ome people believe that the patterns, lines and marks on a person’s palm reveal interesting information about his or her life. For rising young comedienne Rasika Mathur, that turns out to be true—though maybe not in the way you might expect. Mathur’s hand boasts two faint scars that tell the story of an accident that provided the material for her first formal stand-up act.
Energetically extending her palm and fingers out for closer inspection, she points out the marks as she recalls the details of the high school mishap. “We were doing the Macbeth monologue, and I ended up doing the ‘Is this a dagger I see before me?’ scene. I brought candles to school and a letter opener and ketchup for fake blood and everything to make it realistic.”
The realism and intensity of her class performance had an unfortunate result: “I ended up cutting three tendons and a nerve while doing the last line of the play, which was ‘Macbeth shall sleep no more!’ because I slammed the ‘knife’ down on the table so hard … I ended up having stitches and physical therapy. I got 115 percent on the project, though. But it was such an ordeal … I had to go to prom stag and it was just such a depressing time to be me that it turned into my first comedy act.”
I ended up cutting three tendons and a nerve while doing the last line of the play, which was “Macbeth shall sleep no more!” because I slammed the “knife” down on the table so hard.
But it is tragedy that often leads to success—and in the case of Mathur, that success has meant a walk-on TV appearance in Pamela Anderson’s new sitcom, Stacked, and the recent booking of an MTV show with Nick Cannon. Of course, that first act was hardly as glamorous—Mathur told her Macbeth tale at an Indian Students Association show while she was a student at the University of Texas in Austin.
“That kind of just set off into doing something funny every year for them, like twice a year … most Indians were only doing songs and dances, you know Bharatnatyam at the talent show and all that stuff, so I wanted to do something a little different,” she says. She was hooked, having “fallen in love with the ability to talk about herself while making people laugh.”
That ability has led to stints studying and performing improv at revered institutions like The Second City and Improv Olympic West. She has even performed with Stir Friday Night!, a Chicago-based Asian American sketch comedy troupe. “I got to play different characters like a Miss India type, an Indian princess riding an elephant, a crazy lawyer. That was really nice because we had a definite built-in audience. We had Asian Americans and then regu—other people, not regular, because Asians aren’t regular.”
In her offbeat way, Mathur decides to go with the slip about “regular” people after correcting herself. “Regular, normal people who were curious about Asian American culture, what stereotypes we break through our humor. We didn’t break any. We just enhanced them,” she says with a straight face.
Of course, Mathur has plenty of life experience from which to draw her material. Her current answering machine message, a stern Indian-accented “outsourcing” voice imploring callers to keep their message under a minute and to expect an email reply due to the high volume of calls, is a perfect example. She says the message, which can leave a first-time caller a little bemused and bewildered, was inspired by her dad’s own stern voice on his answering machine. And she continues to put her vocal talents to use—the creators of the Badmash comic strips have just asked her to play the voice of the grandmother in an upcoming cartoon.
Most Indians were only doing songs and dances, you know, Bharatnatyam at the talent show and all that stuff, so I wanted to do something a little different.
Of course, the path to comedy stardom is never smooth, and Mathur has worked in bizarre jobs to support and develop her talent. She has even portrayed a clown for entertainment at children’s parties. Some of her more trying moments as a children’s clown have been documented in The Rasikammentator (“Clown gets medieval on childrens’ asses, later feels guilt”), a parody news publication pulling comedy from a pool of her personal tragedies along the lines of roommate disputes (“Area woman called ‘Dumbass’ on forwarded piece of mail, Grizzly last words from roommates who aren’t even dead”), frustration on the job, being a hypochondriac, dating dilemmas, family squabbles (“Angry letter meant for cousin never sent”) and the like.
But you need not have a personal subscription to The Rasikammentator to hear more about Mathur’s hilarious life. She plans to share her humor with audiences this fall. “I have to put up a one-woman show at some point, and my target date is September. It’s a good way to really get noticed and showcase your own writing, your own performing.”
Audiences will also see Mathur the small screen—potentially on a regular basis. MTV premieres Wild’N Out, an improv show hosted by actor/singer Nick Cannon, on July 14, and Mathur is one of two female performers in the cast. Split into a red team and a black team filled with emerging comedic talents, performers compete against each other in a format similar to that of Who’s Line Is It Anyway? but with a hip hop flavor reminiscent of In Living Color.
At a recent taping in downtown Los Angeles, Biz Markie takes a guest spin in the DJ’s booth, Christopher Reid of Kid N’ Play fame sits in the audience, and other celebrities are performing music or in attendance as Mathur bounces on stage to use her skills for the red team. Her team captain is Cannon, who must guess which celebrity she is impersonating. As she sprawls across the stage in an acrobatic manner while speaking in a feline voice to convey the star from the film “Catwoman,” he correctly guesses Halle Berry. For the same game, she does an impression of Jenny McCarthy that gets big laughs from the crowd. After the show, she comments, “When Jenny McCarthy’s name came up, all the guys looked at me and I was like, ‘Darn, I don’t remember a thing about her!’ And one of the guys goes, ‘Just go out there and fart!’ and suddenly, her entire obnoxious persona came flooding back to me.”
Mathur’s current answering machine message features a stern Indian-accented “outsourcing” voice imploring callers to keep their messages under a minute and to expect an email reply due to the high volume of calls.
Toward the end of the taping, another of Mathur’s strengths comes to light during the rap battle that closes out the show. Performers hurl freestyle rhyming insults at members of the opposing team that go beyond the standard “Yo’ mamma” variety. Mathur pulls no punches as she pulls out occasionally off-color insults for the mostly male cast. As part of the game, she naturally takes some punches too, and her proficiency at the game made her a popular target that evening.
In person, Mathur’s energy level is just as striking. Her bubbly personality and lively eyes are fueled by more than just the caffeine in the coffee drink in front of her. “I’m non-stop. I’ve been called the Energizer Bunny before.” A fitting nickname, considering she’s only just gotten going.