Monday, November 17, 2014

Desi OC


With the release of every Desi OC, back to back on YouTube, I thought I would blog about the show. It’s been almost 8 years since we first started the series and ended it a few years later. Although I add everybody on FB, I never answer messages because it’s just too repetitive and people inevitably ask when we're bringing back the show. I hope the following helps!  


I remember it clearly. I was working my day job at Showbiz India, a Bollywood entertainment show.  I was a host/producer and was watching some footage.  Atif, the director of the show, burst in the editing room.  “Desi OC has over 100,000 views!”  

“That’s impossible.  We just uploaded it yesterday.” I didn’t know what this meant, but I was about to find out. 

I had moved to L.A. the past year.  I was a stand-up comic with seven years under my belt in New York but moved to L.A. to become a comedic actor and continue touring as a stand-up.  I soon realized that I hated auditioning and was burned out living in the back of comedy clubs.  

I took a job at a small cable show where I met Atif Mirza, the director of “Showbiz India.” He wanted to direct features, and I wanted to act. We decided to collaborate and use a weekend to make a short film about our experiences growing up Indian American. 

We never intended to make DOC a web series. Take note, this was back in 2006.  YouTube was NOT the online juggernaut that it is today.  There was no such thing as “online personalities” or channels with 9 million subscribers.  It was just a place where you could throw shit against the wall and everyone could watch.  

And so it began.  With zero money and years of film school between the both of us, Atif and I used the camera and mics from work and shot DOC over a weekend.  We cast Aarti Maan (Seema) and Lak Rana (Sanjay) off a breakdown and auditioned them at a Starbucks in Toluca Lake.  Shazia Deen (Sonal) was a big model.  We interviewed her at Showbiz India for a celebrity profile segment so I had her cell phone number.  I called and begged her to be a part of the film and she agreed. 

Initially, it was just Atif and I, and we wrote a script about dating from a South Asian perspective.  It was a subject that we felt was never explored properly and relatable to everybody.  I also remember thinking that Indians were always typecast on TV as 7-11 clerks, nerdy supporting characters and whatever.  It was cool that we had four attractive South Asians as the leads. 

After about a week of rehearsals, shooting and editing, we posted the film online and it quickly hit 100,000 views and counting.  We kept the series going through guerrilla filmmaking and continued it for twenty-one episodes. 

The response was positive, and we received a lot of support from the online community.  We also got a lot of shit from fans because it took us weeks, sometimes months, to release episodes.  I think DOC was ahead of its time.  We had no concept of the internet’s expedited nature.  Specifically, how quickly viewers consume and demand new content.  Also, we had a lot of other things going on in our lives and took our time with production because we wanted to make sure every episode was solid.

I learned more shooting DOC then I did during four years at NYU film school.  Things like how to convince people to give me locations for free, how to shoot a scene between construction noises, and how to put a YouTube thumbnail of a cast member in a bikini so perverted guys click on it.   (DOC 11 has almost a million views!)  

Regardless, audiences kept watching, growing and coming back.  I didn’t realize the full effect until I was doing a stand-up show in Detroit and got off a plane at 5am.  A group of Indian college students ran over and asked to take their picture with me.  What was going on?  

The South Asian media also took notice.  We were contacted by many Indian websites asking to repost our videos and a few newspapers did articles on us.  We came close to selling the series as a TV serial in Canada but unfortunately couldn’t negotiate a budget.  Eventually, we got sponsored and finally had money to cover our production expenses and stay out of debt, although barely. 

I think it was just one of those moments where we had lightning in a bottle.  We built an amazing skeleton crew that we jacked from our day job, and in addition to the four principals, we broadened the cast to include other up and coming L.A. actors. 

We strived to make a mainstream show that was inherently truthful to being South Asian and portray the essence of who we are. The show content focused on problems of young Indian adults: dating, parents, career, love, religion, sex, sibling relationships, etc…  If we experienced it, we put it in a storyline. 

DOC was the first of its kind online and there were a lot of copycats who tried to emulate what we did.  I was always happy when I saw a spin off because that meant we were inspiring South Asians to have creative lives other than following the traditional doctor or lawyer route.  

Like every show, there were some rough spots and our hits dwindled over time.  I think this was due to a combination of things. Our sponsors wanted to integrate pre-roll ads, forcing us to release new episodes on our own site instead of YouTube.  The writing got a bit over the top, which I, 100% shoulder the blame for.  Plus, we weren’t paying the cast and it was really hard to keep everyone together and the storylines cohesive.

IE - People always ask.  Whatever happened to Seema’s story and how come she never got together with Sanjay?  Well, the truth of the matter is she blew the fuck up momentarily on Big Bang Theory, and I wasn’t going to ask her to shoot for free when she had her career moving.  Besides, everyone else was leveraging DOC to do other things and we did the best we could. 

I fondly look back at old DOC episodes, and remember how excited I was when we made the series. It taught me to wear “multiple hats,” which I think is essential if you want to work in Hollywood.  More importantly, I made a lot of amazing friends. (I hang out with Lak all the time and talk to Shazia at least once a week.) Lastly, making DOC helped me discover who I was, which I think is what your 20’s is all about.  

And finally, I don’t know if we’ll ever do DOC reunion.  Maybe one day, but I like the fact that it ended in a pleasant way, and the characters live in online immortality.


Interesting Facts:

We started using non-Indian characters in later episodes. I used Whitney Cummings who I knew through stand-up, as one of the supporting characters but scrapped the scene and recast her character because it didn’t work. The next year she got her own NBC show. Um, whoops. 

Our sponsor Shaadi.com paid us but the whole deal almost fell through. They got super pissed because in the first sponsored episode, Ajay manipulates Shaadi.com to create a fake profile for himself to pick up chicks.  

In DOC 14, Brian kidnaps Sanjay’s stalker Sameena and makes a threatening hostage video.  We initially shot that scene outside.  One of my neighbors heard the screams, thought the scene was real and called LAPD.  A cop showed up with his gun drawn and almost shot Brian! 

In DOC 17, my character Ajay pretends to be on crutches.  I really was on crutches. I just had surgery and couldn’t walk for three months. 

In DOC 18, Manu the Bounty Hunter is played by my real life younger brother, Kunal Shetty.  

Although the show “The O.C.” was on, we weren’t trying to do a Bollywood ripoff. We thought the title “Desi OC” was catchy and could justify that it stood for “Desi’s of Orange County” (even though most of it was shot in L.A.).

Here’s a photo from our very first rehearsal! 


Sunday, August 10, 2014

My Life As A D-List Model


We shot for 3 hours at a posh house in San Diego. The campaign was for a Frito Lays Halloween ad.  I’m dressed like a pirate, standing in some make believe congo line and holding the shoulder’s of another model who’s dressed like a zombie. The photographer kept yelling, “YOU’RE HAVING MORE FUN!… FUN!”

I grit my teeth and do my best fake laugh.  I’m an expert at this and know that this is an easy way to bring out a natural smile on camera.  It’s a trick I learned after twelve years of professional modeling.  I secretly think, “I’m 30 years old and dressed like a pirate. How did I end up here?” 

If you think modeling is just showing up for auditions and smiling and then going to print shoots and more smiling, I have news for you… you’re absolutely correct!  If you have a somewhat decent smile (no meth habit), you dropped out of high school, and don’t have any substantive financial plan for the future then you have potential to be a commercial print model!

For me, it started when I was a student at NYU.  An agent asked me how tall I was.  “Um, 6’2.” (First rule of modeling. Lie. I’m actually 6’0, always lie.)

“Perfect, we’re submitting you for a print job!”  I’d like to think it had to do with my amazing looks, but I think it had more to do with the fact that every other South Asian male my age was busy studying organic chemistry. I had no idea what print modeling entailed, but I thought that it would be a good side hustle to make up for my lack of career ambition.  

I went to a casting office in mid-town where a guy with a digital camera took my photo and then asked me to turn to the left and then right.  The whole thing probably took about twenty seconds.  This cathartic experience booked me my first ad and led to years of consistent commercial print bookings.  Since then, I’ve done everything from posing for Target catalogues, playing volleyball on the beach, to wearing a turban and driving a cab.  The one thing I’ve learned about myself is, I WILL SELL OUT.  I’ve been with about six different agents, some better than others, and I think I’ve booked a few hundred jobs, which is pretty good.

Some rules I live by include: I never ask what I’m modeling for or how much I’m getting paid. If my agent says I booked the job I just show up and do whatever they tell me. People expect me to be dumb so I avoid any intelligent conversation and over laugh whenever someone makes a lame joke on set.  My neglect to read contracts explains why my image now pops up in places that I would have second thoughts about allowing to license.  Most recently, someone said they saw me in a magazine ad that reminded people to get tested for HIV, and another person spotted me on a website that encouraged human scientific testing. (check my FB).

I'm not saying this to brag. In fact, I’m the first to admit that I’ve pretty much failed at everything I’ve attempted in showbusiness and print modeling is the one thing I’ve put ZERO effort into. However, there are some perks.  You get to hang out with hot girls most of the time, fly to cool places, and I’ve learned how to flirt with male photographers so they’ll recommend me for more jobs. By the way, I’m NOT gay.  They don’t teach you that at Goldman Sachs.

Currently, I’m now in my “dad” modeling phase. Having no offspring, I do shoots with my pretend children.  I push my model son down a slide, the photographer yells “RESET,” and we do it all over again.  I imagine that this is what fatherhood is like.  My dream job is to do a wedding print shoot so I can create a wedding album and tell my nephews and nieces that once upon a time Uncle Tarun had a normal existence and a wedding where everyone was attractive.

I had a spiritual awakening this past year.  I’m not claiming to be like Ekhart Tolle or Wayne Dyer, but I’ve noticed that nobody can predict life.  I think to achieve success you have to just be in the moment and not worry too much about what happens after that.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’ve always had an unintended zen approach to modeling.  It somehow seemed to work, unlike other things where I tried to strategically plan and coordinate.

A few years ago, I decided that I should probably also get a real job so I don’t end up as a male escort in France. I’ll continue to be a D-level model as long as I can and will always be grateful for the amazing opportunities – easy money and hooking up with girls who were way out of my league in high school.  That’s really it. I’m serious.  Still, not bad though.

 I wasn't like every other kid, you know, who dreams about being an astronaut, I was always more interested in what bark was made out of on a tree… Do I know what product I'm selling? No. Do I know what I'm doing today? No. But I'm here, and I'm gonna give it my best shot” – Hansel (Zoolander)



Friday, March 14, 2014

My Friend Lola

I like dogs.  I don’t have one, but I’ve noticed that L.A. dog owners have a very special relationship with their pets.  In a town of highly-dysfunctional beautiful people, dogs have supplanted the human relationship.  Single girls have Facebook profile pictures of themselves posing with poodles adorned with pink bows, while guys go hiking with hulking, furry beasts that would probably get mistaken for wolves in other states.

I initially didn’t get it and found most dogs annoying.  When I ran up hiking trails, I would trip over free-running dogs who were let off their leash and felt obliged to dart between my legs.  There was also the occasional neighbor’s Chihuahua that would bark endlessly into the early morning hours.

And then I got a job.  It was a Hollywood job filled with young, driven, career-oriented people.  It’s the type of job that sucks your life away in exchange for opportunity.  Despite the glamour, I was indifferent to my newfound career.  I set a goal to last a year, but soon found myself taking strolls, wondering what the age limit was to become a Navy Seal sniper.  Could I kill a man?  Yes.

During one particular excursion, I passed a sign that read “Amanda Foundation,” an animal shelter. It's a quaint house with a white picket fence.  It seemed like the Beverly Hills home of a B-movie screenwriter, much less that of a place that rescued dogs.

I entered out of curiosity and was informed by the front desk girl that for every loving animal owner, there is an idiot who buys a dog and soon realizes that he can’t take care of it because he’d rather pay 600 dollars a year on new headshots instead of vet bills.  (An extreme example but you get the point.)

She gave me a tour of the backroom where I saw numerous dogs housed in cages, the smaller ones doubled up to save space.  It reminded me of NYU dormitory housing, only better.  The shelter provides the best possible care and ensures the survival of animals without a home, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for them.

“How can I help?”  I asked. 

Within a span of a few weeks, I was a trained dog walker!  At any point, I could go unsupervised to the shelter’s backroom, check the board to see which dog needed to go outside, and take him for a stroll.  On my first day, I excitedly ventured into the back room and found a black and white Shih Tzu sitting by herself in a cage.  Her name was Lola.

Lola and I became good friends.  On weekends, I walked an assortment of dogs, but during the week I only walked Lola.  I liked her because she was previously owned by a family and was well trained.    She never wrestled with her leash, and would instinctively stop and go when asked.  She was the first girl I met in L.A. who didn't want to settle down after six months.

At the shelter, she had a private cage because she didn’t like “socializing” (as I was told) with the other animals.  Similarly, I’ve always preferred to do my own thing, and be by myself.  We were an ideal match.

As the months progressed, I noticed that I got better at my job.  I was more efficient and trivial things no longer bothered me.  I didn’t mind getting chastised because I couldn’t get an outdoor reservation at Polo Lounge and instead looked forward to taking Lola to her favorite sunbathing spot.

It finally made sense to me why people in L.A. love their dogs.  In a town where you are recycled both professionally and personally, dogs fill an emotional void, but also provide rare, absolute love. Eventually, I hit my year mark and put in my notice soon after. I entered the Amanda Foundation and went straight for Lola’s cage – empty.  

“She was adopted on the weekend.  I thought somebody told you!” the front desk girl chirped.  

“Terrific!” I grimly smiled.  I was happy that Lola got adopted.  I could never do it because I worked too many hours, but secretly dreamed to take her home.  

I still visit the shelter, but I now make it a point to walk different dogs so I don't get attached to one particular animal: Luke, Chester, Maggie.  Like a man who frequents nightly escorts, sometimes I don’t even know the name of the dog I’m with, but it's better that way.  

I believe that people are seasonal, and they come and go in my life for certain reasons. I just never expected it to be a dog.

If you’d like to make a donation to the Amanda Foundation here is their website.  

http://amandafoundation.org/

Also, if you’re interested, here is a picture of Lola I pulled off their website.  She looks like somebody stuffed her and mounted her on the dining table but it'll have to do.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Memoirs Of A Former Indian Wedding Comedian

There was a time when I was very serious about stand-up comedy.  I started doing it in college, and my brother, who worked in IT, figured out a way where my website (which he also built) would be one of the top sites in Google when you typed in “Indian” “Comedian.” Forget the fact that I could barely do 10 minutes on stage.  All you needed was a sibling who knew HTML, and you had a career in showbiz!

I was starting college in New York and had no idea how stand-up comedians made a living.  I did what every other comic did in the city, which was scrape by with 7-8 minute spots in shithole comedy venues and died a slow death in front of drunk New York tourists.  Artists call this “finding your voice” or later when they have more life perspective “becoming jaded.”

I’m from New Hampshire and grew up with white people so I never thought that being a comic with brown skin was abnormal. Keep in mind, this was way before Russell Peters broke through and the market wasn’t oversaturated like today. Nowadays, it seems like any Indian with a 7-11 is doing stand-up or some Indian dude just quit his consulting job at McKinsey and is getting back at his parents by telling knock-knock jokes that he stole off the internet.  ANYWAYS….

I soon found that my inbox was being flooded with requests from South Asians who wanted me to perform at their weddings. At first, I ignored these emails because it seemed insane to me.  What person in their right mind would hire a 20-year old kid to fly to some random state and perform on one of the most important days of their lives?  Rich Indians who wanted to one-up their Indian friends by having something completely NEW and DIFFERENT, that’s who.

It’s no secret that South Asians are the cheapest people in the world but fortunately, like me, they had no bearing on how much a comedian should get paid.  Naturally, I'd set my quote really high.  A typical negotiation went as follows:

Father – How much charge you do?
Me – Um, I’m not sure what you said, but my asking price to perform is 5000 dollars.
Father – What?! I not pay 5000 dollars!  I pay 1000.
Me – OK!    

The next thing I knew, I was zig-zagging around the country on weekends, performing at Indian weddings.  I’m not sure how to describe it, but I always tell people that performing at an Indian wedding is comparable to being a professional escort.  Money up front, black out for the next hour and then try to forget the whole experience ever happened. 

I also learned that dealing with clueless Indian people had drawbacks.  I once showed up to a wedding and there was no microphone.  I spent the next 60 minutes yelling from the stage “HEY, HOW ARE YOU DOING?  WHAT PART OF INDIA ARE YOU FROM?  CHENNAI? GREAT!  HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ON AIR INDIA?!”

Never once in hundreds of shows did it get easier. It was like the movie “Groundhogs Day.”  I would walk into a lavish wedding hall, watch a bunch of bad wedding speeches, almost throw up in a nearby garbage can, wondering how I got here, and then try to survive on stage for the next hour.

I’m not saying I was a good Indian wedding comedian.  I wasn’t bad, but by no means great.  Luckily, I soon realized that most Indian audiences could care less if I told jokes or set myself on fire.  As long as I showed up and pretended like I knew what I was doing, nobody knew the difference.  Sometimes people who were my own age and could identity a train wreck when it happened would find me after the show.  They'd be like “Hey, don’t worry, I ENJOYED IT” which is kind of like a backhanded complement.  “Gee thanks!  I guess I’ll postpone killing myself when I get back to the hotel!”

Someone sent me a Steve Jobs Youtube Video where he gave a graduation speech at Stanford.  He mentioned how you go through life and when you look back, you see the stars connect and everything happens for a reason.  Well Steve Jobs obviously never performed for the Patel’s in Houston where nobody spoke English.  That show sucked.

FYI - here's a show from 2005 where I'm eating it for 50 minutes straight.  It's actually quite funny to me now. 




video


Sunday, October 6, 2013

SUV Mayhem


I keep seeing in the news this story about the guy in the SUV who got beaten up by a motorcycle gang in New York. I've been following this story closely, and when I say "closely" I mean that I watch the CNN clips with no sound when I'm on the treadmill at the gym.  If you haven't heard this, the gist is that the motorcyclists were pissed because the driver ran over their friend, crushing his spine, and took off.  The motorcyclists chased him down, smashed in the Range Rover window, dragged the driver out of his car and beat him up. Oh yeah, all of this was captured on some guy's helmet cam and the video went viral.  Thank you YouTube. 

Me personally, I wasn't shocked by the video footage.  I live in Los Angeles and see Asian people run over strangers all the time.  There are laws in L.A. that prohibit Range Rovers being sold to people of Asian descent.  But on a serious note, if it was me, and I had my wife (that doesn't exist) and a 2-year old kid (that would definitely be from my first marriage) I would have floored the car and run over as many motorcyclists as possible. I actually think after running over the first guy,  the driver should have backed up the car and tried to take out a few more.  I hate the whole "wolf pack" mentality. Just because you have a motorbike and 30 loser motorcycle-riding friends, doesn't give you clearance to disrespect the rules of the road.  If you watch the video, the motorcyclist in front clearly hit the brakes and instigated the accident.  It's hard for anyone to say what they would do because you can't prepare for anything like this.  This scenario is not in the drivers ed written test:  "If a motorbike gang purposely causes an accident and surrounds your car, do you...

A. Exchange insurance information
B. Take out gun from glove compartment and load bullets
C. Hit the gas and don't stop until you get to Mexico

One thing is for sure, everyone involved will have to shell out some serious cash:  the culprit's defense team, the paraplegic's hospital bills and most of all, replacing a window on a Range Rover.  I hope the car is OK.




Sunday, January 13, 2013

Lance Armstrong

Dear Lance Armstrong, 

I saw in the news that you’re going to admit to doping on Oprah. I think it’s grossly unfair that the USDA put together a mountain of lies that they call “evidence” and gathered so many first-person testimonies to throw you under the bus.  26 people testifying against you is nothing.  Find 5000 people and then maybe they have a case.  Good for you for fighting back and wrecking the lives of so many people who stepped forward to tell the “truth.” As an American, I forgive you because confessing to a respected minority female on national television is automatic restitution. 
 
Even better news is you’re now going to be on the exclusive celebrity D-List!  Welcome to Hollywood my friend. I know a bunch of people who are on and off this list and the best news is that they only have to work part-time at the Beverly Center.  So here are some things that I thought you could possibly do with your new life:


1. Do round table panel on Chelsea Lately. A bunch of no-name people are on this all the time, and you can still wear your yellow jersey whenever you’d like.  Just make sure to keep your combative attitude like the time ESPN interviewed you a few years back.

2. Stand-up Comedy. A bunch of washed-up celebs are making a ton of money at high-profile comedy clubs like Snickerz in Indiana. You can be a prop comic!  Half-way through the show, say you’re tired, but instead of taking a sip of water, connect yourself to an IV bag filled with EPO-rich blood.

3. Start a podcast.  My housekeeper has one so there’s no reason why you can’t.  Make sure to have other “victims” on the show like Marion Jones and Barry Bonds.

4. Reality Television.  We put you in a house with all the people whose lives you eviscerated.  People love television violence and this is sure to have a lot of it.

5. Raise money for charity.  I hear the NY marathon is registering and there are many buildings along the race route where you can stop and “rest.” 


No matter what happens, never forget that you are an American hero, a title that is carelessly attributed to undeserving teachers, doctors and generally, people who dedicate their lives to help mankind.  I’m very sad that they are forcing you to cop to these wretched allegations, but am absolutely thrilled that you are clinging to remain in the public eye so we can see your beautiful face.  Livestrong Armstrong… or ride your bike over a cliff.  Either is fine by me. 


Tarun

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Labor Day & FB Political Status Updates


Well, Labor Day is over.  I looked up the definition on the web just to see what it said and it read that Labor Day “is the celebration of the creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

Having read that, it’s a badass holiday.  Let me re-phrase that.  Any day where you get a four-day weekend is a badass holiday. It’s also fitting that the elections are coming up, adding to the patriotic spirit. Every Labor Day, instead of cookouts, Americans should grab a shotgun, drink a 40 and go shoot a deer.  U.S.A baby!

However, what we should NOT do, in my opinion, is use our free time to put up Facebook status updates every 5 seconds about how much Obama sucks or how much Romney blows.  I must have read 50 political status updates yesterday.  I swear, people are setting their alarm clocks to wake up and go on Facebook.  “OMG, I haven’t posted anything about XXX politician in two hours! Must… type… now!”

I joined Facebook for the same reason that everybody else did -- to be a creeper and check out underage slutty girls.  I miss the days of going through Facebook and seeing people post videos of cats playing keyboards or people taking pictures of the scrambled eggs that they ate for breakfast. Now I’ve got to read about everyone’s lame political beliefs and how horrible a person I am if I'm not on your bandwagon to nowhere.

I’m pretty sure my opinion has zero effect on the actions of others, but whenever I see a status update about politics, I click “hide” and then select “all updates” so I never have to hear from you again.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could do that to every annoying person you encounter?  Just hit a button, and they can’t talk to you FOREVER.  They just magically disappear. Someone invent an app for this.

Again, these are just my thoughts.  You don’t have to take it seriously, or please do so if it makes you feel better. I don’t care because I’ve said my peace and will write more, probably on Oct. 9h, the day after Columbus Day.