably half of the audience consisted of Trump Voters, I got a standing ovation. I’ve done my best to truly play it up the middle.
To help me finalize the script, I hired Pat Hazell, who wrote on Seinfeld. Pat said something very insightful: “The show isn’t about Trump; it’s about you. People don’t want to come to a show and watch somebody rant about somebody else. He isn’t in the room; you are.” So, the show is my personal journey of how I’m dealing with how my Dad voted for Trump. (True story.)
The debut at the Comedy & Magic Club lounge in Hermosa Beach, CA, sold out in June, and the followup at Dynasty Typewriter, a hip new venue, went great in October. It has also been well-received in blue states like Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, and in red states like Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Texas.
The Fool on the Hill
To promote the show, we had people write their Congressperson. We built a website, which you should actually check out. It’s pretty lit, as the kids are saying. I think they’re still saying that.
And it was dope for City Beat, a newspaper in my hometown of Cincinnati, to run an article.
Born in the red state of Ohio and living in the blue state of California, Comedian Rajiv Satyal thinks his little show may be just what we need to save the empire.
“Great job! Very insightful and funny stuff.” — Justin
“I think she just didn’t know exactly what to expect and was a little nervous about how her friends would like it bc politics. But she said right away everyone was laughing and she knew it was going to be ok. Said everyone liked it and they loved the 80s/90s references.” — Catherine
“Hey, that was an awesome show! You nailed the delivery. It was funny, insightful, and provocative. You obviously spent a lot of time researching and preparing and it showed.” — Steve
“This is your thing. Put all of your energy into this show. I’ve never seen you be more authentically you. THIS is your truth. Also — you totally feel and look like Indian Larry David thing up there.” — Samia
“What a wonderful show and fantastic performance! Super duper impressed!” — Justin (another one)
My goal right now is to get as many people to see it as possible. I believe in the show’s message of unity.
I Am American
As part of the show, I perform a piece called I AM AMERICAN. Five years ago, I released I AM INDIAN, which has been seen 50 million+ times*. I recorded it as a tribute to my heritage. People then suggested I should make I AM AMERICAN. After all, my ethnicity is Indian and my nationality is American.
At the time, I didn’t feel we needed it. But I now feel we need it more than ever. In the years it took me to write and perform this, I rediscovered how incredible our nation truly is.
This love letter to my country is something I deliver as part of my latest one-person show, The Man in The Middle. America, I love you. So, here it is…
I AM AMERICAN on…
*Impressive till you realize that’s only 3.8% of all Indians.
Day of Show
Around 2 PM on October 30, my contact, Jay Kansara, and I hit the Hill to promote the show, taking place in the Cannon House Office Building. It was surreal because, in a way, it’s taken me 20 years to move a block. I interned for Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) at the other end of the Cannon Building back in 1999.
It wasn’t the easiest day to get Members of Congress (MoCs) to the show. It was not only Halloween Eve but it was Impeachment Eve. The next day, the House would vote to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. There was a heavy feeling in the air. It was like trying to give out tickets to a show in downtown Pompeii in A.D. 79.
We’d sent an email to all MoC. And this is what 535 out-of-office replies look like in your inbox:
Still, as we walked the Hill, many of them said, “Oh, you’re the guy from the email!” That was pretty cool.
We didn’t have time to snap a pic because it happened so fast, but Sen. Mitt Romney came around the bend and we exchanged a quick hello. And then we just tooled around the Hill and visited various MoCs’ offices, including Chabot’s and Schiff’s.
And we did achieve our goal of having a Republican and a Democrat tell a joke on-camera!
The show itself was free admission. (After all, who’d profit off of a government job?) I was super-thrilled with it. It was like a dream come true: The room was packed. In fact, it was standing room only. And there’s a good chance I return.
Afterwards, we all went to a bar to watch and celebrate the Nationals’ first World Series win. (Sorry, Rep. Olson.)
And we began with an article in my hometown paper and we end with an article from India, where I’m flying in a few hours.
And finally, at the bar that night, we asked one other Congressman to tell a joke — and he refused. Maybe we should leave his name off? Probably the funniest part of the entire experience.
Thank you to journalist Chidu Rajghatta for the TOI piece, Suhag Shukla for the intro to the author, Jay Kansara for setting up the gig, to my parents, Vinay Satyal & Lalita Satyal, for driving out from Cincinnati, Harsha Satyal for the love, Pat Hazell for directing, Ashish Bhutiani’s team for SeeRajiv.com, Danielle Brancazio Spencer for the poster design, Sheena Lad & Dustin Finkelstein Photography for the photos, Sachin Mistry for the Garbage Pail Kids drawings, Pankaj Bhaskar for sending the print copy to my Mom, Saurabh Pandey for sending the online version to me, Kevin Couch & Fred Anderson for the PR, Dana Meredith Lerner for the social media, and all of my fans, friends, and family members for your unwavering support.
Next Stop: Skokie, IL. January 17, 2020. Election Year… let’s do this.
Rajiv Satyal is a Cincinnati-Born, LA-Based Comedian. He’s #TheManInTheMiddle.